Anita Madeleine Harris is an English actress, singer and entertainer.
Early life and careerEdit
Harris enjoyed singing and dancing from an early age. She is a relative of Ida Barr, the British music hall singing star.
She won a talent contest at the age of three. However, it was her penchant for figure skating which led to her performing career: after her family moved to Bournemouth when she was seven, Harris began skating at the neighbourhood rink, eventually becoming a regular at the Queens Ice Rink in London where a talent scout spotted her shortly before her sixteenth birthday and invited her to audition for a dance troupe. She then performed in Europe and Las Vegas. On returning to the UK, she performed in a vocal group known as the Grenadiers and then spent three years with the Cliff Adams Singers, being one of the few female members of that group, best known for BBC Radio's Sing Something Simple. She was still in her teens when spotted by John Barry's manager, Tony Lewis; she was offered a recording contract by EMI and cut her first recordings with the John Barry Seven — a band which was a successful chart act. This early single – a double A-side of "I Haven't Got You", written by Lionel Bart and "Mr. One and Only" – was not a hit. Harris did not pursue a recording career further until after meeting songwriter Mike Margolis in 1963.
Subsequent to their meeting, when they both auditioned for a musical revue, Margolis and Harris formed a personal and professional relationship: he became her manager and wrote the songs which served as her second and third singles: "Lies" (1964) and "Don't Think About Love" (1965), both of which he also produced. In January 1965 she performed at the San Remo Music Festival. Her duet with Beppe Cardile, "L'amore è partito", failed to reach the finals but even to participate in such a star-studded event augured well for her stardom. She then made her label debut for Pye Records with the May 1965 release "Trains and Boats and Planes", though rival versions by both the song's composer Burt Bacharach (with vocals by the Breakaways) and Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas eclipsed her recording. She had four subsequent releases on Pye, including the only evident recording of the Burt Bacharach/ Hal David composition "London Life", with Margolis remaining her regular producer.
In 1966, she moved to CBS Records where her debut release was also her debut album: Somebody's in My Orchard. Her chart breakthrough came in the summer of 1967 with the single "Just Loving You", a Tom Springfield composition which singer Dusty Springfield had suggested that Tom (her brother) give to Harris after Dusty and Harris had performed on the same episode of Top of the Pops.
Recorded at Olympic Studios in a session produced by Margolis and featuring harmonica virtuoso Harry Pitch, "Just Loving You" had been released in January 1967 but did not reach the UK Top 50 until 29 June 1967. Even after peaking at No. 6 on 26 August 1967 "Just Loving You" remained in the UK Top 40 until the end of the year. Besides charting at No. 18 in Ireland, "Just Loving You" was a Top Ten hit in South Africa where sales reached 200,000 copies. The disc was released in September 1967 in the United States where it rose to No. 20 on the "Easy Listening" chart in Billboard and approached the mainstream Pop "Hot 100" chart. It rose no higher than No. 120 on the "Bubbling Under" chart. In January 1968 Harris made her only appearance on the UK album chart when her Just Loving You album reached No. 29.
The sustained interest in "Just Loving You" predicated a mild chart impact for her follow-up single "The Playground", released in September 1967. This reached its chart peak of No. 46 by 28 October 1967, the same week "Just Loving You" (which had dropped out of the Top 20 at No. 21) returned to the Top 20 for three more weeks. However she did score a substantial hit with her 5 January 1968 release, a remake of the standard "Anniversary Waltz", which spent eight weeks in the UK Top 40, peaking at No. 21. After just missing the UK Top 50 with the single "We're Going On A Tuppenny Bus Ride" (released 17 May 1968), she made her final chart appearance with her rendition of "Dream a Little Dream of Me". Released on 26 July 1968, her single version peaked in the UK Top 50 at No. 33, whilst the Mama Cass Elliot version peaked at No. 11.
From 1961 she made numerous television appearances, mostly as a performer, occasionally as an actress, and her few film roles included a cameo as a casino singer in Death Is a Woman (1966) and co-starring roles in the 1967 comedy films Follow That Camel and Carry On Doctor. After a third album release, Cuddly Toy in 1969, she shifted the focus of her career from recording. In December 1970 Thames Television debuted the children's TV series Jumbleland which she co-produced and in which she starred as Witch Witt Witty.
She also co-hosted The David Nixon Magic Show in the 1970s, and appeared on the Morecambe and Wise Show in 1971 and 1973. In 1981 she was in the line-up for the Royal Variety Performance, singing "Burlington Bertie" This performance she reprised at The Queen Mother's 90th Birthday celebration at The London Palladium, in 1990, in the presence of HM Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in a large company of artistes presenting Music Hall, featuring many well known TV and Stage personalities. She was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1982 when surprised by Eamonn Andrews at London's Talk of the Town. She was still appearing as herself on programmes up to 2001, in particular Boom Boom: The Best of the Original Basil Brush Show, French & Saunders and Bob Monkhouse: A BAFTA Tribute.
From the early 1970s she toured in several editions of a one-woman stage show which, as Anita Harris in the Act!, was broadcast in 1981. It was essentially a televisation of her performing at the Talk of the Town. In 1982 she was named Concert Cabaret Performer of the Year by the Variety Club of Great Britain. Whilst a popular pantomime star, she made a debut in legitimate theatre in 1986 when she assumed the role of Grizabella in the West End production of Cats for a two-year tenure, with subsequent credits including Bell Book and Candle, Deathtrap, Seven Deadly Sins Four Deadly Sinners, Verdict and the stage dramatizations of House of Stairs and My Cousin Rachel. Additionally she co-starred with Alex Ferns, Will Thorp, Colin Baker and Leah Bracknell in a stage adaptation of Strangers on a Train at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley for a one-week run in 2006. She portrayed Gertrude Lawrence in G and I at the New End Theatre in the spring of 2009. In 2010 she starred with Brian Capron in the UK national tour of Stepping Out; having previously played the leading role of Mavis, she now took on the supporting role of Vera. She toured with a new one-woman stage show: An Intimate Evening With Anita Harris in 2013 and appeared in a production of the Emlyn Williams play A Murder Has Been Arranged at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre in July 2013 and at Malvern Festival Theatre in August of that year.
In 2014 Harris appeared in a lead guest role in the primetime BBC drama, Casualty and she continues to perform with her band around the country, mostly recently at The Royal Albert Hall, London. She continued her pantomime success in 2014/15 appearing as the wicked Baroness in a production of Cinderella at Grand Opera House, York alongside a cast including Tom Owen, Caroline Barnes and Tony Blaney.
On 12 January 2015 the Mail on Sunday reported that Anita Harris and her husband and manager Mike Margolis were, or were about to be, declared bankrupt by HM Revenue and Customs over historic tax arrears of £14,000 and £25,000 respectively. The bankruptcy order of 11 August 2014 was annulled when an IVA was approved on 27 May 2015.
During 2016, Anita is still touring her show across the UK. An Evening with Anita Harris. With musical accompaniment from her pianist and musical director, Peter Gill, Anita reveals anecdotes from her life in showbusiness, the people she has met and the places she has been. This tour has been well received by certain local press publications, where most acknowledge Harris as an able and entertaining speaker.