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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 December 2007, 05:56 GMT
Actress Pat Kirkwood dies at 86
Pat Kirkwood in 1941
Pat Kirkwood was very popular in the 1940s
British actress Pat Kirkwood, a star of stage and screen, died at the age of 86 in a nursing home on Christmas Day, a close friend said.

Her career spanned more than six decades and she played the lead roles in the West End shows of Noel Coward, Cole Porter and Leonard Bernstein.

She was born in Lancashire and made her professional debut aged 14.

Married four times, she persistently denied rumours of an affair with the Duke of Edinburgh.

Royal connection

Kirkwood died at Kitwood House nursing home in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, her friend and royal biographer Michael Thornton said.

She met Prince Philip in 1948 backstage at a show with her then boyfriend, with the three of them enjoying a dinner together.

The prince, who was weeks away from becoming a father for the first time, and the actress were seen dancing later and they breakfasted together.

But Kirkwood always denied an affair.

"He was so full of life and energy. I suspect he felt trapped and rarely got a chance to be himself. I think I got off on the right foot because I made him laugh," she recalled years later.

BBC debut

Born in Pendleton, Lancashire, in 1921, she was the daughter of a Scottish shipping clerk.

After appearing in a talent contest on the Isle of Man she was invited to an audition with the BBC in Manchester.

She made her professional debut, aged 14, as a singer on the BBC radio programme The Children's Hour.

A year later, in April 1936, she made her first stage appearance at the Royal Hippodrome, Salford, billed as The Schoolgirl Songstress.

The following year she starred in her debut film - Save a Little Sunshine.

After the success of the revue Black Velvet at the London Hippodrome in 1939 she was hailed as "Britain's first wartime star".

Hollywood flop

By 1945 she had been signed to Hollywood studio MGM, but the flop of her first film there led to a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide.

But she recovered, with a triumphant return to Britain in 1947 with Starlight Roof at the London Hippodrome.

Noel Coward wrote the West End musical Ace Of Clubs especially for her in 1950.

In 1954 she became the first female star to have her own one-hour series on British TV, The Pat Kirkwood Show, and the same year also broke box office records with a sell-out three-month cabaret season at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas.

Kirkwood married four times - to showbusiness executive Jack Lister; Greek shipowner Spiro de Spero Gabriele; actor, playwright and composer Hubert Gregg; and retired lawyer Peter Knight.

Obituary: Pat Kirkwood
26 Dec 07 |  Entertainment

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