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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 December 2007, 08:15 GMT
Obituary: Pat Kirkwood
Pat Kirkwood
Pat Kirkwood was married four times and had no children

British actress Pat Kirkwood, who has died aged 86, was arguably Britain's most popular musical star of the 1940s and 1950s.

A screen and stage star, Kirkwood's career spanned more than six decades.

Born in Pendleton, Lancs, in 1921, the actress was the daughter of a Scottish shipping clerk.

Aged 11, she won a scholarship to Levenshulme High School for Girls and, after appearing in a talent contest on the Isle of Man, she was invited to an audition with the BBC in Manchester.

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

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

As an adult, she found fame in Hollywood after being the leading lady in musicals written by Noel Coward, Cole Porter and Leonard Bernstein.

Her 1945 film Flight From Folly brought her to the attention of Hollywood and the actress was signed by the studio MGM.

However, her first project, the Van Johnson musical No Leave, No Love, was a flop and the actress hated Hollywood.

It is an episode that has done me an immense amount of harm, and it is a subject I no longer discuss
Pat Kirkwood

Kirkwood suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide, spending eight months in a New York sanatorium.

The breakdown cost her the title role in the Irving Berlin musical Annie Get Your Gun, but her career later saw a resurgence.

She returned to Britain in 1947 for a starring role in Starlight Roof at the London Hippodrome.

And Noel Coward wrote the West End musical Ace Of Clubs especially for her in 1950, which provided her with the hit song Chase Me Charlie.

In 1954 she became the first female star to have her own one-hour series on British TV, The Pat Kirkwood Show.

And in the same year she broke box office records with a sell-out three-month cabaret season at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas.

Royal rumours

However, her friendship with the Duke of Edinburgh kept Kirkwood in the public consciousness long after she had retired from the stage and screen.

Rumours of an affair between them - which she always strenuously denied - followed her all of her life.

The pair were introduced in October 1948 by Baron, the society photographer, with whom the actress was romantically involved at the time.

Kirkwood and Philip were seen dancing together in the Milroy nightclub later that night.

At the time, the Queen - then Princess Elizabeth - was eight months pregnant with Charles.

The actress, who has always denied a romantic liaison, admitted that she and Philip breakfasted at dawn on scrambled eggs.

Bing Crosby and Pat Kirkwood
Pat Kirkwood enjoyed success in both the UK and US

Years later, she recalled: "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."

Phillip allegedly presented her with a white Rolls-Royce.

Kirkwood, who married four times and did not have children, attempted to put the rumours to rest in a chapter of her memoirs, The Time Of My Life, entitled HRH And All That.

"I do possess a white Rolls-Royce. It stands on the mantelpiece of my home and was given to me by my second husband, Sparky, at the time these rumours began," she wrote.

And despite appearing in four Royal Variety Performances, the actress was never recognised in the honours list.

Some observers took this omission as a sign of the Queen's displeasure at her friendship with Philip.

All agreed we had not seen for a generation a woman with that easy, glorious command of the stage
John Barber
Stage critic

The actress's fourth husband, Peter Knight, said recently: "My wife has been a star for 66 years and has given a lifetime's service to the public and to charity.

"Anyone else with her pre-eminence in the field of pantomime and musicals would have been made a Dame of the British Empire. She does not even hold an MBE. I am reliably informed that the reason is Prince Philip."

Recently she was invited to take part in a documentary about the Duke of Edinburgh but said: "I long ago brought down the curtain on the subject.

"It is an episode that has done me an immense amount of harm, and it is a subject I no longer discuss."

Final appearances

The actress continued to work on stage throughout the 1960s, appearing in Somerset Maugham's The Constant Wife and Noel Coward's Hay Fever, among others.

And there were occasional stage appearances in the 1980s and early 1990s.

One of the most fitting tributes paid to her in the latter stages of her career came when she performed in a revival of Pal Joey at the Edinburgh Festival in 1976.

Daily Telegraph critic John Barber wrote: "All agreed we had not seen for a generation a woman with that easy, glorious command of the stage.

"And since the music halls where she learned it have gone we may never see it again."

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