Discovered and mentored by the great band leader Bert Ambrose, Kathy Kirby was groomed in the image of his ideal woman – a kind of late 1950s hybrid of Marilyn Monroe and Diana Dors, with crisply styled peroxide hair and startlingly glossy red lips. Ambrose’s concept was dated even by the time Kirby became a major television star on the strength of her early 1960s appearances inStars and Garters. But somehow – largely thanks to a winning and cheerful personality that knew instinctively how to reach a television audience beyond the camera and, crucially, a voice of spectacular power and emotional force, which commanded attention whatever she was singing – she transcended the stylistic straightjacket he imposed on her.

As so often in the annals of show business, Kathy Kirby’s life eventually came to mirror the more dramatic lyrics of some of her songs. This, combined with the unique qualities of her voice, dusted her with an almost mythical fascination, long after her active career had waned.

Ambrose had given Kirby her first break as a teenager, employing her on a short contract as a vocalist for his dance band after she had persuaded him to let her sing for him at the Palais de Danse in Ilford when she was just 16, in 1954. She spent the next few years paying her dues on the club circuit, singing with Ambrose on and off, and gaining valuable show-business experience. But it was not until he became her manager and took control of her recording and television career that things really took off, culminating in hit singles and albums for Decca, and some hugely popular television series. Their relationship soon developed privately and they would be together until his death in 1971, an arrangement that would have disastrous consequences for Kirby.

A new play, KATHY KIRBY: ICON, running at THE WHITE BEAR theatre, Kennington, sets the record straight about Kathy’s life,both in and out of the glare of publicity.

Listen to an interview by the actress who plays kathy on BBC Radio London. The interview is apprx 2hrs 13mins into the programme


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I grew up and Ambrose grew older

We were together when he died

I was left alone to cry

I don’t know who I am

Please let me speak to Lord Delfont

I have been swindled

A fortune has slipped through my fingers

‘Lord Delfont is on the other line

Can he call you back?’

Mr Eric Morley please;

‘Eric, I have been evicted from my flat

I have nowhere to go’.

‘But Kathy, my dear,

You must have thousands stashed away’.

Now they have sent me to St Lukes Mental Hospital;

‘Kathy Kirby’s here – in a mink coat,

I mean, has she come to entertain us?’

What’s the matter with your hair, Kathy?’

‘It’s mummy, she’s been pulling it out again’.

‘When I wear dark glasses, don’t you think I look like Norma?’


‘Norma Desmond, you know, Sunset Boulevard’.

Someone has stolen my legs

I cannot possibly go on stage

I am not the real Kathy Kirby

All the girls in the street have Kathy Kirby legs now.

I am being held prisoner in my flat

I am being possessed by Ambrose

The Queen Mother is in me.

“Well, tell her to piss off!”