Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

Kathy Kirby

Kathy Kirby Pop music’s Marilyn Monroe look-alike was born Kathleen O’Rourke in Ilford, Essex on 20th October 1940. The beautiful strawberry blonde was educated at a local convent school where she was a member of the choir. She won a talent contest at the age of three, began singing lessons at the age of nine and, between the ages of 10 and 13, trained as an opera singer. At 12 she became interested in pop music and when she was 16 Bert Ambrose and his radio orchestra appeared at the Ilford Palais de Dance where she was allowed to sing one number with the band. Ambrose then offered her a job as a professional singer and she was with his orchestra for three years, until it disbanded. Ambrose then became her manager.

By the time she was 18 she was appearing at the Flamingo Room in Madrid and in 1958 was singing with the Danny Bryce Orchestra at the Lyceum, London in addition to appearing in Cabaret in venues such as the Astor, the Blue Angel and Le Condor.
Kathy made her Pye Records debut with ‘Love Can Be’ and, during the next two years, had five chart entries with ‘Dance On’, ‘Secret Love’, ‘Let Me Go Lover’, ‘You’re The One’ and ‘I Belong'.
She made her television debut in 1960 in ‘Cool for Cats’ and in May 1963 auditioned successfully for ‘Stars and Garters’, becoming a regular on the series. She performed in shows such as ‘Big Night Out’ and ‘Sunday Night At The London Palladium', and also appeared on Royal Command Performances.

In 1965, the girl who was now nicknamed ‘The Golden Girl of Pop’ signed for an 18 week BBC TV series which was so successful she was immediately offered a second series. She also represented Britain in Eurovision with ‘I Belong', which was voted into the No.2 position.
During the decade, Kathy had no less than three television series: ‘Kathy Kirby Sings’, ‘The Kathy Kirby Show’ and ‘Here Comes Kathy’. She also sang the theme tune to the series ‘Adam Adamant Lives.’

Kathy was voted Top British Female Singer in a New Musical Express poll and even had a brief entry in the US chart with ‘The Way of Love'. She also toured with artists such as Cliff Richard and Duane Eddy.

Kathy Kirby - Secret Love Following the death of her manager and mentor, Ambrose, in 1971 her career seemed to go to pieces. She failed to honour existing contracts and developed a reputation for being temperamental and unreliable. Ill fortune plagued the beautiful star and she became bankrupt, owing £30,000 to the Inland Revenue. She married journalist Fred Pye in 1975, but it was an unhappy affair which ended in divorce.

In 1979 Kathy was arrested on a charge of deceiving a London hotel of £304 and remanded on bail on condition of attending a mental hospital. The court order was dropped in April of that year when she was found innocent and all charges were dropped, but such publicity tends to stick.

Kathy hit the headlines again when she was found to be living in a London apartment with a lesbian, Laraine McKay, who proposed marriage to her. McKay was later arrested on a deception charge and sent to Holloway Prison.

That same year Kathy was singing between each game at a bingo hall in Kent. She said,
“It may not be much of a start, but I had to begin somewhere again and it couldn’t have been better. I know the mistakes I have made in the past, but I don’t think it will ever happen again”.
Kathy Kirby

In1980 she sold her story to a Sunday newspaper in a three-week series, in which she ended with the words, ” I am not going to write off my career. The stage is in the bloodstream. If I am no longer the glossy-lipped Golden Girl of Pop, I have still got one asset left – that’s my voice. Someone, somewhere will surely give me that one chance I need”.

Following ‘the wilderness years’, during which she was also hospitalised, Kathy managed a qualified comeback on the nostalgia circuit with her 1996 CD compilation ‘The Very Best of Kathy Kirby’ doing brisk business in the foyers. In 2005 her biography ‘Secrets, Loves and Lip Gloss’ was published. Sadly, the beautiful singer with the exceptional voice shunned publicity and lived quietly in Kensington, London, dying on 19th May 2011, aged 72, after a short illness.

Also see the excellent tribute site Kathy Kirby - Dance On!

Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

Article Text Bill Harry               Original Graphics SixtiesCity     Other individual owner copyrights may apply to Photographic Images

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