Book: Dancehalls, Glitterballs and DJs
Chapter: Dance Like Fred and Ginger, Sing Like Gracie and George
The BBC’s wireless broadcasts may have made little effort to attract the nation’s youth, but there were plenty of other new media eager to do the job. Gramophone records let British fans hear what their musical heroes sounded like, but the movies let them see their favourites as well. Once those movies talked, a whole new world of dance and song opened up. Away from Britain’s biggest cities, it was the talking pictures that showed eager youngsters just how glamorous life could be, through movies starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, or choreographed by Busby Berkley. These movies were being made in the midst of the Great Depression, but they helped to lighten the mood. If anyone needed reminding of how grey and drab life in Britain could be there were the films of George Formby and Gracie Fields, filled with dance and song on a different scale and far removed from the glamour of the American silver screen. One thing Depression-era Britain managed to avoid was the nightmarish American entertainment of the Dance Marathons, dance competitions that could last for months on end as sleep-deprived young couples staggered and swayed on dancefloors to the accompaniment of records in usually vain attempts to win cash prizes. The young people of Britain preferred to go to venues where dancing was purely for fun.