Petula Clark

Active - 1944 - 2014  |   Born - Nov 15, 1932 in Epsom, Surrey, England  |   Genres - Music, Drama, Comedy, Crime, Musical

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Biography by Hal Erickson

British entertainer Petula Clark was a star at 11, headlining musical halls and BBC radio programs as a result of volunteering to sing for British wartime troops during a kiddie variety broadcast. So popular was Petula and so well-received were her gifts for vocalizing and mimicry that at one point in World War II, she "starred" in a comic strip. In 1944, Petula made her film bow in A Medal for the General, spending the next few years with the Rank Organisation playing cheeky but wholesome teenagers. A tad weary of portraying the same character over and over, Petula left for France in the mid '50s, where she scored her first significant success as an adult pop singer--despite the fact that she was still little-girlish in appearance, never standing any taller than 5 feet. Clark was "discovered" by American audiences thanks to her 1965 hit recording "Downtown," which led to other song smashes like "Don't Sleep in the Subway" and "I Know a Place." Unfortunately she scored her hit just after signing several contracts at less-than-star salary, so she was obliged to spend eight months working for a tenth of what she was worth. Petula's compensation for a series of British and American TV specials was rather more rewarding, as were her appearances in the expensive musical films Finian's Rainbow (1968) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969). Just before her enormous popularity settled into just plain popularity, Petula made headlines for an appearance on an ABC special in which she "scandalized" certain Southern viewers by holding hands with black singer Harry Belafonte. After several years outside the realm of superstardom, Petula Clark made a welcome return to films in the kid-oriented confection Never Never Land (1980); in the early 1990s she starred on Broadway with David Cassidy in the musical Blood Brothers.

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  • First appeared on the radio in 1942 when the producer of the It's All Yours radio show asked if anyone wanted to sing a song to entertain the troops.
  • Was asked to sing at the national victory celebration in Trafalgar Square, London, England to mark the end of World War II.
  • Released her first single, "Put Your Shoes On, Lucy," in 1947.
  • Her 1964 single "Downtown" went to number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
  • Made her Broadway debut in Blood Brothers in 1994, opposite David and Shaun Cassidy, and later reprised her role in the U.S. tour.
  • Made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1998. 
  • Her recording of "Downtown" was inducted into the Grammy Hall Fame in 2003.