A career begun in war

World War II was a very hard time for the people of Britain. German air raids, destruction, food shortages, and many other factors went towards making life hard. British entertainers helped keep spirits up, with veteran performers such as Vera Lynn and George Formby becoming early favorites. Sometimes a star is born, almost out of necessity.

In the early 1870’s, a new hotel was built near what was to become Piccadilly Circus. There was to be a concert hall in the basement, but the managers of the hotel petitioned to change the proposed concert hall into a theatre. Permission was granted, and the underground Criterion Theatre was born.

Because of the theatre’s unique location, the BBC made use of it for many of its broadcasts during World War II. On October 17, 1942, The Beeb was preparing to broadcast one its programs, “It’s All Yours.” A man went to the program, hoping to record a message for an uncle who was stationed in North Africa. The man’s daughter accompanied her father to the theater, but before the program began, air raid sirens sounded and the audience became nervous. To ease the tension, the BBC producer asked if anyone in the audience would like to sing, or tell a joke or story, to help the audience calm down. The daughter, who had wanted to be an entertainer since a young age, volunteered. She sang a song from the turn of the century called “Mighty Lak a Rose.” The orchestra began to play behind her, and the audience was enchanted. When the song was over, the orchestra gave her a standing ovation. The girl was asked to sing on the program, and her performance drew hundreds of letters. Her singing career was born. Two years later she added film to her resume.

By the early 1960’s, the girl was a popular singer and actress across Europe, but she did not become known in the US until 1964 at the ripe old age of…32 with her hit, Downtown. I was not able to find a recording of her 1942 broadcast, but here is a video exploring the life of a young Petula Clark.

6 thoughts on “A career begun in war”

  1. As you know, I never was a fan of hers but her story is interesting. The video is, er, how do I put this: Bizarre? Weird? Curious?

    And the song she sang “Mighty Lak A Rose” is, according to Wikipedia,

    … a 1901 song with lyrics by Frank Lebby Stanton and music by Ethelbert Nevin. The lyrics are written in an approximation of a black American accent as a “dialect song”, and the title thus means “mighty like a rose”. It is sung by a black woman called “Mammy” to a newborn blue-eyed white boy in her care.

    What business a 9 year old blue eyed, blonde child, from England has singing this particular song, is beyond my ken. But there you go.

    1. I thought it was a typo. How very odd! I’m surprised the song hasn’t been scrubbed from existence because “racist” or “cultural appropriation” or some such drivel.

      Is “Downtown” her only hit Matt?

      1. She had many hits in the UK lady red, including (rom Wiki): I Know a Place”, “My Love”, “A Sign of the Times”, “I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love”, “Colour My World”, “This Is My Song,” “Kiss Me Goodbye,” and “Don’t Sleep in the Subway”, and she was dubbed “the First Lady of the British Invasion”. She has sold more than 68 million records.

        Didn’t like any of them LOL!

      2. She also did Plymouth commercials for a few years. Here she is doing a rehash of Spanky and our Gang’s Sunday Will Never Be The Same

        1. Good find Matt. Now be gone with Petula Clark. And never darken my door again with her vocal stylings. Ta very much.

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