War Stories From Petula Clark

Petula Clark's new album, Lost In You, features a reworking of her signature hit "Downtown." i i

Petula Clark's new album, Lost In You, features a reworking of her signature hit "Downtown." Clement Schneider/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Clement Schneider/Courtesy of the artist
Petula Clark's new album, Lost In You, features a reworking of her signature hit "Downtown."

Petula Clark's new album, Lost In You, features a reworking of her signature hit "Downtown."

Clement Schneider/Courtesy of the artist

Petula Clark's show business career spans more than 70 years, from the time of the Blitz to the era of the blog. She found signature hits, including "Downtown" and "I Know a Place," in the 1960s and '70s.

But she began her career decades earlier, as an 8-year-old girl in a London theater, in the early years of the Second World War. The BBC had been using the theater as a studio because of its strategic location: underground.

"They used to use this place to do shows for the forces serving overseas, and this particular show was one where children could send messages to their dads, their uncles, their brothers," Clark tells NPR's Scott Simon. "During the rehearsal, there was the most enormous air raid; this was during the Blitz in London. The producer asked if somebody would like to come up, one of the kids, to just say a piece of poetry or something, to lighten things up. Nobody else volunteered, I said, 'I'll come!' I was eight years old, very small, and they put me on a box so that I could reach the microphone. And I sang."

Clark's performance went over well, especially to those listening in the control room, and became the first of many she'd do at the BBC's behest — some of which, she suspects, doubled as coded messages to soldiers in the field.

Petula Clark has a new album, Lost In You, which features a dramatically different version of "Downtown." Hear more of her conversation with with Scott Simon, including how she crashed a John Lennon and Yoko Ono "bed-in" to ask for career advice, at the audio link.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.