In the fall of 1964, Miss Petula Clark might well have had a few concerns about her career...
She was in her early 30s, but she'd been slogging away in show business for more than two decades, first as a cheer-'em-up kiddie star in the war years, then as a moderately successful recording artist through the '50s. The next decade saw her transferring her career, such as it was, to the Continent, where her sunny presence and charming, if at times schoolgirlish, French set her apart from the Gallic songbirds of the day.
Here we catch her in the sort of thing that occupied her time at the time: four episodes of a mini-variety series (15 minutes each) called "La La La," in which various stars of the day did their best to extend the fading French variety tradition. They're lovely and amusing little things, but far from extravaganzas - everything from the simple sets to the sparse costumes (I'm guessing Pet mostly wore her own clothes) makes it clear that the producers spared every expense, and here and there the economy with which they're done is almost Scopitonische in its Poverty-Row bizarerie.
The star mimes her songs well enough, but there's an edge of anxiety at times. One can see why. Imagine having done this sort of thing for more than two thirds of your life, and no sign on the horizon that this is anything but a gentle glide on a downward path, one that shows every sign of leading to ever sparser tours to ever more obscure German or Italian venues. Back home, she'd already been featured on "This is Your Life" - the show-biz equivalent of a gold watch and a nice thank you on the way out the door.
But of course one never really knows what lies in wait, and for Petula what came next was the opportunity to record a new song, blessedly in English, with an intriguing little vamp at the opening, an insinuating beat, and an exhilarating key change at the refrain...
The last of her "La, La, La"s aired at the end of October. By January of '65, Petula Clark was an international not-quite-overnight sensation, and for the next decade or more, "Downtown" was as ubiquitous a song as could be found anywhere in the world. And she never looked back, and never stopped working - but now as a bona fide Great Big Star.
There's a lesson for us there, somewhere, I suppose, but for the moment I only want to wish the old girl many happy returns of the day, albeit a tad belatedly - she was 82 yesterday. That seems almost as unlikely as her having once been a French variety-show hostess, don't you think?
(For those without the wherewithal to make it through the full hour of lite-pop romping alla francese, I can especially advise the final episode, which features some especially fine toreador-backside from one of the backup dancers...)