IF you were at the Kenton to see The Rat Pack last Thursday you may have recognised a glamorous lady in the audience who had come to watch an old friend on stage.
Even though she is now in her seventies (but only just) she still has the same winning smile, the trim figure and bubbly personality that made her a star of stage, screen and television as well as the charts.
Anita Harris couldn’t resist popping in to see her old mate Kenny Lynch as he made a guest appearance in the show — and next month she will be on the same stage bringing her show Curtain up! Light The Lights! to Henley on November 7.
She promises “glitz, chat, humour and dance” all of which have been key elements in her enduring career and which she still has in abundance.
It all started when her keen interest in ice-skating led to a dancing trip to Las Vegas when she was just 16.
“My parents were very good about it and even though I was chaperoned I am not sure that it would happen these days,” says Anita.
But the bug bit the teenager and since then she has hardly stopped working. There were the Carry On films, the seven Royal Command performances, the West End shows and the cabaret and the million-selling single Just Loving You, as well as four other hit singles and several albums.
“I have spent most of my time in the business working,” she says. “I have had my time resting but not much of it. I have been very lucky and love working. I love the rehearsing, the shows, everything about it.”
She was working with Frankie Howerd at the Prince of Wales theatre in the West End when the producers of the Carry On films came to the theatre. “They were watching Frankie but at the end of the evening they said, ‘would you like to be in the next film?’ It started just like that and was great fun.”
Her West End career had two real highlights — she was an acclaimed Peter Pan and then worked for two years in Cats. “That was wonderful, it was a beautiful job at the time with some wonderful people in it,” she says.
Ask her who were the most memorable of the stars she has worked with and her answer is surprising. It’s not Morecambe and Wise, not Tommy Cooper, nor any of the big American artists she performed with, instead she goes for Harry Secombe and Clive Dunn, the Dad’s Army star who became a great friend. Since he died last year she still goes to Portugal to see his widow, Cilla.
“Harry was a very true person, as a performer and as a human being,” she says. “I learned so much from him. We did 12 Combined Service Entertainments tours together for the troops abroad and when we left their faces were gorgeous.”
As for interests outside work there is little time but when she gets the chance she travels. She has a brother, David, in Canada and another, Philip, in West Sussex. She and her husband, Mike Margolis, never had children and her family is important to her.
For many years she continued to ice-skate as a hobby but says, “The leisure times are not as brisk as they were and I haven’t skated for years but you never know. If someone asked me, I would do.”
Anita has had a remarkable career, guided by songwriter Mike who she has been married to for 40 years. Their lives have not been without the odd trough — they lost money in a bank collapse in 1985 and recently Mike has been ill but is now recovering.
However she does not entertain the idea of retirement: “Not at all. I want to be one of those who goes on and on and gets carried off at the other end.”
A sign of the unquenched ambition to try something new comes when she talks about a new television series that she and Mike are working on. He has written the script for The Casebooks Of Verity Lake and they have already made a promotional DVD. No need to ask who will be playing the Victorian detective Verity? “No, that’s me. It really is something to look forward to,” she says, laughing at the prospect of something new.
* Curtain Up! Light The Lights! an evening with Anita Harris is at the Kenton Theatre for one night only on Thursday, November 7. For tickets at £16 call (01491) 575698 or go to www.kentontheatre.co.uk