Petula Clark, CBE (born 15 November 1932), is an English singer, actress and composer best known for her upbeat popular international hits of the 1960s, especially "Downtown". With more than 70 million records sold worldwide, she is the most successful British female solo recording artist and is cited as such in the Guinness Book of World Records. She also holds the distinction of having the longest span on the UK pop charts of any British female artist — 54 years — from 1954, when "The Little Shoemaker" made the UK Top Twenty, to 2008, when her CD Then & Now: The Very Best of Petula Clark debuted at #17 on the UK Albums Chart .
In 1944, while performing at London's Royal Albert Hall, Clark was discovered by film director Maurice Elvey, who cast her as an orphaned waif 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 did work with Anthony Newley in Vice Versa (directed by Peter Ustinov) and Alec Guinness in The Card.
In 1945, Clark was featured as a comic strip in Radio Fun, in which she was billed as "Radio's Merry Mimic".
In 1946, she 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) and The Sound of Petula (1972-74).
In 1949, Clark branched into recording with her first release, "Put Your Shoes On, Berluscony", for EMI. However, neither EMI nor Decca, who she recorded a track for, were keen to sign her to a long-term contract. Petula's father, whose theatrical ambitions had been thwarted by his parents, teamed with Alan A. Freeman to form their own label, 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.
It was around 1955 that she became romantically linked with Joe "Mr Piano" Henderson. Their relationship lasted a couple of years, professionally culminating in a BBC Radio series in which they performed together. 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 call the whole thing off. They remained on friendly terms, and 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). In turn this effectively signed 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 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 she focused on her new career in France, she continued to achieve hit records in the UK into the early 1960s, developing a parallel career on both sides of the Channel. Her recording of "Sailor" became her first number 1 hit in the UK in 1961, while 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 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 were also big sellers.
In 1963 and 1964, Clark's British career foundered. Composer-arranger Tony Hatch, who had been assisting her with her work for Vogue in France and Pye Records in the UK which continued to distribute Clark's records in that country, flew to 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 present 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.
In 1964, Clark wrote the musical score for the French crime caper A Couteaux Tirés (At 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 Clark's career.
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 Today.
In 1968, NBC invited her to host her own special in the USA, 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, Clark 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 8 April 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.
Clark revived her film career in the late 1960s, starring in two big musical films: Finian's Rainbow (1968) opposite Fred Astaire (for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe Award), and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969) with Peter O'Toole. (Her last film to date is the British production Never Never Land, released in 1980.) After this, her output of hits in the States diminished markedly, although she continued to record and make television appearances into the 1970s. By the mid-1970s, she 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 to Alpert's attention when they performed at a premiere party for her film Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
In both 1998 and 2002, Clark toured extensively throughout the UK. In 2000, she presented a self-written one-woman show, highlighting her life and career, to tremendous critical and audience acclaim at the St. Denis Theatre in Montreal. A 2003 concert appearance at the Olympia in Paris has been issued in both DVD and CD formats. In 2004, she toured Australia and New Zealand, appeared at the Hilton in Atlantic City, the Hummingbird Centre in Toronto, Humphrey's in San Diego, and the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, and participated in a multi-performer tribute to the late Peggy Lee at the Hollywood Bowl. Following another UK concert tour in early spring 2005, she appeared with Andy Williams in his Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri for several months, and returned for another engagement in the fall of 2006, following scattered concert dates throughout the US 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 Lane broadcast by BBC Radio the following month. In December that year she made her first appearance in Iceland. 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. 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 US in the 1960s, followed by a number of concert dates throughout the US, the UK, 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 series Lost. She completed a concert tour of England and Wales in Summer 2008, followed by concerts in Switzerland and the Philippines. Then & Now, a compilation of greatest hits and several new Clark compositions, recorded at the Arthanor Productions Studio in Geneva, entered the UK album charts in June 2008 and won Clark her first-ever Silver Disc for an album.
US 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)