> Skip to content

A unique memoir about ballet, the war and a peerless generation of dancers

Gillian Lynne is one of the world’s most eminent choreographers, the creative force behind groundbreaking blockbusters such as Cats and Phantom of the Opera. But she started her career as a ballerina, and learnt to dance alongside Margot Fonteyn, Moira Shearer, Beryl Grey and Frederick Ashton. Hers was a generation of exceptional British talent, dancing under the direct influence not only of Anna Pavlova and Diaghilev but also the Second World War.

Greasepaint and Doodlebugs tells the story of Gillian’s childhood, an extraordinary combination of single-minded dedication to the barre and dealing with the day-to-day difficulties and very real dangers of the war. From Miss Madeleine Sharp’s Ballet Class for Young Ladies in Bromley, where she first met Beryl Grey, to being shipped off with fifty other mad-keen dancers when the Cone Ripman school was evacuated to rural Leicestershire, to panto tours around the war-torn provinces and performing over the sound of falling bombs, the early years were demanding and dramatic. And when the call came to join Sadler’s Wells – well, what ballerina hopeful could have asked for more?

This is a portrait of childhood, dedication and commitment like no other. Eye-opening, inspiring and moving, it charts the struggles and joys of reaching for the top of a profession that knows no limits, during a time of immeasurable suffering but also national pride and hope.


Gillian's journey through dance is a story of passion and devotion that should be read by everyone, not just dance lovers

Arlene Phillips

A beautiful tale of heartbreak, talent, determination and star quality

Daily Mail

Wonderfully nostalgic and magical

Easy Living

A charming and affecting memoir

Sunday Express, Books of the Year

An extraordinary tale

Sarah Crompton, Daily Telegraph

From the Blitz to Sadler's Wells, this is a charming portrait of passion and dedication, set against the difficulties of war

Woman & Home

A captivating story beautifully told ... and what an inspiration for anyone who dreams of a life on the stage

Cat Deeley

Dance historians will be as charmed by this sidelight on dance as ambitious girls will be inspired by Lynne's description of the dancer's life as an amalgam of "the Impossible and the Spiritual all wrapped up with a ribbon of passion

Iain Finlayson, The Times

Sincere and unpretentious... She paints [...] a picture of austerity Britain in which ballet was a supremely glamorous career path.

Rupert Christiansen, Literary Review

A charming and moving portrait of a wartime childhood and an extraordinary account of what it takes to make it on stage ... I couldn't put it down

Elaine Paige

An intriguing and moving account of a young girl's balletic ambitions during wartime. Wonderfully readable, spirited and honest

Derek Jacobi

I loved this book ... her energy, enthusiasm and passion are present in every line, and her commitment to the theatre and her determination to excel make for a fascinating and thoroughly absorbing read.

Dame Monica Mason, Director of the Royal Ballet

This is a remarkable book which I read overnight. It's gripping, touching, eye-opening and pitch perfect about a period of time almost lost from view. Gillian Lynne's tenacity's palpable from the outset. Definitely one to savour and treasure.

Gloria Hunniford

In A Dancer in Wartime, Gillian Lynne canters through her amazing experiences like the thoroughbred she is

Sir Ian McKellen

A warm, affectionate portrait of the ballet world, and of success tinged with sadness

Sally Morris, Daily Mail



Read More

Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    January 16, 2013


    304 pages

    RRP $27.99

    Online retailers

    • Mighty Ape
    • Paper Plus
    • The Warehouse
    • Whitcoulls
    • Fishpond
    • The Nile

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.co.nz

  • EBook


    November 8, 2012

    Vintage Digital

    304 pages

    Online retailers

    • Amazon Kindle NZ
    • iBooks NZ
    • Google Play EBook NZ
    • Kobo Ebook
    • Booktopia NZ