Tommy Steele

Last updated

Sir
Tommy Steele
OBE
Tommy Steele 1957 crop.jpg
Tommy Steele performing in Stockholm in 1957
Background information
Birth nameThomas Hicks
Born (1936-12-17) 17 December 1936 (age 85)
London, England
Genres Rock and roll, skiffle
Occupation(s)Singer, actor
Instrument(s)Vocals, guitar, banjo
Years active1956–present
Labels Decca, Columbia, RCA Victor

Sir Thomas Hicks OBE (born 17 December 1936), known professionally as Tommy Steele, is an English entertainer, regarded as Britain's first teen idol and rock and roll star. [1] [2]

Contents

After being discovered at the 2i's Coffee Bar in Soho, London, Steele recorded a string of hit singles including "Rock with the Caveman" (1956) and the chart-topper "Singing the Blues" (1957). Steele's rise to fame was dramatised in The Tommy Steele Story (1957), the soundtrack of which was the first British album to reach number one on the UK Albums Chart. With collaborators Lionel Bart and Mike Pratt, Steele received the 1958 Ivor Novello Award for Most Outstanding Song of the Year for "A Handful of Songs". He starred in further musical films including The Duke Wore Jeans (1958) and Tommy the Toreador (1959), the latter spawning the hit "Little White Bull".

Steele shifted away from rock and roll in the 1960s, becoming an all-round entertainer. He originated the part of Kipps in Half a Sixpence in the West End and on Broadway, reprising his role in the 1967 film version. As an actor, he notably appeared in the films The Happiest Millionaire (1967) and Finian's Rainbow (1968) and as the lead in several West End productions of Singin' in the Rain . Also an author and sculptor, Steele remains active. He was knighted in the 2020 Birthday Honours for services to entertainment and charity, and was awarded the Freedom of the City of London in 2021.

Early life

Steele was born Thomas Hicks in Bermondsey, London, England, in 1936. [3] His father, Thomas Walter Hicks, was a racing tipster and his mother, Elizabeth "Betty" Ellen Bennett, worked in a factory; they had married in 1933, in Bermondsey.

As a child, Steele spent time in hospital for porphyria. He dreamt of being a star performer after his parents took him to the London Palladium, but "didn't think you could be English and be a star". [4] In 1952, at age 15, Steele joined the Merchant Navy, working on the Cunard line. [5] He was not eligible for national service because of a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy. [6]

Steele attended Bacons's College in Rotherhithe, south London.[ citation needed ]

Career

Singer

Whilst working as a merchant seaman, Steele learned to play guitar and began performing country and calypso music, inspired most by Hank Williams. [3] [7] [8] He has claimed that when a ship he was serving on docked in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S., he saw Buddy Holly perform and fell in love with rock and roll. [4] [9] The story conflicts with the known performances of Holly, making it appear impossible that it could have occurred as described. [10]

On shore leave in summer 1956, Steele began collaborating with Soho bohemians Lionel Bart and Mike Pratt and formed a loose band, the Cavemen. [4] A Steele performance backed by members of the Vipers Skiffle Group at the 2i's Coffee Bar was seen by John Kennedy, a photographer and publicity man who, within two weeks, got Steele a deal with Decca. [5] [11] [3] With impresario Larry Parnes, Kennedy arranged a publicity stunt in which Steele performed at a staged debutante ball, getting the singer his first national press in The People under the headline "Rock 'n' roll has got the debs too!". [12] [13] Within weeks, Steele was headlining variety bills. [14]

Steele's first single, "Rock with the Caveman", was one of the first British rock and roll hits, reaching number 13 on the UK Singles Chart in November 1956. [5] [15] Steele's success saw him dubbed "Britain's Elvis", and he topped the chart before Presley when his recording of "Singing the Blues" reached number 1 in January 1957. [15] [16] Steele's first album, Tommy Steele Stage Show (1957), was recorded live at a London concert the night before his twentieth birthday. [17] A teen idol, Steele was among the first British pop stars to be heavily merchandised, with tie-in sweaters, [18] shoes [19] and toy guitars. [20] [21]

Only four months after his first chart presence, Steele was filming his life story; The Tommy Steele Story (1957) featured twelve new songs, written by Steele, Bart and Pratt in seven days, that expanded the singer's repertoire to incorporate ballads and calypso music. [1] [22] [23] Its soundtrack album was the first UK number one album by a British act, [23] and the hit single "A Handful of Songs" received the 1958 Ivor Novello Award for Most Outstanding Song of the Year, Musically and Lyrically. [24] In 1957, Steele bought a four-bedroomed house in South London for his parents [25] and was reported to be earning more than British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. [26]

Actor

The increase in home-grown musical talent during the 1950s and 1960s allowed Steele to progress to a career in stage and film musicals, leaving behind his pop-idol identity. In 1957, he was voted the seventh-most-popular actor at the British box office. [27]

In 1960, a tour of Australia had not been particularly successful, and on his return to England he received two offers, one to star in the play Billy Liar , the other to join the Old Vic Company. He chose the latter. [28]

In the West End, he appeared in She Stoops to Conquer , [29] and played the title role of Hans Christian Andersen . On film, he recreated his London and Broadway stage role in Half a Sixpence , and played character roles in The Happiest Millionaire and Finian's Rainbow . In this last film, he played Og, the leprechaun turning human, and co-starred with Petula Clark and Fred Astaire. In 1968, British exhibitors voted him the fourth most popular star at the local box office. [30] The following year, he starred with Stanley Baker in the period drama Where's Jack?

In April 1971, Steele starred in his own show Meet Me in London originating in Las Vegas before a limited run at London's Adelphi Theatre. [31] The London production was troubled when Steele demanded cuts to the first act on opening night. Singer Clodagh Rodgers refused to accommodate the cuts and walked out fifteen minutes before the first night curtain. She was eventually replaced by Susan Maughan.

In 1978, Steele performed in a TV movie version of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard (misspelt as "The Yeoman..."), singing the role of the hapless jester Jack Point. [32]

In 1983, Steele directed and starred in the West End stage production of Singin' in the Rain at the London Palladium. In 1991, he toured with Some Like It Hot the stage version of the Billy Wilder film. In 2003, after a decade-long hiatus, save his one-man shows An Evening With Tommy Steele and What A Show!, he toured as Ebenezer Scrooge in a production of Scrooge: The Musical , an adaptation of Scrooge . Following this return, he reprised his role at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, over Christmas 2004, and brought the production to the London Palladium for Christmas 2005. In 2008, at the age of 71, Steele toured in the lead role of the stage musical Doctor Dolittle .

Tommy Steele, November 1999 Tommy Steele.jpg
Tommy Steele, November 1999

He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1958 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre.

Sculptor

Steele is a respected sculptor and four of his major works have been on public display. Bermondsey Boy at Rotherhithe Town Hall in London, was stolen in 1998: its whereabouts are unknown. [33] Eleanor Rigby , which he sculpted and donated to the City of Liverpool as a tribute to the Beatles, stands in Stanley Street, Liverpool, not far from the Cavern Club. [3] [34] Union, featuring two rugby players, is on display at Twickenham Stadium. Trinity, designed during the regeneration of the docklands area in Bermondsey, stood outside the Trinity building in Bermondsey. When Steele lived in Montrose House, Petersham, Surrey, his life-sized sculpture of Charlie Chaplin as "The Tramp" stood outside his front door.[ citation needed ] He is also an artist of some note and has exhibited at the Royal Academy.

Writing career

In 1981, Steele wrote and published a novel titled The Final Run about World War II and the evacuation of Dunkirk. [35]

He also wrote a children's novel, entitled Quincy, about a reject toy trying to save himself and his fellow rejects in the basement of a toy store from the furnace the day after Christmas. [36] Released in 1983, it was based on his own television film, Quincy's Quest , from 1979, in which Steele played Quincy and Mel Martin played Quincy's girlfriend doll, Rebecca.

Steele co-wrote many of his early songs with Lionel Bart and Mike Pratt, but he used the pseudonym of Jimmy Bennett [lower-alpha 1] from 1958 onwards. [37]

On 7 November 2019, Steele was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the British Music Hall Society, at a Celebratory Luncheon in Mayfair's Lansdowne Club. Those paying tribute to his then 63 years and two days in show business included Sir Tim Rice, Wyn Calvin MBE and Bill Kenwright CBE.

In May 2020, Steele announced a new project which he had been working on titled Breakheart, which was available exclusively online throughout May. Announced via a specially recorded video during the COVID-19 lockdown, Breakheart was a seven-episode audio thriller, written by Steele and set during the Second World War. A new episode was released each day for a week. Following the re-release of Breakheart for the 2020 festive period, Steele also released a specially recorded festive tale, The Christmas Mystery of Muchhope.

In June 2021, to celebrate his 65 years in the entertainment industry, his authorised biography, A Life in the Spotlight, was published by FontHill Media, written by fan and archivist Sebastian Lassandro.

Personal life

Steele and [Winifred] Ann Donoghue married at St. Patrick's Church, Soho Square, London, in spring 1960. [38] The formal reception was held in The Savoy, followed by a private family reception in "The Bamboo Bar" on the first floor of the Carpenters Arms public house formerly located in Eltham High Street, south-east London. The couple have one daughter, Emma Elizabeth, born in 1969. [39]

Honours

In 2019, Steele was awarded the Freedom of the City of London. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ceremony at Mansion House was delayed until 20 July 2021.

In the 1979 New Year Honours, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his work as an entertainer and actor. [40] He was knighted in the 2020 Birthday Honours for services to entertainment and charity. [41] [42]

Legacy

There is a London Borough of Southwark blue plaque on Nickleby House, in the Dickens Estate in Bermondsey, commemorating Steele. [43]

Discography

Filmography

Notes

  1. his mother's maiden name

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lionel Bart</span> British composer and writer (1930–1999)

Lionel Bart was a British writer and composer of pop music and musicals. He wrote Tommy Steele's "Rock with the Caveman" and was the sole creator of the musical Oliver! (1960). With Oliver! and his work alongside theatre director Joan Littlewood at Theatre Royal, Stratford East, he played an instrumental role in the 1960s birth of the British musical theatre scene after an era when American musicals had dominated the West End.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joe Brown (singer)</span> Musical artist

Joseph Roger Brown, MBE is an English entertainer. As a rock and roll singer and guitarist, he has performed for more than six decades. He was a stage and television performer in the late 1950s and has primarily been a recording star since the early 1960s. He has made six films, presented specialist radio series for BBC Radio 2, appeared on the West End stage alongside Dame Anna Neagle and has written an autobiography. In recent years he has again concentrated on recording and performing music, playing two tours of around 100 shows every year and releasing an album almost every year.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Monty Norman</span> British singer and composer (1928–2022)

Monty Norman was a British composer, musician and singer. A contributor to West End musicals in the 1950s and 1960s, he is best known for composing the "James Bond Theme", first heard in the 1962 film Dr. No. He was an Ivor Novello Award and Olivier Award winner, and a Tony Award nominee.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mike Pratt (actor)</span> English actor, musician, songwriter and screenwriter

Michael John Pratt was an English actor, musician, songwriter and screenwriter, known for his work on British television in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Butterfly" is a popular song written by Bernie Lowe and Kal Mann and published in 1957. The song is credited to Anthony September as songwriter in some sources. This was a pseudonym of Anthony Mammarella, producer of American Bandstand.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Harry Robertson (musician)</span> Musical artist

Henry MacLeod Robertson, often credited as Harry Robinson, was a Scottish musician, bandleader, music director and composer. He worked as a musical director on British television shows in the 1950s and 1960s, and also arranged for theatre shows and films, notably those of the Hammer production company.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Larry Parnes</span> Musical artist

Laurence Maurice Parnes was a British pop manager and impresario. He was the first major British rock manager, and his stable of singers included many of the most successful British rock and roll singers of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The 2i's Coffee Bar</span> Coffee bar in London, England

The 2i's Coffee Bar was a coffeehouse at 59 Old Compton Street in Soho, London, that was open from 1956 to 1970. It played a formative role in the emergence of Britain's skiffle and rock and roll music culture in the late 1950s, and several major stars including Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard were first discovered performing there.

<i>The Duke Wore Jeans</i> 1958 British film

The Duke Wore Jeans is a 1958 British comedy musical film by producer Nat Cohen starring Tommy Steele and June Laverick.

This is a summary of 1960 in music in the United Kingdom, including the official charts from that year.

Herbert Smith (1901–1986) was a British film producer.

Colin Hicks & The Cabin Boys were a British rock and roll band, led by Colin Hicks, the younger brother of singer Tommy Steele.

Charles William Harris, better known by his stage name of Wee Willie Harris, is an English rock and roll singer. He is best known for his energetic stage shows and TV performances since the 1950s, when he was known as "Britain's wild man of rock 'n' roll".

<i>Light Up the Sky!</i> (film) 1960 British film

Light Up the Sky! is a 1960 British comedy drama film directed by Lewis Gilbert and starring Ian Carmichael, Tommy Steele and Benny Hill. The film also features Dick Emery in a minor role.

<i>Tommy the Toreador</i> 1959 British film

Tommy the Toreador is a 1959 British musical comedy film directed by John Paddy Carstairs and starring Tommy Steele, Janet Munro, Sid James, Bernard Cribbins, Noel Purcell and Kenneth Williams.

<i>The Tommy Steele Story</i> 1957 British film

The Tommy Steele Story is a 1957 British film directed by Gerard Bryant and starring Tommy Steele, dramatising Steele's rise to fame as a teen idol. Along with Rock You Sinners, it was one of the first British films to feature rock and roll. In the US, where Steele was not well-known, the film was released under the title Rock Around the World. The film was announced in January 1957, three months after the release of Steele's first single "Rock with the Caveman".

The Golden Disc is a 1958 British pop musical film. It features pop singer Terry Dene as himself in a story in which he tops the best-seller charts, whereas in his real life he never made the top ten. The film was directed by Don Sharp, who was married to the leading lady Mary Steele.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rock with the Caveman</span> 1956 single by Tommy Steele and the Steelmen

"Rock with the Caveman" is the debut single by Tommy Steele and the Steelmen, released in October 1956. It peaked at number 13 on the UK Singles Chart, making it one of the first British rock and roll records to chart.

<i>Jim!</i> 1958 studio album by Jim Dale

Jim! is the first studio album by the English actor, singer and songwriter Jim Dale, credited to Dale with Ken Jones and his Orchestra and the Michael Sammes Singers. Released as a 10-inch LP on EMI's Parlophone label in March 1958, Jim! was produced by the label's head George Martin and has been cited as "the first British rock and roll LP". It was Dale's only album released during his initial fame as a teen idol; he quit recording to pursue comedy soon after its release.

<i>Tommy Steele Stage Show</i> 1957 live album by Tommy Steele and the Steelmen

Tommy Steele Stage Show is a live album by English entertainer Tommy Steele, released as a 10-inch LP by Decca in March 1957. A concert recording of Steele backed by the Steelmen at London's Conway Hall, it was his first album release and features a version of the hit single "Rock with the Caveman" alongside several covers of American songs including three previously recorded by Hank Williams. The album's release followed Steele's swift rise to fame as a teen idol widely considered Britain's first rock and roll star, and the success of his UK Singles Chart number one "Singing the Blues". It received a muted critical reception but was commercially successful, peaking at number five on the UK Albums Chart.

References

  1. 1 2 Roberts 2006
  2. Tobler 1992, p. 8
  3. 1 2 3 4 Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. pp. 1133/4. ISBN   1-85227-745-9.
  4. 1 2 3 Beacom, Brian (28 August 2015). "Britain's first pop star Tommy Steele on six decades in showbiz". The Herald . Glasgow. Retrieved 29 January 2022.
  5. 1 2 3 Eder, Bruce. "Tommy Steele Biography, Songs, & Albums". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 February 2022.
  6. The Herald 2015
  7. Stanley, Bob. "How Tommy Steele, Britain's biggest pin-up, was savaged by the teenage mob". The Times . Retrieved 16 November 2022.
  8. Steele, Tommy (2 February 1957). "Tommy Steele Says" (PDF). Melody Maker . Retrieved 19 November 2022.
  9. Quinn, Michael (23 July 2021). "The 'English Elvis': Tommy Steele's 65 years in the spotlight". The Stage. Retrieved 30 November 2022.
  10. "Episode 48: "Rock with the Caveman" by Tommy Steele". 2 September 2019.
  11. Stanley, Bob (2013). Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop. Faber & Faber. ISBN   978-0-571-28198-5.
  12. Kennedy, John (1958). Tommy Steele. Corgi.
  13. "Rock 'n' roll has got the debs too!". The People: 1. 16 September 1956. Retrieved 30 November 2022.
  14. "The green man recalls some of his most interesting assignments and the highspots of show business in 1956" (PDF). Record Mirror: 13. 22 December 1956. Retrieved 29 January 2022.
  15. 1 2 "Tommy Steele". Official Charts. Retrieved 16 November 2022.
  16. "Tommy Steele gets rolling" (PDF). Melody Maker. 12 January 1957. Retrieved 19 November 2022.
  17. Lassandro, Sebastian (2021). Tommy Steele: A Lifetime in the Spotlight. Fonthill Media. Retrieved 15 November 2022.
  18. "Rock man rock" (PDF). Melody Maker. 23 February 1957. Retrieved 19 November 2022.
  19. "Rock with Coles melody makers" (PDF). Melody Maker. 16 March 1957. Retrieved 19 November 2022.
  20. Schroeder's Collectible Toys: Antique to Modern Guide. Collector Boosk. 1995. ISBN   9780891456612 . Retrieved 19 November 2022.
  21. Lewisohn, Mark (2013). The Beatles – All These Years, Volume One: Tune In. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN   978-1-4000-8305-3 . Retrieved 19 November 2022.
  22. Tobler 1992, p. 38
  23. 1 2 Stafford, David; Stafford, Caroline (12 December 2011). Fings Ain't Wot They Used T' Be: The Lionel Bart Story. Omnibus Press. ISBN   9780857127426 . Retrieved 29 November 2022.
  24. "The Ivors 1958". Ivors Academy . Retrieved 30 September 2021.
  25. Tobler 1992, p. 43
  26. Gilmore, Eddy (22 April 1957). "Britain's answer to Elvis to make more money than Prime Minister". Fort Worth Star-Telegram: 7. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  27. Most Popular Film of the Year. The Times (London, England), Thursday, 12 December 1957; p. 3; Issue 54022.
  28. "Tommy Steele Off on a Third Career" by Norman Mark Chicago Daily News Service. The Washington Post, 27 February 1968: C6.
  29. Australian Women's Weekly 1960
  30. "News in Brief". The Times (London, England) 31 December 1968: 2. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 12 July 2012.
  31. Tobler 1992, p. 225
  32. The Yeomen of the Guard 1978 at IMDb
  33. Cavanagh 2007, p. 390
  34. Cavanagh 1996, pp. 213–214
  35. Steele 1983
  36. Steele 1983b
  37. "Download Lionel Bart Digital Sheet Music and Tabs". free-scores.com.
  38. British Pathé 1960
  39. The Scotsman 2006
  40. "No. 47723". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1978. pp. 9–12.
  41. "No. 63135". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 October 2020. p. B2.
  42. "Birthday Honours 2020: Marcus Rashford and Joe Wicks honoured alongside key workers". BBC News. 10 October 2020. Retrieved 10 October 2020.
  43. "Plaque: Tommy Steele". London Remembers. Retrieved 21 November 2020.

Sources

Video Newsreel of Tommy Steele's Wedding