Gracie fields

What Britain owed to Gracie Fields

Simon Heffer is the supreme Stakhanovite among British writers. Where the original Stakhanov moved 227 tonnes of coal in a single shift, within the past decade Heffer has produced four massive volumes of modern British history, each little less than 1,000 pages. Alongside them he has edited three equally voluminous diaries of the waspish socialite MP ‘Chips’ Channon, as well as writing regular reviews and columns. Hats off to the master! In this latest and final volume of his tetralogy chronicling the British century between Queen Victoria’s accession in 1837 and Neville Chamberlain’s reluctant declaration of war on Germany in 1939, Heffer once more treats us to his vast knowledge

Did George Formby and Gracie Fields really help Britain out of the Depression?

Cinema history is a strange thing. A couple of months ago the Guardian began a series in which film critics write about ‘the classic film I’ve never seen’, some admitting to have unaccountably avoided exposure to genuine masterpieces such as Metropolis (1927) or À Bout de Souffle (1960). Others have revealed they have yet to sample undemanding box-office hits such as Top Gun (1986) or Titanic (1997). If the latter are classics, then so is On the Buses, the biggest selling British film of 1971. The showing of motion pictures to paying customers began in the 1890s, and crowds flocked to see brief footage of someone treading on a hosepipe.