Kathy Kirby

Kathy Kirby was born in Ilford, Essex in 1936.   She was a very popular British singer in the early 1960’s and still has a cult following to-day.   She appeared in 1964 in the television drama “Ninty Years On”.   She died in 2011.

Her “Guardian” obituary by David Laing:

During the mid-1960s, the singer Kathy Kirby, who has died aged 72 after a short illness, was almost ever-present on television variety shows. Her powerful vocal style was heard on the million-selling hits Dance On and Secret Love, and her blonde hair and hourglass figure drew comparisons to Marilyn Monroe.

She was born Kathleen O’Rourke in Ilford, Essex, the eldest of three children of Irish parents. Her mother, Eileen, brought up the family alone after their father left home when the children were very young. Kirby showed a taste for show business from an early age, winning a toddlers’ talent contest at three years old. After leaving a local convent school with three O-levels, and dyeing her natural red hair blonde, she regularly attended the Ilford Palais de Danse. There, dressed in a tight black dress and black evening gloves, she saw Bert Ambrose and his Orchestra and persuaded the veteran bandleader to allow her to sing.

Ambrose was so impressed with the teenager’s performance that he signed Kirby to a management contract and found her work with his own and other bands. He secured for her a recording deal with Pye Records and, despite the 40-year age gap, the couple became lovers. (Ambrose’s estranged wife was living in America at the time.)

Her first records were unexceptional but in 1962, she switched to Decca Records and the following year made her first hit single, Dance On, which reached No 11. Kirby’s next hit was a stunning recording of Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster’s well-known standard Secret Love, which had memorably been sung by Doris Day in the 1950s. Kirby’s recording reached No 4 in 1963. Two more Top 20 hits – Let Me Go Lover and You’re the One – followed in quick succession. She was voted top British female singer of 1963 by readers of the New Musical Express.

Alongside another new ballad singer, Vince Hill, Kirby became a featured performer on Stars and Garters, a TV variety series set in a studio designer’s idea of a typical working-class pub. Her album of songs from the show was a No 11 hit in 1964. She appeared on the pop shows Thank Your Lucky Stars and Ready, Steady, Go! and was eventually given her own Saturday evening primetime programme on BBC television. The Kathy Kirby Show drew audiences of more than 20 million. She appeared at the Royal Variety Performance in 1964 and, the following year, represented the UK at the Eurovision song contest. Singing I Belong, she was the runner-up to France Gall, the Luxembourg representative.

On the stage, Kirby was in demand for tours with such artists as Cliff Richard, Arthur Askey and Tom Jones and she starred in seaside summer shows at Blackpool and Brighton. She also toured Australia and South Africa, and achieved the ultimate light entertainment accolade by appearing at the top of the bill at the London Palladium.

While she was regularly claimed to be the highest-paid female singer in Britain, behind the scenes things were beginning to fall apart. Her alleged affair with Bruce Forsyth caused Ambrose to break out into fits of jealousy. Kirby also realised that Ambrose, a compulsive gambler, had lost almost all her money. He died in 1971.

Although there was a steady stream of singles and some television cameos on such programmes as The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, Kirby’s popularity waned in the late 1970s. Her live shows were infrequent and came to an end in 1983 with a cabaret appearance in Blackpool.

Kirby was later married for several years to Fred Pye, a writer and former policeman. After the marriage ended, she became almost a recluse in her west London apartment.

A biography of Kirby, entitled Secrets, Loves and Lip Gloss, written by the actor James Harman, was published in 2005. Harman became Kirby’s manager, setting up a website and successfully encouraging record companies to reissue some of her 1960s singles and albums. The subsequent revival of interest reinforced Kirby’s reputation as something of a gay icon. Various attempts have been made to stage musicals based on her life. The career of the main character in the musical Come Dancing, written by Ray Davies, has some similarities to Kirby’s.

Kirby is survived by her sister Pat, her brother, Douglas, and several nephews and nieces.

• Kathy Kirby (Kathleen O’Rourke), singer, born 20 October 1938; died 19 May 2011

 The above “Guardian” obituary can be accessed online here.

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