Obituary - Anita Perks 1950-2011

23rd December 2011 at 00:00

Anita Perks is best known as the sultry voice of the 1970s Cadbury's Flake adverts. But alongside her singing career, the Cambridgeshire drama teacher also spent years serving as surrogate mother to countless children, both in school and out.

Anita Suzanne Lumb was born in Warwickshire in July 1950. From an early age she had two powerful loves: singing and reading. In 1973 she was appointed English teacher at the Queen's School in Cambridgeshire.

Many of her pupils came from deprived homes. Mrs Kitchener - as she was by then - quickly became notorious for knocking on parents' doors and itemising how they were letting their offspring down. One boy in her form group was always dressed in hand-me-down shoes. Mrs Kitchener went out and bought him a new pair so that he would, at least once, have shoes that were just his own.

But she was no soft touch. "Shut up," she told a talkative boy once, "or I'll come and headbutt you." He was fairly certain she was joking, but he still stopped talking. On another occasion she saw a boy misbehaving in the corridor. "Hello, darling!" she called, instantly embarrassing him into silence.

She was mother to her own son, too: Will was born in 1979. And after marrying her second husband, Jim Perks, in 1988, the couple fostered about 25 children over two-and-a-half decades.

Always battling injustice, Mrs Perks lobbied Cambridgeshire County Council to introduce funding for foster children while they were at university. This ultimately led to the government's Staying Put initiative.

She continued to sing and perform. From the late 1960s to the 1980s she sang backing vocals for artists such as James Brown, Joe Cocker and Suzi Quatro.

In the 1970s, she was hired to sing "Only the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate, tastes like chocolate never tasted before" for a series of Flake adverts. She always regretted agreeing to a one-off payment - the advert repeatedly appears on compilations of the 100 greatest.

In the mid-1980s she was appointed head of drama at Cambridgeshire's Marshland High. But, lured by promises of a high-tech drama studio, she returned to Queen's - later to become Thomas Clarkson Community College - in 1987. She remained there until 2004.

In retirement she became treasurer of Natural High, a charity offering teenagers alternatives to drinking and drug-taking. She also worked as head of education and training at a hostel for the homeless. And she ran a local youth theatre.

She was, essentially, a big kid at heart. Recently, out for a walk with her six border collies, she was accosted by a group of youths. Others might have been intimidated; she ended up chatting to them for three hours. She did not see age or class: she simply saw people. She died suddenly on 8 November.

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