The career of a child star is a well-worn path: a few annoying movies and lots of publicity shots of the little darling looking winsome, then the decline when adolescence hits. If they're lucky they end up in obscurity with enough money to pay for a few of life's little luxuries. Generally they're ripped off by the system and frequently end up hitting the headlines as drink, drugs or anorexia destroy them. Pet Clark was different, and now her time as Britain's favourite child seems just a footnote in a fabulous career.
Every child star has someone behind them pushing them forward. In Clark's case this was her father. He had her performing from the age of four and she was soon a familiar voice on radio. From there it was a short step to small roles in film and a major one in London Town. The flop of this big budget musical did nothing to dent her popularity and she got her best known role as the youngest Huggett daughter in the short lived series.
By now she was getting grown up but she moved on to ingénue roles in films and had her own TV series (Pet's Parlour). By the mid-fifties she'd shaken off her father as manager and the decline set in. As the decade drew to a close her career was stalling and she was on her way to becoming one of those half-remembered stalwarts of 50s variety shows like Alma Cogan or Shirley Abicair.
Then something strange happened – she hit it big in France. Where we still saw our little Pet, prim and unexciting, they saw a sexy, sophisticated singer. She began to record in French, got herself a French husband and settled down there.
The worldwide hit she had with Downtown in 1964 brought her to new heights and got her an American number one. Now she was in the big league and seemed to spend the rest of the sixties on American TV duetting with the likes of Sinatra and Crosby. This popularity got her a couple of film musicals though they weren't up to much.
Naturally the hits have dried up, but she keeps on working: sell-out concerts, Broadway shows. She's toured America in the Sunset Boulevard musical. Many reckon she's the best actress to play Norma Desmond, and certainly she's played it more often than any other.
The British film industry in the fifties was a largely musical-free zone, and there were few decent roles for women at all. Still, it does seem a shame that we neglected the talents of someone as gifted as Petula Clark.
|1944||Medal for the General|
|1945||Murder in Reverse?|
|1945||I Know Where I'm Going|
|1945||Trouble at Townsend (short)|
|1948||Here Come the Huggetts|
|1949||Don't Ever Leave Me|
|1949||Vote for the Huggetts|
|1950||The Huggetts Abroad|
|1950||The Romantic Age|
|1952||Made in Heaven|
|1954||The Runaway Bus|
|1954||The Gay Dog|
|1955||The Happiness of Three Women|
|1956||Track the Man Down|
|1957||That Woman Opposite|
|1968||Finian's Rainbow (U.S.)|
|1969||Goodbye Mr Chips|
|1981||Never never Land|
Petula Clark at Amazon UK
Petula Clark at Amazon US