One of my grandmother’s favourites was Gracie Fields, a working-class girl singer and performer known as “Our Gracie.” She’d been born above a fish and chip shop in Rochdale, and had been a big hit in the 1930s, especially with the song “Sally,” that became her theme song. She’d made movies, and spent much time on Capri. She’d married an Italian, and that was her undoing. Because of the war, he would have been interned had they stayed in Britain, so they went to North America and spent the war there.
This was regarded as desertion by the UK population, who never forgave her for abandoning them. It was Vera Lynn, instead of Gracie Fields, who became the forces’ favourite and the voice of hope in the dark times of the Blitz.
Gracie came back after the war, and still performed in concert halls and on BBC radio. My grandmother still liked her, and would listen in, but her audiences were a fraction of their prewar levels. By the time my sister and I had to listen to her on the radio, she could no longer reach the high notes, and people listened more out of sentiment than artistic appreciation. My sister and I had no such sentiment or loyalty, and we used to mock her by imitating her cracking voice. We’d sing, “Sallee, Salleeee, pride of our alley,” making sure our voices cracked like hers on the high notes. Our grandmother probably heard her and remembered her talented voice of the 1930s. In the 1950s we had no such memories and thought her performances excruciating. Mind you, I sometimes cringe when I remember some of the songs and singers we liked as children.