Anita Harris is a British entertainer, singer and actress. Her perfect vowels and crystal tones hit big in the 1960s, with two sentimental easy listening singles, Just loving you and Anniversary waltz. Her greater subsequent success on TV, stage and, briefly, film – plus her image as an all-round variety entertainer – belie the depth and quality of her earlier recordings.
Anita Harris was born on 3 June 1942 in Midsomer Norton, Somerset, in the south west of England. She was the great niece of music hall entertainer Ida Barr.
She began her professional career at age eight as an ice skater, working seasons in Naples and Las Vegas, before joining the Cliff Adams Singers, a vocal harmony group popular on the radio.
In 1961, still in her teens, Anita cut her first solo record, I haven’t got you, for composer John Barry (best known for the Bond themes) on Parlophone.
She went on to audition for Mike Margolis. He agreed to manage her and has produced her records almost exclusively ever since, as well as writing much of her original material. (The pair married in 1973.)
Anita joined Vocalion in 1964 to record the Margolis composition Lies, and then switched to Decca to cut Willingly the following year.
While at Decca, to help boost her profile internationally, she took part in the 1965 San Remo song contest in Italy, appearing alongside Dusty Springfield, Kiki Dee and Petula Clark, amongst others. The practice at the time was to have two singers – one Italian and one international – perform each entry. Both Anita and Italy’s Beppe Cardile sang the gentle L’amore è partito, but the song didn’t make the final and neither singer scored a hit with it.
That year, she moved to the Pye label, where she issued four singles that showcased her range. First up was the melancholy I don’t know anymore, and it was followed by two Burt Bacharach and Hal David compositions, Trains and boats and planes and London life, all issued in 1965.
The stompy Something must be done was issued as her first single of 1966 and has become a fan favourite.
Her Pye recordings didn’t chart but they did bring her attention and were later compiled on a self-titled album – a varied, quirky and spirited collection – in early 1968 for Marble Arch Records.
Anita landed a contract with CBS in 1966, where she recorded the bulk of her material until the early 1970s.
Her first released album remains her finest musical achievement. Somebody’s in my orchard won the Music Critics’ Album of the Year in 1966 and is beautifully themed and produced. Anita’s vocals are sublime, perfectly complemented by the orchestrations of David Whitaker, who was a mainstay ever after. Her superlative versions of A taste of honey, Watermelon man, Cherry ripe, Lullaby of the leaves, Oranges and lemons and the title track are by turn playful, provocative and dramatic. Surprisingly, no singles were issued from the album.
The craftsmanship continued with the delightfully themed EP Nursery rhymes for our times, a four-song mini-LP of modern fables for adults. Now a rare collector’s item, it combined versions of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby and Cher’s Bang bang with two original compositions, Old Queenie Cole and the superb jazz number B.A.D for me.
Massive commercial success came in 1967 with Just loving you, written by Tom Springfield, at the suggestion of his sister Dusty. The release peaked at number six in the UK top 40, earning a double gold disc and staying in the charts for over a year.
The follow up, The playground, stalled just outside the top 40, but has become a northern soul dance floor filler. Anniversary waltz proved more successful, reaching number 21 in the UK in early 1968. The song became Anita’s second worldwide hit.
All three tracks were included on the 1967 album Just loving you, her biggest seller, along with the dramatic Crying for the near, a Beatles medley and an accomplished rendition of Ave Maria, ably demonstrating unexplored classical abilities.
Saucy lead roles in two Carry on films, Carry on doctor and Follow that camel, cemented Anita’s stardom. She was all over the radio, TV, cinema and theatre. But with her chart success, she became strictly middle-of-the-road, a path she was never to veer from again.
In 1968, she competed with the Mama and the Papas, both releasing covers of the 1930s tune Dream a little dream of me. The song launched Mama Cass’s solo career, but Anita still got a UK top 40 hit out of it too.
The single Le blon, with its charming B-side Dusty road, issued later the same year, is often cited as one of her best, despite missing the charts altogether.
But the 1969 LP Cuddly toy, was a mixed affair. A rather proper version of River deep, mountain high didn’t sound quite right, though an intriguing version of The Beatles’ Hey Jude experiments by starting off with a lute and ending in a brass band crescendo replete with explosions. Perhaps tellingly, no singles were released from the album.
Following the singles We’re going on a tuppenny bus ride and Loving you, Anita returned to the Bacharach and David songbook. I’ll never fall in love again became her last 45 of the decade.
In 1970, she embarked on writing, executive producing and starring in a children’s TV show, Jumbleland. The album Anita in Jumbleland followed. It was her last for CBS.
She was a regular on the David Nixon’s TV show Magic box, and was often a featured guest on shows by comedians such as Morecambe and Wise and Bruce Forsyth, as well as several Royal variety show performances and seasons at London's Talk of the town.
A further album of children’s songs, Anita is Peter, issued on the Golden Hour label, followed in 1974, themed around her long-running stint on stage as Peter Pan. She returned to adult fare in 1976 with Love to sing, for Warwick records, but the album was a lacklustre affair of covers and re-recorded hits, with one new song.
The 1977 collection The best of Anita Harris was more of a return to form and included seven new recordings, including The look of love and other covers.
She recorded a few more sporadic singles over the next few years, mainly novelty or charity records of no particular note, the last being in 1984.
In the 1980s Anita enjoyed a two-year run in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, was a regular pantomime principal boy and continued to be an attraction on the international cabaret circuit. Since the 1990s, work has grown scarcer but Anita has continued acting in provincial theatre tours and appearing in the occasional cabaret. She released a joint fitness video and cookery book, Fizzical!
After a long hiatus, in 1996 she recorded a new album, Everyday valentine, compiling previous hits, all the new tracks from The best of and nine new recordings. The album A taste of honey, issued the same year, compiled most of the Something’s in my orchard and Jumbleland LPs plus two new tracks.
She also recorded four sides for Leading ladies in 1997, a four-woman CD showcasing Anita and a crop of established but younger musical stage stars. The 2003 album The essential Anita Harris also boasted four new recordings.
On a personal level, Anita’s life has been blighted by several miscarriages and she and her husband lost their life savings in a Swiss bank crash in 1985. In 2009, they hit the news for having been evicted from their home and living in a friend’s spare room. The couple had fallen deeply into debt after sinking money into an ambitious TV pilot intended to relaunch Anita’s career. A planned Christmas album has also not come to fruition.
In her heyday Anita enjoyed eight top 75 singles and four chart albums, not to mention numerous awards for her stage and TV work. She has, possibly unjustly and despite posing nude for Mayfair magazine at one point, been labelled as a rather saccharine English variety performer of the old school. However, she is, arguably, more versatile than many of her more highly regarded contemporaries.
With thanks to Mark Tiller for contributing this profile.