Petula Clark - Spotlight Artist
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Petula Clark's career started way before many of us baby boomers
were born but a star she was and a star she will always be. Petula is an actress,
a composer and of course a fabulous singer. She was born November 15, 1932 in Surrey,
Petula 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
ever and is cited as such in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Petuala Clark also holds the distinction of having the longest
span on international pop music charts of any British female artist — 55 years, from 1954, when "The Little
Shoemaker" made the UK Top 20, to 2009, when her CD Les Indispensables charted in the Top 10 in Belgium.
In October 1942, she 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, Petuala Clark frequently toured the UK with fellow child performer Julie Andrews. She became known as
"Britain's Shirley Temple" and was considered a mascot by the British Army, whose troops plastered her photos on
their tanks for luck as they advanced into battle.
In 1944, while performing at London's Royal Albert Hall, Petula
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 UK during the 1940s and '50s 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, Petula 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, she 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 UK 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 US 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 Petula 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 Petula Clark to the Pye label in the UK, for whom she would record for the remainder
of the 1950s, throughout the 1960s, and early into the 1970s
In 1963 and 1964, Petula Clark's British recording career
foundered. Composer-arranger Tony Hatch, who had been assisting her with her work for Vogue in France and Pye
Records in the UK, flew to her home in Paris with new 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 a recent
first trip to New York City, which he intended to offer to The Drifters. Upon hearing the music, 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.
Clark's recording successes led to frequent appearances on US
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
In 1968, NBC invited Clark to host her own special in the US, and
in doing so she inadvertently made television history. While singing a duet of "On the Path of Glory," an anti-war
song she had composed, with guest Harry Belafonte, she touched his arm, to the dismay of a representative from
Chrysler, the show's sponsor, who feared the brief moment would offend Southern viewers at a time when racial
conflict was still a major issue in the US. When he insisted they substitute a different take, with Clark and
Belafonte standing well away from each other, she and husband Wolff, producer of the show, refused, destroyed all
other takes of the song, and delivered the finished program to NBC with the touch intact. It aired on April 8, 1968
to high ratings and critical acclaim, and marked the first time a man and woman of different races exchanged
physical contact on American television. (To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the telecast, Clark and her
husband, who had served as executive producer of the show, appeared at the Paley Center for Media in Manhattan on
September 22, 2008 to discuss the broadcast and its impact following an airing of the program.)
Clark subsequently hosted two more specials, another for NBC and
one for ABC, which served as a pilot for a projected weekly series. She declined the offer in order to appease her
children, who disliked living in Los Angeles.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Clark toured in concert extensively
throughout the States, and often appeared 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. During this period, 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, television and print
ads for Chrysler Sunbeam, and print ads for Sanderson Wallpaper in the UK.
In 1998, Clark was honored by Queen Elizabeth II by being made a
CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire).
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.
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