Petula Clark, born November 15, 1932 (age 86), is a British singer, actress, and composer.
Born Petula Sally Olwen Clark to an English father and Welsh mother in Surrey, England, Clark began singing in the local church choir at the age of three. Her first public appearances were in a suburban London department store, where she performed with an orchestra in the entrance foyer for tins of toffee and a wrist watch. She came to the public's attention in 1942 when, in order to calm the others, she sang in a BBC bomb shelter during an air raid that interrupted a broadcast designed to allow people to send messages to loved ones fighting in World War II. An executive was so impressed by her performance he put her on the air as soon as the all-clear sounded. It proved to be the first of more than 500 radio appearances throughout the war. Clark also joined Julie Andrews for a series of performances at Army and RAF bases throughout the UK.
In 1944, director Maurice Elvey saw Clark performing at the Royal Albert Hall and signed her for his film Medal for the General, about child refugees separated from their families during the war. It was the first of two dozen movies she made in her native England throughout her teen years and into adulthood.
In 1946, Clark launched her television career with an appearance on a BBC variety show, Cabaret Cartoons. She was signed to host her own afternoon series, titled simply Petula Clark, and a second called Pet's Parlour aired in 1949. Decades later she would star in This is Petula Clark (1966) and The Sound of Petula (1972-74).
Clark's singing talent was encouraged by her father, who with Alan A. Freeman created Polygon Records. Her first recording, a cover of Teresa Brewer's "Music! Music! Music!," was released in Australia in 1949. She had several hits in the UK during the 1950s, including:
- "The Little Shoemaker" (1954)
- "Majorca" (1955)
- "Suddenly There's a Valley" (1955)
- "With All My Heart" (1956)
In 1958, Clark was invited to appear at the Olympia in Paris. The next day she was invited to the offices of Vogue Records to discuss a recording contract. She was introduced to publicist Claude Wolff and when she was told he would work with her if she signed with the label, she immediately agreed. Her French recordings were huge successes that outsold Edith Piaf, and eventually she began to perform throughout Europe, recording in German, Italian, and Spanish in addition to French.
In June 1961, Clark married Wolff in a civil ceremony in Paris followed by a religious one in England. She emigrated to France, where the couple had two daughters, Barbara Michelle and Katherine Natalie, and later a son, Patrick. Through the early 1960s she concentrated on a singing career in both her native country and throughout the Continent. "Sailor" became her first #1 hit in the UK, and "Romeo" and "My Friend the Sea" both reached the British Top Ten. Meanwhile, in France, "Ya Ya Twist" and "Chariot" (the original version of "I Will Follow Him") became smash hits.
In 1964, composer/arranger Tony Hatch, who had been working with her at both Vogue in France and Pye Records in the UK, flew to Paris with new material he hoped would interest her, but Clark found none of it appealing until she heard a few chords of an incomplete song Hatch had begun to write after his first trip to New York City. He planned to present it to The Drifters, but she urged him to finish the tune and said if the lyrics were as good as the melody, she would record it as her next single. The song was "Downtown," which in four different languages became a worldwide best-seller and finally introduced Clark to American audiences. It hit #1 on the US pop charts and won her a Grammy Award, the first of two. It led to a succession of fifteen Top 40 hits, including:
- "I Know a Place"
- "Round Every Corner"
- "My Love"
- "This is My Song"
- "Don't Sleep in the Subway"
- "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love"
Her recordings were known for their catchy beats and uplifting messages. She has recorded more than 1000 songs and has written dozens under both her own name and the pseudonym Al Grant.
Clark frequently appeared on US television programs such as Hullabaloo, Shindig!, and The Hollywood Palace and was a frequent guest of Ed Sullivan and Dean Martin. In 1968, NBC invited her to host her own special, which made television history. While singing a duet with Harry Belafonte, she innocently touched his arm. A representative from Chrysler, the show's sponsor, insisted this would offend Southern viewers (at the time racial conflict was still a major problem) and he demanded they substitute a different take with Clark and Belafonte standing far away from each other. She refused and delivered the finished program to the network with the touch intact. It aired to high ratings and much critical acclaim, and marked the first time a man and woman of different races touched on American television.
Throughout the 1960s and '70s, Clark appeared in American nightclubs like the Copacabana in New York City, the Ambassador Hotel's Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, and the Empire Room at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where she broke attendance records. She also appeared in print and radio ads for Coca Cola, television commercials for Plymouth, print and TV spots for Burlington Industries in the US and television and print ads for Chrysler Sunbeam and print ads for Sanderson Wallpaper in the UK.
In the late 1960s, Clark starred in two musical films, with Fred Astaire in Finian's Rainbow (for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe Award), and Goodbye, Mr. Chips opposite Peter O'Toole. Her last feature film was the British production Never Never Land (1980).
In 1981, Clark starred as Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music in London's West End. Two years later she played the title role in George Bernard Shaw's Candida. Additional theatre credits include Someone Like You (for which she composed the score), Blood Brothers (in which she made her Broadway debut, followed by the US tour), and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard (in which she appeared in both London and the US tour from 1995 through 2000).
At the age of nearly 75, Clark is still active and frequently appears in concert and continues to record. Her most recent CD releases are Duets, a compilation including Dusty Springfield, Peggy Lee, and Bobby Darin, and Solitude and Sunshine, with songs by composer Rod McKuen. Her 2007 concert dates include appearances in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, where she is being heard by long-time fans and discovered by a new generation.
In 1998, Clark was honored by Queen Elizabeth II by being made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire). In her extensive career she has recorded over 1,000 songs and sold over 70 million records worldwide making her the most successful female British recording artist in history.
- Medal for the General (1944)
- Strawberry Roan (1945)
- Murder in Reverse (1945)
- I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)
- Trouble at Townsend (1946)
- London Town (1946)
- Vice Versa (1948)
- Easy Money (1948)
- Here Come the Huggetts (1948)
- Vote for Huggett (1949)
- The Huggetts Abroad (1949)
- Don't Ever Leave Me (1949)
- The Romantic Age (1949)
- Dance Hall (1950)
- White Corridors (1951)
- Madame Louise (1951)
- The Card (1952)
- Made in Heaven (1952)
- The Runaway Bus (1954)
- The Gay Dog (1954)
- The Happiness of Three Women (1954)
- Track the Man Down (1955)
- That Woman Opposite (1957)
- 6.5 Special (1958)
- À Couteaux Tirés (1964)
- Finian's Rainbow (1968)
- Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
- Drôles de Zèbres (1977)
- Never, Never Land (1980)