Showbiz legend Roy Hudd took a break from filming the latest series of Broadchurch to unveil a statue of his late friend and fellow star, Dame Gracie Fields, in Rochdale today. (Sunday 18 September).
The sculpt, believed to be the first statue of a woman to be erected in Greater Manchester for more than 100 years, was unveiled outside Rochdale’s Grade I listed town hall, where Gracie often performed to the crowds on her many return visits to the town.
Born above a chippy in Rochdale in 1898, Gracie went on to become the highest paid actress in the world in the 1930s and also enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a singer and comedian.
Roy Hudd (80), who celebrates 55 years in showbiz this year, once shared an agent (Morris Aza) with Gracie and he often visited her on the Italian island of Capri, where she lived for a number of years.
The comedian, actor, radio host and author is currently filming the next series of Broadchurch, in which he plays David Bennett, father to Olivia Colman’s Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller.
He said: “I’ve actually taken leave from filming Broadchurch to be here, as I just couldn’t have missed this. Gracie meant a great deal to me and it’s very emotional today I can tell you. Gracie and Frank Sinatra were the two greatest singers of all time for me. There was just no comparison. She could take an ordinary song and turn it into something spectacular. She was a great actress and she told a story with her music. The statue is just her. She could sing everything; opera, comedy and ballads, and it’s all in that pose.”
The statue was created by Sean Hedges Quinn, who has also sculpted other well-known figures, including Sir Bobby Robson and Captain Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe), of Dad’s Army fame.
Its installation comes amid a public debate on the lack of statues marking the achievements of famous women. Last year, the public were asked to select one of six legendary women to be immortalised in Manchester, after a councillor highlighted that the last statue of a woman to be erected in the city was of Queen Victoria, more than a century ago.
Sculptor Sean Hedges Quinn said: “I’ve completed over a dozen public commissions over a 15 year period and not one has been a woman; not through lack of effort, but lack of opportunities. It’s a sad fact that public sculpts of women are so rare to such a point that if you were to take statues of the Virgin Mary, semi-nude goddesses or royalty out of the equation, the number of statues representing women in the UK would amount to little more than a
dozen. That’s why I was really excited at the prospect of sculpting Gracie.”
Also present at the unveiling was Gracie’s niece, Melanie Stansfield, who said: “It’s just fabulous that this statue has been erected and it’s wonderful to see the warm reception it’s been given by all the public who turned out to see it.
"Gracie was aware of the power of her music and the way it lifted people up, particularly during the depression years. That’s why she entertained the troops with my father during the war. She loved Rochdale and felt very connected to her fans. She saw it as her job to put a smile on people’s faces and she’s still doing that today, nearly 40 years after her death.”
Rochdale Borough Council, The Rotary Club of Rochdale East and the Gracie Fields Appreciation Society worked together to bring the statue to Rochdale, with funding from Grantscape and developer contributions.
A Purple Plaque tourist trail, marking significant places in the Gracie Story, has also been established in the town.
Councillor Janet Emsley, Cabinet Member for Culture, Health and Wellbeing at Rochdale Borough Council, said: “Although Gracie became a huge Hollywood star, she never forgot her roots, often returning to Rochdale to greet her fans and raise money for local causes. She’s a fantastic example of the rich cultural heritage we have in Rochdale and I’m proud that we’ve finally got round to giving her the proper tribute she so richly deserves.”