Petula Clark as born in Epsom, Surrey. Her father, Leslie Clark, coined her first name, jokingly alleging it was a combination of the names of two former girlfriends, Pet and Ulla. Clark became a star of radio and film before reaching her early teens. As a child, she sang in the church choir; her first public performances were in a department store in suburban London, where she sang with an orchestra in the entrance hall for sweets and a gold wristwatch. In October 1942, she made her radio debut while attending a BBC broadcast with her father, hoping to send a message to an uncle stationed overseas. During an air raid, the producer requested that someone perform to settle the jittery audience, and Clark volunteered a rendition of "Mighty Lak a Rose" to an enthusiastic response in the theater. She then repeated her performance for the broadcast audience, launching a series of some 500 appearances in programs designed to entertain the troops. In addition to her radio work, Clark frequently toured the UK with fellow child performer Julie Andrews. She became known as "Britain's Shirley Temple" and was considered a mascot by both the RAF and the United States Army, whose troops plastered her photos on their tanks for good luck as they advanced into battle.
In 1944 at the age of 11 while performing at London's Royal Albert Hall, Clark was discovered by film director Maurice Elvey, who cast her as an orphaned waif in his weepy war drama Medal for the General. In quick succession, she starred in Strawberry Roan, I Know Where I'm Going, London Town, and Here Come the Huggetts, the first in a series of Huggett Family films similar to the Andy Hardy movies popular in the States. Although most of the films she made in the UK during the 1940s and '50s were grade-B, she did have the opportunity to work with Anthony Newley in Vice Versa (directed by Peter Ustinov) and Alec Guinness in The Card, considered by many to be a minor classic of British cinema.
In the late 1940s, Clark branched into recording with her first release, a cover of Teresa Brewer's "Music! Music! Music!," in Australia. Her father, whose own theatrical ambitions had been thwarted by his parents, teamed with Alan A. Freeman to form their own label, Polygon Records, in order to better control her singing career. She scored a number of major hits in the U.K. during the 1950s, including "The Little Shoemaker" (1954), "Majorca" (1955), "Suddenly There's a Valley" (1955) and "With All My Heart" (1957).