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Petula Clark, CBE (born 15 November 1932) is an English singer, actress, and composer whose career has spanned seven decades.

Clark's professional career began as an entertainer on BBC Radio during World War II. During the 1960s she became known internationally for her popular upbeat hits, including "Downtown," "I Know a Place," "My Love," "Colour My World," "A Sign of the Times," and "Don't Sleep in the Subway". With more than 70 million records sold worldwide, she is the most successful British female solo recording artist as cited in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Early years

Born to English father Leslie Norman Clark and Welsh mother Doris (née Phillips), both nurses, in Epsommarker, Surreymarker, Englandmarker, she was christened Petula Sally Olwen Clark. Her father Leslie coined her first name, jokingly alleging it was a combination of the names of two former girlfriends, Pet and Ulla. As a child, she sang in the chapel choir and showed a talent for mimicry, frequently impersonating Vera Lynn, Carmen Miranda, and Sophie Tucker for the amusement of family and friends.. Her father introduced her to theatre when he took her to see Flora Robson in a 1938 production of Mary Tudor; she later recalled that after the performance "I made up my mind then and there I was going to be an actress . . . I wanted to be Ingrid Bergman more than anything else in the world.". However, her first public performances were as a singer, performing with an orchestra in the entrance hall of Bentalls Department Storemarker in Kingston upon Thamesmarker for a tin of toffee and a gold wristwatch, in 1939.

In October 1942, Clark made her radio debut while attending a BBC broadcast with her father, hoping to send a message to an uncle stationed overseas. During an air raid, the producer requested that someone perform to settle the jittery audience, and she volunteered a rendition of "Mighty Lak a Rose" to an enthusiastic response in the theatre. She then repeated her performance for the broadcast audience, launching a series of some 500 appearances in programmes designed to entertain the troops. In addition to radio work, Clark frequently toured the United Kingdom with her fellow child performer Julie Andrews. Clark became known as "Britain's Shirley Temple", and she was considered a mascot by the British Army, whose troops plastered her photos on their tanks for good luck as they advanced into battle.

In 1944, while performing at London's Royal Albert Hallmarker, Clark was discovered by film director Maurice Elvey, who cast her as precocious orphaned waif Irma in his weepy war drama Medal for the General. In quick succession, she starred in Strawberry Roan, I Know Where I'm Going!, London Town, and Here Come the Huggetts, the first in a series of Huggett Family films based on a British radio series. Although most of the films she made in the U.K. during the 1940s and 1950s were B-movies, she worked with Anthony Newley in Vice Versa (directed by Peter Ustinov) and Alec Guinness in The Card.

In 1945, Clark was featured in the comic strip Radio Fun, in which she was billed as "Radio's Merry Mimic".

In 1946, Clark launched her television career with an appearance on a BBC variety show, Cabaret Cartoons, which led to her being signed to host her own afternoon series, titled simply Petula Clark. A second, Pet's Parlour, followed in 1949. In later years, she starred in This is Petula Clark (1966-67) and The Sound of Petula (1972-74).

In 1949, Clark branched into recording with her first release, "Put Your Shoes On, Lucy," for EMI. Because neither EMI nor Decca, for whom she also had recorded, were keen to sign her to a long-term contract, her father, whose own theatrical ambitions had been thwarted by his parents, teamed with Alan A. Freeman to form Polygon Records in order to better control her singing career. She scored a number of major hits in the U.K. during the 1950s, including "The Little Shoemaker" (1954), "Majorca" (1955), "Suddenly There's a Valley" (1955) and "With All My Heart" (1956). Although Clark released singles in the United States as early as 1951 (the first was "Tell Me Truly" b/w "Song Of The Mermaid" on the Coral label), it would take thirteen years before the American record-buying public would discover her.

In 1955 Clark became linked romantically with Joe "Mr Piano" Henderson. Speculation that the couple planned to marry became rife. However, with the increasing glare of being in the public spotlight, and Clark's growing fame (her career in France was just beginning), Henderson — reportedly not wanting to end up as "Mr. Petula Clark" — decided to end the relationship. Their professional relationship continued for a couple of years, professionally culminating in the BBC Radio series Pet and Mr. Piano, the last time they worked together, although they remained on friendly terms. In 1962 he penned a ballad about their break-up, called "There's Nothing More To Say", for Clark's LP In Other Words.

Near the end of 1955, Polygon Records was sold to Nixa Records, then part of Pye Records, which lead to the establishment of Pye Nixa Records (subsequently simply Pye). This turn of events effectively signed Clark to the Pye label in the U.K., for whom she would record for the remainder of the 1950s, throughout the 1960s, and early into the 1970s.

International fame

In 1958, Clark was invited to appear at the Paris Olympiamarker where, despite her misgivings and a bad cold, she was received with acclaim. The following day she was invited to the office of Vogue Records to discuss a contract. It was there that she met publicist Claude Wolff, to whom she was attracted immediately, and when told he would work with her if she signed with the label, she agreed. Her initial French recordings were huge successes, and in 1960 she embarked on a concert tour of Francemarker and Belgiummarker with Sacha Distel, who remained a close friend until his death in 2004. Gradually she moved further into the continent, recording in German, French, Italian and Spanish, and establishing herself as a multi-lingual performer.

1962 EP
June 1961, Clark married Wolff, first in a civil ceremony in Paris, then a religious one in her native England. Wanting to escape the strictures of child stardom imposed upon her by the British public, and anxious to escape the influence of her father, she relocated to France, where she and Wolff had two daughters, Barbara Michelle and Katherine Natalie, in quick succession. (Their son Patrick was born in 1972.) While Clark focused on her new career in France, she continued to achieve hit records in the U.K. into the early 1960s, developing a parallel career on both sides of the Channel. Her 1961 recording of "Sailor" became her first #1 hit in the U.K., while such follow-up recordings as "Romeo" and "My Friend the Sea" landed her in the British Top Ten later that year. In France, "Ya Ya Twist" (a French-language cover of the Lee Dorsey rhythm and blues song "Ya Ya" and the only successful recording of a twist song by a female) and "Chariot" (the original version of "I Will Follow Him") became smash hits in 1962, while German and Italian versions of her English and French recordings charted as well. Her recordings of several Serge Gainsbourg songs also were big sellers.

In 1964, Clark scored the French crime caper A Couteaux Tirés (aka Daggers Drawn) and played a cameo as herself in the movie. Although it was only a mild success, it added a new dimension — that of film composer — to her career. (In 1989 she composed the score for the French educational film Pétain; six of its themes were released on the CD In Her Own Write in 2007.)

In 1963 and 1964, Clark's British recording career foundered. The composer-arranger Tony Hatch, who had been assisting her with her work for "Vogue" in France and Pye Records in the U.K., flew to her home in Paris with new song material he hoped would interest her, but she found none of it appealing. Desperate, he played for her a few chords of an incomplete song that had been inspired by his recent first trip to New York Citymarker, which he suggested might be offered to "The Drifters". Upon hearing the melody, Clark told him that if he could write lyrics as good as the melody, she wanted to record the tune as her next single. Thus "Downtown" came into being.

"Downtown" era

Neither Clark, who was performing in Canadamarker when the song first received major air-play, nor Hatch realized the impact the song would have on their respective careers. Released in four different languages in late 1964, "Downtown" was a success in the U.K., France (in both the English and the French versions), The Netherlandsmarker, Germanymarker, Australia, Italymarker, and also Rhodesia, Japanmarker, and Indiamarker. During a visit to London, Warner Brothers executive Joe Smith heard it and acquired the rights for the United States. "Downtown" went to #1 on the American charts in January 1965, and three million copies were sold in America. It was the first of fifteen consecutive Top 40 hits Clark achieved in the United States, including "I Know a Place", "My Love", "A Sign of the Times", "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love", "This Is My Song" (from the Charles Chaplin film A Countess from Hong Kong), and "Don't Sleep in the Subway." The American recording industry honored her with Grammy Awards for "Best Rock & Roll Record" for "Downtown" in 1964 and for "Best Contemporary Female Vocal Performance" for "I Know a Place" in 1965. In 2003, her recording of "Downtown" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Ad for the NBC-TV special that sparked controversy even before it aired
's recording successes led to frequent appearances on American variety programs hosted by Ed Sullivan and Dean Martin, guest shots on Hullabaloo, Shindig!, The Kraft Music Hall, and The Hollywood Palace, and inclusion in musical specials such as The Best on Record and Rodgers and Hart Today.

In 1968, NBC-TV invited Clark to host her own special in the U.S., and in doing so she inadvertently made television history. While singing a duet of "On the Path of Glory," an anti-war song that she had composed, with guest Harry Belafonte, she touched his arm, to the dismay of a representative from the Chrysler Corp., the show's sponsor, who feared that the brief moment would offend Southern viewers at a time when racial conflict was still a major issue in the U.S. When he insisted that they substitute a different take, with Clark and Belafonte standing well away from one another, Clark and her husband Wolff, the producer of the show, refused, destroyed all other takes of the song, and delivered the finished program to NBC with the touch intact. The program aired on April 8, 1968, with high ratings and critical acclaim. (To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the original telecast, Clark and her husband, who had served as executive producer of the show, appeared at the Paley Center for Media in Manhattanmarker on September 22, 2008, to discuss the broadcast and its impact, following a broadcast of the program.)

Clark later was the hostess of two more specials, another one for NBC, and one for ABC - one which served as a pilot for a projected weekly series. Clark declined the offer in order to please her children, who disliked living in Los Angelesmarker, Calif.

Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Clark toured in concerts extensively throughout the States, and she often appeared in supper clubs such as the Copacabana in New York City, the Ambassador Hotel's Cocoanut Grovemarker in Los Angeles, and the Empire Room at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotelmarker, where she consistently broke house attendance records. During this period, she also appeared in print and radio ads for the Coca Cola Corp., television commercials for Plymouth automobiles, print and TV spots for Burlington Industries, television and print ads for Chrysler Sunbeam, and print ads for Sanderson Wallpaper in the U.K.

Clark revived her movie career in the late 1960s, starring in two big musical films. In Finian's Rainbow (1968), she starred opposite Fred Astaire, and she was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for her performance. The following year she was cast with Peter O'Toole in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, a musical adaptation of the classic James Hilton novella. (Her last film to date has been the British production Never Never Land, released in 1980.) After that, her output of musical hits in the States diminished markedly, although she continued to record and make television appearances into the 1970s. By the mid-1970s, Clark scaled back her career in order to devote more time to her family.

Herb Alpert and his A&M record label benefitted from Clark's interest in encouraging new talent. In 1968, she brought French composer/arranger Michel Colombier to the States to work as her musical director and introduced him to Alpert. (He went on to co-write Purple Rain with Prince, composed the acclaimed pop symphony Wings, and a number of soundtracks for American films.) Richard Carpenter publicly has credited her with bringing him and his sister, Karen, to Alpert's attention when they performed at a premiere party for Clark's film Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

Post-"Downtown" era

In 1954, Clark had starred in a stage production of The Constant Nymph, but it wasn't until 1981, at the urging of her children, that she returned to legitimate theatre, starring as Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music in London's West Endmarker. Opening to rave reviews and what was then the largest advance sale in British theatre history, Clark — proclaimed by Maria Von Trapp herself as "the best Maria ever" — extended her initial six-month run to thirteen to accommodate the huge demand for tickets. In 1983, she took on the title role in George Bernard Shaw's Candida. Later stage work includes Someone Like You in 1989 and 1990, for which she composed the score; Blood Brothers, in which she made her Broadwaymarker debut in 1993 at the Music Box Theatre, followed by the American tour; and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, appearing in both the West End and American touring productions from 1995 through 2000. In 2004, she repeated her performance of Norma Desmond in a production at the Cork Opera Housemarker in the Republic of Irelandmarker, which was later broadcast by the BBC. With more than 2500 performances, she has played the role more often than any other actress.

In both 1998 and 2002, Clark toured extensively throughout the U.K. In 2000, she presented a self-written one-woman show, highlighting her life and career, to large critical and audience acclaim at the St. Denis Theater in Montrealmarker. A 2003 concert appearance at the Olympia in Paris has been issued in both DVD and compact disc formats. In 2004, she toured Australia and New Zealand, appeared at the Hilton in Atlantic Citymarker, the Hummingbird Centre in Torontomarker, Humphrey's in San Diegomarker, and the Mohegan Sun in Connecticutmarker, and participated in a multi-performer tribute to the late Peggy Lee at the Hollywood Bowlmarker. Following another British concert tour in early spring 2005, she appeared with Andy Williams in his Moon River Theater in Branson, Missourimarker, for several months, and she returned for another engagement in the fall of 2006, following scattered concert dates throughout the U.S. and Canada.

In November 2006, Clark was the subject of a BBC Four documentary entitled Petula Clark: Blue Lady and appeared with Michael Ball and Tony Hatch in a concert at the Theatre Royal Drury Lanemarker broadcast by BBC Radio the following month. In December that year she made her first appearance in Icelandmarker. Duets, a compilation including Dusty Springfield, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, and the Everly Brothers, among others, was released in February 2007, and Solitude and Sunshine, a studio recording of all new material by composer Rod McKuen, was released in July of that year. She was the host of the March 2007 PBS pledge-drive special My Music: The British Beat, an overview of music's British invasion of the United States in the 1960s, followed by a number of concert dates throughout the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. She can be heard on the soundtrack of the 2007 independent film Downtown: A Street Tale. Une Baladine (in English, a wandering minstrel), an authorized pictorial biography by Francoise Piazza, was published in France and Switzerland in October 2007, and the following month Clark promoted it in bookshops and at book fairs.

Clark was presented with the 2007 Film & TV Music Award for Best Use of a Song in a Television Program for "Downtown" in the ABC series Lost. She completed a concert tour of England and Wales in Summer 2008, followed by concerts in Switzerlandmarker and the Philippinesmarker. Then & Now, a compilation of greatest hits and several new Clark compositions, entered the British album charts in June 2008 and won Clark her first-ever Silver Disc for an album. Open Your Heart: A Love Song Collection, a compilation of previously unreleased material and new and remixed recordings, was released in January 2009. Additionally, her 1969 NBC special Portrait of Petula, already released on DVD for Region 2 viewers, is also being produced for Region 1. A collection of holiday songs titled This Is Christmas, which includes some new Clark compositions in addition to previously released material, was released in November 2009.

In 1998, Clark was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II by being made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.




Clark released her first single in 1949, but she did not hit the charts until 1954, because the first U.K. Singles Chart was not published until November 1952.

  • 1954: "The Little Shoemaker" U.K. Singles Chart #7
  • 1955: "Majorca" U.K. #12
  • 1955: "Suddenly There's A Valley" U.K. #7
  • 1957: "With All My Heart" U.K. #4
  • 1957: "Alone " U.K. #8
  • 1958: "Baby Lover" U.K. #12
  • 1961: "Sailor" U.K. #1
  • 1961: "Something Missing" U.K. #44
  • 1961: "Romeo" U.K. #3
  • 1961: "My Friend The Sea" U.K. #7
  • 1962: "I'm Counting On You" U.K. #41
  • 1962: "Ya Ya Twist" U.K. #14 (French version of "Ya Ya" by Lee Dorsey)
  • 1963: "Casanova/Chariot" U.K. #39
  • 1964: "Downtown" U.K. #2 / Canada #1 / U.S. #1 (Gold)
  • 1965: "I Know A Place" U.K. #17 / Canada #1 / U.S. #3
  • 1965: "You'd Better Come Home" U.K. #44 / Canada #11 / U.S. #22
  • 1965: "Round Every Corner" U.K. #43 / Canada #6 / U.S. #21
  • 1965: "You're The One" U.K. #23 (co-written by Clark; U.S. #4 in 1965 for The Vogues)
  • 1965: "My Love" U.K. #4 / Canada #1 / U.S. #1
  • 1966: "A Sign Of The Times" U.K. #49 / Canada #8 / U.S. #11
  • 1966: "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love" U.K. #6 / Canada #6 / U.S. #9 (also U.S. Adult Contemporary #1)
  • 1966: "Who Am I" Canada #14 / U.S. #21
  • 1967: "Colour My World" Canada #14 / U.S. #16
  • 1967: "This Is My Song" U.K. #1 / Canada #4 / U.S. #3
  • 1967: "Don't Sleep in the Subway" U.K. #12 / Canada #5 / U.S. #5 (also U.S. Adult Contemporary #1)
  • 1967: "The Cat In The Window (The Bird In The Sky)" Canada #35/ U.S. #26
  • 1968: "The Other Man's Grass (Is Always Greener)" U.K. #20 / Canada #12 / U.S. #31
  • 1968: "Kiss Me Goodbye" U.K. #50 / Canada #10 / U.S. #15
  • 1968: "Don't Give Up" Canada #23/ U.S. #37
  • 1968: "American Boys (Take Good Care of Your Heart)" Canada #37 / U.S. #59
  • 1969: "Happy Heart" U.S. #62 (bigger hit version by Andy Williams)
  • 1969: "Look At Mine" U.S. #89
  • 1969: "No One Better Than You" U.S. #93
  • 1971: "The Song Of My Life" U.K. #32
  • 1972: "I Don't Know How to Love Him" U.K. #47
  • 1972: "My Guy" U.S. #70
  • 1972: "The Wedding Song (There Is Love)" U.S. #61
  • 1982: "Natural Love" U.S. #66 (also U.S. #20 Country Charts)
  • 1988: "Downtown '88" U.K. #10

American Top Fifteen Adult Contemporary hits: "You'd Better Come Home" (#4), "My Love" (#4), "A Sign Of The Times" (#2), "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love" (#1), "Colour My World" (#10), "This Is My Song" (#2), "Don't Sleep in the Subway" (#1), "The Cat In The Window" (#9), "The Other Man's Grass" (#3), "Kiss Me Goodbye" (#2), "Don't Give Up" (#5), "Happy Heart" (#12), "Look At Mine" (#14), "My Guy" (#12), "The Wedding Song" (#9), "Loving Arms" (#12)

Notable French Singles

Notable German Singles

  • "Monsieur" (1962, #1)
  • "Casanova Baciami" (1963, #2)
  • "Cheerio" (1963, #6)
  • "Mille Mille Grazie" (1963, #9)
  • "Mit weißen Perlen" (1964, #17)
  • "Alles ist nun vorbei (Anyone who had a heart)" (1964, #37)
  • "Downtown" (1965, German version, #1)
  • "Kann ich dir vertrauen" (1966, #17)
  • "Verzeih' die dummen Tränen" (1966, German version of "My Love", #21)
  • "Love - so heißt mein Song" (1967, German version of "This is My Song", #23)

Notable Italian Singles

  • "Sul mio carro (Chariot)" (1962, #1)
  • "Quelli che hanno un cuore (Anyone who had a heart)" (1964, #4)
  • "Invece no" (Entry at the San Remo Festival 1965, # 5)
  • "Ciao, ciao (Downtown)", (1965, #1)
  • "Cara felicita' (This is my song)" (1967, # 1)
  • "Kiss me goodbye (Italian version)" (1968, #26)

Complete Spanish Recordings

All four songs were released in 1964 in Spain on Hispavox EP "Petula Clark canta en Español" (Cat.-No. HV 27-126).

Other noteworthy recordings

  • "Put Your Shoes On Lucy" (1949)
  • "House in the Sky" (1949)
  • "I'll Always Love You" (1949)
  • "Clancy Lowered the Boom" (1949)
  • "You Go To My Head" (1950)
  • "Music! Music! Music!" (1950)
  • "You Are My True Love" (1950)
  • "Mariandl" (with Jimmy Young) (1951)
  • "Where Did My Snowman Go?" (1952)
  • "The Card" (1952)
  • "Christopher Robin At Buckingham Palace" (1953)
  • "Meet Me In Battersea Park" (1954)
  • "Suddenly There's A Valley" (1955)
  • "Another Door Opens" (1956)
  • "With All My Heart" (1957)
  • "Fibbin'" (1958)
  • "Devotion" (1958)
  • "Dear Daddy" (1959)
  • "Mama's Talkin' Soft" (1959), a song deleted from Gypsy prior to its Broadway opening
  • "Cinderella Jones" (1960)
  • "Marin" ("Sailor") (1961)
  • "Cœur blessé" (1963)
  • "Ceux qui ont un cœur" ("Anyone Who Had a Heart") (1964)
  • "Invece no" (1965)
  • "Dans le temps" ("Downtown") (1965)
  • "Sauve-moi" (1977)
  • "Mr. Orwell" (1984)
  • Blood Brothers (International Recording) (1995)
  • Songs from Sunset Boulevard (1996)
  • Here for You (1998)
  • The Ultimate Collection (2002)
  • Kaleidoscope (2003)
  • "Starting All Over Again" (2003)
  • Live at the Paris Olympia (2004)
  • "Driven by Emotion" (2005)
  • "Memphis" (2005)
  • "Together" (2006), recorded as a duet with Andy Williams
  • "Thank You for Christmas" (2006)
  • "Simple Gifts" (2006)
  • Duets (2007)
  • Solitude and Sunshine (2007)
  • In Her Own Write (2007)
  • Then & Now (2008)
  • Open Your Heart: A Love Song Collection (2009)
  • This is Christmas (2009)

See also


  1. Kon, Andrea, This is My Song: A Biography of Petula Clark. London: W.H. Allen & Co. Ltd. 1983 ISBN 0 491 02898 9, pp. 23, 37-38
  2. Kon, pp. 22-23
  3. Kon, pp. 26-27
  4. Kon, p. 54
  5. The Penguin Book of Comics by George Perry and Alan Aldridge, 1967
  6. Kon, pp. 119-20
  7. Kon, p. 130
  8. Kon, pp. 122-25
  9. Kon, pp. 157-58
  10. Legends: Petula Clark — Blue Lady, broadcast on BBC Four 19 November 2006
  12. Independent article

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