As the Christmas season draws to a close let’s think about good presents. Those who follow this blog regularly will know that I currently have my 91 year old bed-ridden mother living with me. She’s not been up to actively engaging in the Christmas process, it’s been a bit of a worry for her, and the dilemma was to know what was an appropriate Yuletide gift for her.
There was a nightdress, there was a cuddly toy (as advised by various dementia charities), there was a Selection Box, but the present that went down best was Arthur Tracey booming through the room, singing Marta.
Arthur Tracy (1899-1997) was a name that was mentioned regularly in our house in the Fifties, along with Eileen Fowler and the Women’s League of Health and Beauty, and the Girls Life Brigade (GLB). Yes, we knew of Henry Hall and Nosmo King but it was Arthur Tracey who always brought a smile of memory to mum’s face. If the song Marta ever came on the wireless she would say each line before he sang it, so that my sister and I could sing along with him, ‘rambling rose of the wild wood.’
So on Christmas Day, as the first notes unfolded from the iPod, a sweet smile of contentment came over mum’s face and she mouthed the words as Arthur Tracy sang them. When it was over she sighed with pleasure and said, ‘Yes, I walked all the way from Leytonstone to the Stratford Empire to queue for an hour so that I could get a front row seat to see him.’ That would have been about 1937.
I never really followed Arthur Tracy’s career, he’d made a few films in the 30s, and after that lived quietly in the States and out of show business. I didn’t know he had made a sort of come-back after the film Pennies from Heaven (1981) was released (his recording of the song was used in the film), so I was quite thrilled to see him appear in the 1988, greatly underestimated movie Crossing Delancey directed by Joan Miklin Silver. It’s a small part – Pickle Stand Customer #1, but the pickle stand is very important to the film. It’s a lovely story and for a long time it’s not been available on DVD – I had to make do with my fading, fragile video. But writing this piece, I just checked and the DVD is now available. Win for my mum, win for me!