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The day young Vera met Gracie Fields

PUBLISHED: 15:51 22 February 2012

Vera Read nee Francis.

Vera Read nee Francis.

Copyright 2003-2004

It was a dream come true for the young dancers of Norwich in the 1930s when one of the biggest stars in the land, Gracie Fields, came calling.

Cuddle up love – said one of the biggest stars of the day when she gathered with these young dancers for a photograph in Norwich during the 1930s.

“That’s what she said to me. She was really lovely and friendly,” said Vera Read who is standing next to the much-loved Gracie Fields, on the right in the back row.

I was delighted to hear from Vera, now in her 90th year and a lifelong Evening News reader, after I used this postcard to illustrate how these old cards are a window on the world all those years ago.

“It was lovely to see the picture and I remember that day so very well,” said Vera who was Vera Francis in those days - a member of the much-loved and highly popular Madame Osina’s Dance Troupe.

And now, thanks to Vera, we can piece together the story behind the picture, turned into a postcard, which those young dancers must have treasured all those years ago.

It was actually taken at the back of the old Carlton Cinema on All Saints Green - a building now likely to be torn down as it has structural problems.

“She came on stage with us and then we went outside for a photograph,” said Vera.

Gracie appeared at the Hippodrome in St Giles and then topped the bill at the Theatre Royal after it was rebuilt following a serious fire in the 1930s.

In those days she was at the height of her fame - the people loved her and she played to packed houses.

She was one of Britain’s highest paid performers but she never lost the common touch and always had time for her fans. Making a real effort to get out and meet them wherever she went.

The girl from Rochdale had a heart of gold.

And I suspect she would have been pretty impressed by the young Madame Osina stars - they also played to sell-out houses in the city and were loved all over the county.

Gracie popped over to see them during their show during which they changed into a range wardrobe of different outfits made by madam.

They were wearing sailor suits for this routine called The Fleet’s In Port.

Vera, who grew up in Berners Street, was an only child so her mother enrolled her in the dance troupe at the age of five...so she wouldn’t get too “selfish!”

“I loved it. We met in a room at Calvert Street on a Saturday morning,” said Vera who went to Philadelphia Infants School and then on to the Commercial School in Duke Street where she was taught shorthand, typing and book keeping.

“Being part of Madam Osina’s played a big part in our lives. We travelled around the county and raised about £500 a year for the Sunshine Club for the Blind - a lot of money in those days,” she recalled.

Vera went on to work at Caleys chocolate factory.

She met Kenny, a farmer from Tasburgh, they married and settled down to life on the farm. They had two children, Jennifer and Keith, and Vera now has grandchildren and great grandchildren.

“I have been very lucky. I have had a good life and I remember my days with Madam Osina with great affection. I still see Beryl Vickers, who also ran a dance troupe, from time to time.”

“It was so nice to see the picture in the Evening News which I have read all my life,” she added.

Others she can remember on the photograph include: Charlie Ladbroke, the boy at the front in the busby, and that’s Mary Ladbroke on the right in the middle row. Then there is Reg Bedwell, Irene Mattin, Gertrude Bedwell, Beryl Latham, Pamela Rant, and Pauline Newby.

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