It was 1940 and the capital was being bombed night after night at the height of the Luftwaffe blitz.

The cast even took bets on who would be on stage when the bombs started to fall.

But nobody left their seats as staying in the theatre was safer than venturing out on to the streets.

Kirkwood remembered that the show always went on – even when the Palladium was marooned in what seemed to be a sea of fire.

Actress Pat Kirkwood in Humpty Dumpty, July 1939.

She was only 19 at the time, still a teenage sensation after appearing on stage in Manchester from the age of 14.

The daughter of shipping clerk William Kirkwood and his wife Norah, she was a pupil at Levenshulme High School when she entered her first talent contest in the Isle of Man.

Kirkwood was then invited to sing on the BBC radio show Children’s Hour before making her stage debut in April 1936 in The Schoolgirl Songstress at the Hippodrome, Salford.

Entertainers Stanley Lupino, Pat Kirkwood (Left), Sally Gray and Freddie Carpenter seen here rehearsing at the BBC TV Studios at Alexander Palace Circa. January 1938

She then played Princess Dorothy in the local pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk before appearing as Dandini in Cinderella at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre in December 1937.

More cabaret shows and variety performances followed over the next few years. She reprised her role of Dandini at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, in December 1939 alongside comedian Duggie Wakefield as Buttons.

Buttons (Duggie Wakefield) takes his orders from Dandini (Pat Kirkwood) during rehearsal for “Cinderella,” this year’s pantomime at the Prince’s Theatre, Manchester. December 1939

As well as appearing on radio, Kirkwood starred in two pre-war comedy films – Save a Little Sunshine in 1938 and Me and My Pal in 1938. Her co-star in both was Scottish comedian Dave Willis.

Save a Little Sunshine, which also featured Tommy Trinder and Max Wall, told the story of Willis and Kirkwood setting up a smart restaurant against all the odds.

The plot of Me and My Pal concerned two lorry drivers who became mixed up in an insurance swindle and ended up going to prison.

But the film was chiefly remembered for two musical numbers sung by Kirkwood which led to her first recording hit entitled Hurry Home.

More musical success followed at the start of the war when the 18-year-old Kirkwood recorded the Cole Porter classic My Heart Belongs to Daddy. She was appearing in the revue Black Velvet at the London Hippodrome at the time.

The show and the song helped establish Kirkwood as Britain’s first wartime star, earning her the lead role in the 1940 revue Top of the World at the Palladium.

In 1939, Kirkwood teamed up with George Formby to make the comedy movie Come on George! and then starred with Arthur Askey in the 1940 film Band Waggon.

Based on the BBC radio show of the same name, Band Waggon told the story of two unemployed performers who put an entertainment troupe together, including Kirkwood.

The movie led to Kirkwood being favourably compared to American movie legend Betty Grable. Few were surprised when Kirkwood left the UK for Hollywood at the end of the war.

Betty Grable Actress

She signed a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for £250,000 – but had to wait several months before making her movie debut as radio personality Susan Duncan alongside Van Johnson in No Leave, No Love.

The film centred on a war hero, Johnson, returning home to find his childhood sweetheart had married someone else. He turns for comfort to Kirkwood’s character.

Van Johnson at the Royal Film Performance

The film was poorly received and the production took its toll on Kirkwood. She was forced to lose weight for the role, had a nervous breakdown and spent eight months recovering in a New York hospital.

British impresario Noel Coward put Kirkwood’s career back on track when he cast her as Pinkie Leroy in his show Ace of Clubs at the Cambridge Theatre in 1950.

In 1953, Kirkwood was a regular panelist on the popular TV show What’s My Line? She became the first woman to have her own TV programme in 1954 when the BBC screened The Pat Kirkwood Show.

Kirkwood continued to appear on TV and in pantomimes until her retirement in the 1980s. She died of Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 86 on Christmas Day 2007.

*Readers can revel in the past 150 years with a brilliant anniversary book from the M.E.N. and local publishers iNostalgia.

The Changing Face of Manchester: Second Edition is packed with past images of Manchester contrasted with modern photos of how the same scenes look now.

The book retails at £14.99, but M.E.N. readers can order it for the reduced price of £9.99 plus postage and packing.

Just go to to place your order or telephone the order hotline on 01928 503777.