b. Patricia Kirkwood, 24 February 1921, Pendleton, Salford, Lancashire, England, d. 25 December 2007, Ilkley, West Yorkshire, England. An actress and singer and one of the premier leading ladies of 40s and 50s West End musicals, British films, and Christmas pantomimes. Kirkwood’s frequent appearances in the latter medium earned her the title of ‘the greatest principal boy of the Century’, and the critic Kenneth Tynan called her legs ‘the eighth wonder of the world’.
Kirkwood started her career at the age of 14 at the Salford Hippodrome, and a year later appeared in pantomime in Cardiff. When she was 16 she made her West End debut as Dandini in Cinderella at London’s Princes’ Theatre. In 1939 at the age of only 18, Kirkwood headlined the revue Black Velvet at the London Hippodrome and sang a sizzling version of ‘My Heart Belongs To Daddy’, a song that is forever identified with her. Further West End successes followed, including Top Of The World (1940), Lady Behave (1941), Let’s Face It! (1942), Starlight Roof (1947), Ace Of Clubs (1950) (in which she introduced Noël Coward’s witty song ‘Chase Me Charlie’), Fancy Free (1951), Wonderful Town (1955), and Chrysanthemum (1956). It was while she appearing in Starlight Roof (in which the 12-year-old Julie Andrews made her West End debut) that Kirkwood was introduced to Prince Philip, consort of Queen Elizabeth, by her boyfriend, the fashion photographer Baron. Rumours that they had an affair - always strenuously denied by the actress - continued to surface even in the 90s.
Kirkwood’s film career began in 1938 with Save A Little Sunshine, and continued with Me And My Pal (1939), Band Waggon (with Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch) (1940), Flight From Folly (1945), No Leave, No Love (made in America with Van Johnson) (1946), Once A Sinner (1950), Stars In Your Eyes (1956), and After The Ball (1957). Kirkwood also appeared in several Royal Command Performances, in cabaret, and on radio and television. On the small screen during the 50s she portrayed the renowned musical hall performers Marie Lloyd in All Our Yesterdays and Our Marie, and Vesta Tilley in The Great Little Tilley.
Two years after Kirkwood’s second husband wealthy Greek-Russian ship-owner Spiro de Spero Gabriele died in 1954, she married the actor-broadcaster-songwriter (‘Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner’, ‘I’m Going To Get Lit Up’) Hubert Gregg. They were divorced in 1976, and Kirkwood went to live in Portugal for four years where she met the solicitor Peter Knight who subsequently became her fourth husband. They retired to Yorkshire, where Kirkwood consistently turned down offers to return to the stage. Even Cameron Mackintosh was unable to tempt her with the prime role of Carlotta Campion in the 1987 London production of Follies. Eventually, however, she did emerge into the spotlight again with her own show, Glamorous Nights Of Music, which opened to excellent reviews at the Wimbledon Theatre on the outskirts of London in April 1993. In the following year, Kirkwood stole the show when making a rare guest appearance in a revue which celebrated the music and lyrics of Cole Porter and Noël Coward entitled Let’s Do It!, which was presented at Chichester and beyond. She published her autobiography in 1999 but her last years were blighted by Alzheimer’s disease.