Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1898, was born Gracie Fields.

Fields was a music hall entertainer who was idolised by the public, vilified by the press and whose charity work largely went unnoticed.   

Grace Stansfield, as was her original name, was born in Rochdale, above a fish and chip shop. She always maintained an image of a northern working class girl. Her Lancashire accent, far from diminishing under the influence of the South and of America, actually became more tangible as the years rolled by.  

Fields made her professional debut as a singer in 1910, at the Rochdale Hippodrome. She became acquainted with comedian, Archie Pitt who became first, her professional manager and then her husband. Fields’ career began to flourish after she took part in a West End revue, Mr Tower of London and reached a peak in 1928, when she took part in a Royal Variety Performance. Her act consisted of comic songs, monologues and cheerful recession-era style comedy, all handled with an exceptional rapport with the audience. One of the individual songs, which made her famous, was entitled The Biggest Aspidistra in The World. She went on to make four films in the United States and earned record fees for that era.  

In 1939, Fields fell ill with cervical cancer and although she recovered her health, she was not able to have children. When her marriage with Pitt broke up, she donated her home, [The Towers, 53 The Bishops Avenue, London, N2 0BJ], to a maternity hospital. Today, the price of houses in The Bishops Avenue begins at eight million pounds.   

When the Second World War broke out, Fields immediately volunteered to entertain the troops. In 1940, she married American film director, Monty Banks, who was technically an Italian citizen and would have been interned had he come to Britain. Fields continued to be involved in the war effort although she was obliged to reside in the United States. She was denigrated by the press and called a traitor and deserter. Fields never gave up her work for the war effort, although her popularity declined rapidly.  

After the war, Fields never quite regained her status. She performed intermittently and appeared at the Festival of Britain and she continued with her charity work.  Banks died in 1950 and, two years later, Fields married Boris Alperovici and retired to the Isle of Capri. She made the occasional visit home, opening the Gracie Fields Theatre, Rochdale and appearing in a Royal Variety Show aged eighty. In 1979, Fields was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire but died in the same year. She is buried in the Protestant Cemetery on the Isle of Capri.

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