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Petula Clark, the Oldie of the Year 2020! By Gyles Brandreth

Features | By Gyles Brandreth

She turns 88 on November 15. She’s danced with Fred Astaire, sung with Sinatra and sold 68 million records. And now she’s our Number 1 award-winner.


Petula Clark, the Oldie of the Year 2020!

Petula Clark is a phenomenal phenomenon.

I am not quite sure why she hasn’t been our Oldie of the Year every year for the past quarter of a century. She is knocking ninety (88 on 15 November), looks sixty (and a fab sixty, too), and has been doing her thing (singing, acting and composing) for more than eighty years.

She made her professional debut in 1939, singing with a tea-time orchestra in the entrance hall of Bentall’s department store in Kingston-upon-Thames. She was paid in kind with a tin of toffee and a gold wristwatch.

Petula became a household name during the Second World War, entertaining the troops on radio and in person, not simply as a child who could sing and dance (‘the British Shirley Temple’) but, more intriguingly, as a pre-teen impersonator (‘Radio’s Merry Mimic’), who could do uncannily accurate impressions of everyone from Vera Lynn and Sophie Tucker to Carmen Miranda and George Formby. Apparently, Winston Churchill simply adored her. She could do him, too.

She made her first film in 1944, her first TV series in 1946 and her first hit record in 1949; since when, she has neither stopped nor looked back. You know about her 1964 global No 1, ‘Downtown’, of course, but there have been countless others, before and since, and for many of them she was the composer as well as the performer.

Late to the party, we TOOTY judges realised we had to recognise her when she stole the notices in this year’s West End revival of the stage version of Mary Poppins, playing the old lady who sings ‘Feed the birds’. Thanks to COVID-19, the show closed almost as soon as it opened, but it will be back in 2021 and Petula Clark will be back with it. Of course she will.

She doesn’t simply have snap in her celery. She’s a trouper who sang through the Blitz and, come what may, the show goes on.

This story was from December 2020 issue. Subscribe Now