Monday, 19 September 2016

The Gracie Fields Appreciation Society

I've encountered quite a few "appreciation societies" in my time. Some have hundreds of members, some are lucky to scrape through with half a dozen.

I remember David Niven recalling the Hungarian director, Michael Curtiz, famed for his woefully bad English. Said Curtiz during one particularly heated argument, "You thing that I know fuck nothink. Well, let me tell you that I know fuck all!"

Sadly, this applies to many of these societies run by self-educated experts for who quantity and personal possession comes before knowledge of one's subject...someone writes that Elvis wore a blue tie on 12th January 1959, and some busy little beaver will spend three weeks researching the fact that the tie was grey. The organisation paying homage to our Gracie is remplis with individuals who have it on their own good authority not just what Gracie sounded like, but what she smelled like, what it felt like to touch her...I wouldn't doubt they have a list somewhere of her trips to the bathroom and what she ate for breakfast every alternate Saturday.

None of these people were born when Gracie was in her heyday, or even when she was in her dotage. They have become experts by boasting and collecting memorabilia...records, films, newspaper clippings and such. They acquire something rare, and rather than share it...bearing in mind that Gracie shared her sublime talent and never sang for an audience of one...they boast about it: "I have one of these. It's the only one in the world, but I'm keeping it to myself because, unlike Gracie, I'm a selfish person."

They, in common with the Fuhrers of other groups and societies, also dictate to whom one may or may not speak: "You can be the most important philanthropist in the world, but you'd better not communicate with Joe Bloggs because I don't like him...he's got a record that I've never heard, or at least  he says he has, but if I've never heard it then it doesn't exist!"

Yesterday they unveiled Gracie's statue in Rochdale. I was asked for my opinion. Now, never ask for my opinion if you're expecting hearts and flowers. Roy Hudd I admire: he admires me. Sue Devaney is exceptional as Gracie, and stunningly so. But the statue I did not like, and dismissed it as "horrible". You know that it's Gracie because of where it's been erected. Stand it in line with other statues in a London museum, for example, and hardly anyone would know who it is.

The unveiling was supposed to be an important occasion. The Mayor was there and other dignitaries, but despite the auspiciousness of the event a tubby little chap had to be Twittering away like an excited little bird about to lay a decidedly bad egg.

"Look," he cried as he showed his phone to all and sundry. "Look what that awful Mr Bret's had to say about the statue!"

"You're wrong," he twittered to me, doubtless with his phone in one hand and a tub of hot-pot in the other. "But no doubt So-and-So will agree with you."

My dear boy, I am old enough to form opinions of my own and I do not need you to tell me who I might or might not associate with. You do not have the name "Gracie Fields" tattooed on your nether reasons, though nothing would surprise me. You had your moment of glory yesterday, and aside from being a know-it-all what you are doing must be applauded because you are keeping the flame of Gracie Fields burning. But you are NOT the only one, and unless you want that flame to burn your fingers you must act like an adult and not a child who has discovered an extra bag of humbugs in his Christmas stocking...and you must conclude that other people are sometimes right, and that you are not a modern-day Michael Curtiz.

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