Petula Clark is an English variety singer, actress and composer whose career has spanned seven decades. Her acting roles include the TV series, "Goodbye Mr. Chips," and the movies "Never Never Land" and "An Orphan's Tale."
She was born Sally Olwen Clark on November 15, 1932 to Leslie and Doris Clark, nurses at Long Grove Hospital in Epsom, England. Her mother was of Welsh ancestry and her father was English. As a child, she sang in the chapel choir and showed a talent for mimicry, impersonating Vera Lynn, Carmen Miranda and Sophie Tucker for her family and friends. Her father introduced her to theatre when he took her to see a 1938 production of Mary Tudor. He also gave her the stage name of "Petula," a combination of the names of two former girlfriends, Pet and Ulla. She started out as a singer, performing with an orchestra in the entrance hall of Bentall's Department Store in Kingston-upon-Thames for a tin of toffee and a gold wristwatch in 1939. She later made her radio debut in October 1942 on a BBC Broadcast by singing to settle tensions during an air raid. She repeated her singing to broadcast audiences through the USO, frequently touring with fellow child performer Julie Andrews. Nicknamed the "Singing Sweetheart", she performed for George VI, Winston Churchill and Bernard Montgomery, becoming known as "Britain's Shirley Temple" and a mascot by the British Army. Troops plastered her photos on their tanks for good luck as they advanced into battle.
While performing at London's Royal Albert Hall in 1944, 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." She starred in "Strawberry Roan," "I Know Where I'm Going!," "London Town," "Here Come the Huggetts" and following Huggetts movies. She also worked with Anthony Newley in "Vice Versa" and Alec Guinness in "The Card."
In 1946, Clark launched her television career with an appearance on a BBC variety show, "Cabaret Cartoons," which led to her own variety series. She met song-writer Joe "Mr Piano" Henderson in 1947, starting a long musical collaboration and romance. She started her own recording career through Polgon Records founded by Freeman and her father in 1949. Although popular in England, her popularity in the United States didn't soar until 1965 with her most famous song, "Downtown," which brought her international stardom.
Over the years, she appeared on numerous TV shows as herself, including Ed Sullivan, The Smothers Brothers, Carol Burnett, Andy Williams, Bob Hope, Rowan and Martin's "Laugh In," Flip Wilson, Johnny Carson, Bobby Darin, Dean Martin, Perry Como, Mike Douglas and the June 1, 1957 of "The Benny Hill Show." She had a concert tour of France and Belguim in 1960 with performer 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. With more hit records in her career, she started writing soundtracks for motion pictures, starting with the French crime film "Daggers Drawn" in 1964.
In 1968, Clark had her own American variety series. When entertainer Harry Belafonte appeared on the show, she touched Belafonte in a way that offended a representative from the Chrysler Corporation, the show's sponsor. They tried to get the performance banned or replaced, but the performance went on as aired on April 8, 1968 with high ratings and critical acclaim.
Clark went on to do two more specials for ABC and CBS, declining a weekly special to spend time with her family. She also starred in the BBC television series, "This is Petula Clark," which aired from mid-1966 though early 1968. In the late 1960s, she starred in two big musicals films, "Finian's Rainbow" with Fred Astaire in 1968 for which she was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for her performance, and "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" with Peter O'Toole in 1969, a musical adaptation of the classic James Hilton novella.
Through the late 1960s, Clark toured in concerts in the States, often appearing in supper clubs such as 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 consistently broke house attendance records. In the early 1970s, she had chart singles on both sides of the Atlantic with "Melody Man," "The Song of My Life," "I Don't Know How To Love Him," "The Wedding Song (There Is Love)" and "Loving Arms" in 1974. In Canada "Je Voudrais Qu'il Soit Malheureux" was a major hit.
She continued touring during the 1970s, performing in clubs in the US and Europe while also appearing in ads and commercials. She ultimately scaled her career back in the mid-70s to devote time with her family while appearing in print and radio ads for the Coca Cola Corporation, 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 UK.
In the mid-1970s, Clark scaled back her career in order to devote more time to her family, later performing her hit song "Downtown" on BBC1's A Jubilee of Music, celebrating British popular music for Queen Elizabeth II's impending Silver Jubilee, on December 31, 1976. She also hosted the television series, "The Sound of Petula" from 1972 to 1974 while making numerous guest appearances on variety, comedy and game show television programmes. Her last film appearance was in the 1980 British production "Never Never Land" with a television appearance in the 1981 French mini-series, "Sans Famille" (An Orphan's Tale), but she later took up the role of Maria von Trapp in "The Sound of Music" in London's West End and the title role in George Bernard Shaw's "Candida" with later stage roles.
In 1998, Clark was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. She was installed as a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France by the French Minister of Culture in 2012.