IT was only after her death at the age of just 41 that her fans were told that Kathleen Ferrier had been receiving radiation treatment for cancer for two years.

During what proved to be her final performance, at Covent Garden, it had left her so weak that her left femur fractured while she was on stage but she carried on to receive a standing ovation.

After her death luminaries including actor Sir John Gielguid, and conductor Sir John Barbirolli campaigned for a memorial cancer fund to be set up in her name.

That fund, buoyed by royalties from her recordings with the Decca label, still exists today and helps fund essential research into the disease which claimed the singer’s life.

Professor Daniel Hochhauser is the Kathleen Ferrier Chair of Oncology at University College London, a post created in 1984 through the fund.

“At the time the foundation was set up it was very uncommon to have academic research into oncology,” he said.

“That research is the first step in setting up clinical trials which eventually lead to treatments so it is a vital and necessary thing.

“Kathleen Ferrier’s legacy has undoubtedly helped our understanding of cancer and its treatment.

“In the early 1950s it was common practice not to discuss cancer. Now treatment of breast cancer, for instance, has been revolutionised with more targeted treatments available and more and more patients being given the all clear.”

By a tremendous coincidence, Professor Hochhauser’s father Victor was a friend of the singer who went from working in Blackburn Telephone Exchange to becoming world famous in less than 10 years.

He even staged performances for her at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

“She was both an ordinary and extraordinary woman,” said Professor Hochhauser.

“It is not an understatement to say that she has helped play a major role in the development of cancer research in this country.”

A special plaque commemorating Kathleen Ferrier is at University College Hospital in London and the radiotherapy department named after her.