Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Fields, Gracie (1898-1979)


Main image of Fields, Gracie (1898-1979)

Though she never greatly cared for the film-making process, pleasantly plain and invincibly cheerful Gracie Fields became one of the most popular stars of British cinema, appealing across classes and regions.

Born above a fish-and-chip shop in Rochdale, she sang her way from music hall to cinema screen to the London Palladium - and to semi-retirement in Capri. She held on to her working-class ordinariness and therein lay her appeal; and her films, carefully balancing her star quality against an all-hands-to-the-pump consensus, were just the thing for Depression-hit Britain.

Their optimistic titles tell almost all: Looking on the Bright Side (d. Basil Dean, 1932), Sing As We Go (d. Dean, 1934), Look Up and Laugh (d. Dean, 1935), Keep Smiling (d. Monty Banks, 1938). The image of her leading the workers in song at the end of Sing As We Go (the title song is an anthem for the times) absolutely encapsulates her appeal as indomitable, one of us but more enterprising, vindicating her faith in people treating each other decently.

She was in British films until 1939, when she travelled to America to continue her acting career in Hollywood, where she made four features, most notably Holy Matrimony (d. John M.Stahl, 1943), and sang 'Wish Me Luck' in a 1943 two-reeler, Young and Beautiful.

Her second husband (of three) was director Monty Banks, who taught her to overcome her 'dread' of films and who, as an Italian about to be interned in WW2 Britain, was a major reason for her leaving Britain. It was some time before she was forgiven for her apparent desertion, but her wartime efforts had their effect and her hit, 'Wish Me Luck', became a wartime rallying song. She was made a DBE in 1979, and died the same year in Capri.

Autobiography: Sing As We Go (1960). Biographies: Gracie Fields: Her Life in Pictures by Peter Hudson (Robson Books, 1989) and Gracie Fields by David Bret (Robson Books, 1995)

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Cinema

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Sing As We Go! (1934)Sing As We Go! (1934)

Gracie Fields stars as an indefatigable mill worker in her best-loved film

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Musical Comedy in the 1930sMusical Comedy in the 1930s

A closer look at the golden age of British musical comedy

Thumbnail image of MusicalsMusicals

Song and dance on the big screen

Related people and organisations