Gracie Fields

The Twelve Dames of Christmas, part ten.

Andrew Marr called Gracie Fields’ 1934 film, Sing As We Go, “probably the worst film I have ever seen,” which doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas but is a brilliant illustration of how Andrew Marr is wrong about almost everything. The film is great. David Lynch surrealism meets working class humour at a Northern seaside resort: what’s not to like, Andrew? Another review calls it dated, which in a sense it is, but the accusation implies that other films of the 1930s were similar in style. They weren’t. Sing As We Go is dated in the way that the work of Georges Seurat is dated – nobody makes films or paintings like that now, but that doesn’t mean they can be dismissed as old hat. They’re obviously still good. They were obviously doing something interesting, pushing forms in ways they hadn’t been pushed before. Credit where it is due, eh?

Right, now that’s off my chest, let’s talk Christmas songs.

We are deep into Christmas music territory now. I made a playlist a couple of years ago which covers a little under a century of festive bangers and is several hours long. I’m writing this post on the 23rd of November, but as you read this, almost a month later, on the 20th of December, I have probably played it a few too many times. I am almost certainly a bit sick of it. Except for When a Child is Born by Johnny Mathis, which never gets old.

So let’s talk about Rochdale instead.

Or shall we talk about how this twelve dames of Christmas thing is rapidly falling apart. What was that June Whitfield post on Friday all about, eh? I’d say the Christmas period was getting to me except I wrote this in November, so it isn’t. The festive season hasn’t really started yet, for me anyway, as I write this.

I like Rochdale.

As I have already mentioned, the whole twelve dames thing was a pun that got out of hand. I could have made it a serious look into the lives of twelve extraordinary people, but if you want somebody to tell you how or why any of the women I used as starting points for these silly essays is (or was) extraordinary you should probably look for somebody more qualified or knowledgeable than me. A historian maybe?

I don’t live in Rochdale, but it is my nearest (biggish) town. If I hadn’t moved (quite near) to Rochdale I probably wouldn’t have watched Sing As We Go. Unlike in the rest of the country, where she is mostly forgotten, Gracie Fields is still a name in Rochdale. The theatre is named after her. Her statue stands outside the town hall. I felt duty bound to find out why.

I wasn’t disappointed.

One of the quirks of Britain is our fixation on the idea that our culture started with The Beatles. People like Gracie Fields, Alastair Sim, Wendy Hiller, Al Bowlly, Angus Wilson, Rose Macauley, Leonora Carrington (and many others) should be household names but they aren’t.

OK, that statement doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny when you remember people like Shakespeare and Dickens and Austen are definitely pre-Beatles, but you know what I mean. There is definitely a reluctance to look at the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s as a place where we might find interesting writers, artists, musicians, actors and directors. I don’t have any big point to make about that except that it’s a shame, and that if you do a little research you will find some great stuff. Most of you know that already, of course. I’m preaching to the converted. I’ll shut up.