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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Nov 2002
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    Upper Street blue plaque pays tribute to amazing Gracie Fields, once �the highest paid person in history�

    Published: November 25, 2011

    GRACIE Fields, once one of the biggest stars in the world, and the �highest paid person in human history�, was most famous for being a northern lass � north London that is.

    The Rochdale-born star who never lost her Lancashire accent � famous for songs such as Sally and Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye � spent three years living in Upper Street when she first moved to London.

    Now English Heritage is to mark her time in Islington by putting up a blue plaque on the building at 72a Upper Street which she shared with her parents and first husband, Archie Pitt, between 1926 and 1929 when it was a flat above a sweet shop.

    At the time Fields was one of Britain�s best-loved music hall stars and was performing almost continually in London. She was also recorded for the first time and made the first of her 10 appearances at the Royal Variety Performance before King George V and Queen Mary.

    Dr Susan Skedd, head of the blue plaques team at English Heritage, said that as one of the biggest stars of the 20th century, her association with London deserved to be highlighted.

    �Gracie Fields enjoyed remarkable success as a singer, comedian and actress,� she said. �She inspired lasting affection among her many fans and, in spite of her fame and wealth, kept a down-to-earth attitude to life.

    Her association with London is less well-known than her links to Rochdale and it seems fitting she should be honoured with a plaque in the city where she lived and performed for many years.�

    Fields was born Grace Stansfield in Rochdale in 1898 and sang from early childhood. She took her stage name at the age of 14 when she began performing in a Blackpool troupe.

    She met Pitt, a theatrical agent, in 1915, and joined his company the following year. After spending two years performing 4,000 times in a revue, she hit the big time touring Mr Tower of London � which spent a week in the West End � and which turned her into a massive music hall star.

    The next few years saw her star rise and rise, to the extent that she and Pitt were able to move out of Upper Street into a 28-room mansion they built in The Bishop�s Avenue, Hampstead. It was named the Tower after the show that made her famous.

    Her stage and recording successes continued � by 1933 she had sold four million records � and she began appearing on BBC and launched her lucrative film career.

    Her first film, Sally in our Alley, made in 1931, was an enormous hit and led to an eight-year contract to make 10 further films. By 1937, she was the biggest box office star in British cinema and Twentieth Century Fox gave her a �200,000 contract, described at the time as �the highest salary ever paid to a human being�.

    In 1938, she was awarded the CBE � the first female variety star to receive the honour � and the freedom of Rochdale.

    Her private life was running less smoothly, however. The marriage to Pitt had ended and, after an affair with the artist John Flanagan, she met Italian-born film director Monty Banks in 1935. She married him in 1940, a year after her career had come to a halt when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

    Despite being told by doctors to take two years off, Fields � who had been inundated with hundreds of thousands of messages of support � returned to work, performing to troops around the world and in Britain, then engaged in the Second World War.

    She caused controversy, however, by moving to America, fearful that her Italian husband would be interned as an enemy alien. Critics accused her of betraying her country.

    After the war she moved to the island of Capri, returning regularly to Britain to perform, including a triumphant return to the London Palladium in 1947. She hosted her own BBC radio show, Gracie�s Working Party, which was broadcast from factories across the country. Her final appearance in London was in 1978 when she closed the Royal Variety Performance with her most famous hit, Sally. She was made a DBE in 1979, a few months before dying in Capri, aged 81.

    Morris Aza, the son of her agent, Bert Aza, was also her nephew through her marriage to Pitt, his father�s brother.

    �She was a perfect aunt, never forgetting a birthday of mine or, when older, my wife�s or children�s,� he said.

    �She would visit us whenever in England and arrive unannounced with a piercing whistle that was louder than the doorbell.

    �She loved to travel through London on the upper deck of buses, sitting at the rear, and invariably started singing Sally to an astounded audience. She was a truly wonderful human being and I�m delighted she is being remembered in Islington by the erection of a plaque near Collins Music Hall.�

    English Heritage announced news of the plaque on Tuesday, the day that the British Film Institute screened a
    �lost� film of hers for the first time in almost 80 years. In This Week of Grace, made in 1933, Fields plays an unemployed factory worker in a rags-to-riches tale. It was a big hit on release, and has been newly restored.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: England harryfielder's Avatar
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    Jul 2005
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    I lived in Islington for 53 years and never knew that.......Thank you...

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: UK
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    Apr 2008
    109 times
    I am also originally from Islington. I never knew that either. I even read a book about its history. It was not in that. I am glad that logged in today. I have learned something.

    I did see from a distance her villa on the Isle of Capri once.

    Alan French.

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