Tommy Steele – Iconic English Performer

During the late 1967 as a 6 year old My mother took me, my brother and sister to see Tommy Steele in the film ‘Half a Sixpence’ and ever since I have been interested in his career.Tommy Steele OBE was (born Thomas William Hicks, on the 17th December 1936 in was the eldest of Elizabeth Ellen and Thomas Walter’s four children and was born in Mason Street in the South London suburb of Bermondsey, London). Tommy Steele is widely regarded as Britain’s first teen idol and Rock ‘n’ Roll star.

As he is an English Icon who very rarely appears in the newspapers and deserves to be knighted for his services to the entertainment industry I thought I would write about his life.

He was Evacuated during the Blitz and in 1941 he returned to Bermondsey and attendded

Bacon’s School for Boys, leaving as soon as the law allowed at the age of fifteen. He joined the merchant navy for a short time and after that he formed his first band, the Skiffle group“The Cavemen”, with Lionel Bart and Mike Pratt. He was discovered by his soon-to-be Manager John Kennedy in September 1956 while singing at the famous Two I’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street, Soho, London.

In 1956 he made his film debut and his films include “The Tommy Steele Story” (also known as “Rock Around the World”) and featured in many films after that. Among his best remembered rock ‘n’ roll discs are “Rock With The Cavemen”, “Give! Give! Give!”, “Teenage Party” (also recorded by The Blue Cats in 1980), “Elevator Rock”, Rebel Rock” and Two Eyes”.

As Tommy Steele he made his stage debut at Sunderland on the 5th November 1957 and had his first experience of a ‘book show’ in pantomime at Liverpool in 1957. The following Christmas he played Buttons in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” at the London Coliseum and since then his career has followed a varied and ever-developing course, embracing almost all areas of the entertainment world.

His major stage musical was “Half a Sixpence” and his one-man show – “An Evening with Tommy Steele” ran for fourteen months at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1979/80 and is in the Guinness Book of Theatre Facts and Feats as “the longest running one-man show in West End history”.

In 1974 he composed and recorded an autobiographical cycle of twelve songs under the title of “My Life, My Song”. Another of his talents was shown in the album sleeve for this recording which was illustrated with twelve of his own paintings and these together with other works were shown in a one-man exhibition at the Christopher Wade Gallery. He has also developed a talent as a sculptor and two of his major works are on public display;“Bermondsey Boy” at the Rotherhithe Civic Centre and “Eleanor Rigby” which he gave to the City of Liverpool as a tribute to the Beatles. His talent for writing first manifest as a writer and co-writer of his own television specials which led to the publication of

“Quicy” a story for children, by Heinemann in hardback and Pan/Piccolo in paperback. He also wrote a best-selling novel for adults “The Final Run” published by Collins in hardback and Fontana in paperback.

History Timeline of Music and films by Tommy Steele

Singles:

With the Steelmen

  • “Rock With the Caveman” / “Rock Around the Town” -#13 (Decca 1956)

  • “Doomsday Rock” / “Elevator Rock” – (Decca 1956)

  • “Singing the Blues” / “Rebel Rock” – UK #1 (Decca 1956)

  • “Knee Deep in the Blues” / “Teenage Party” – UK #15 (Decca 1957)

  • “Butterfingers” / “Cannibal Pot” – UK #8 (Decca 1957)

  • “Water, Water” / “A Handful of Songs” – UK #5 (Decca 1957)

  • “Shiralee” / “Grandad’s Rock” – UK #11 (Decca 1957)

  • “Hey You!” / “Plant a Kiss” – UK #28 (Decca 1957)

  • “Happy Guitar” / “Princess” – UK #20 (Decca 1958)

  • “Nairobi” / “Neon Sign” – UK #3 (Decca 1958)

  • “The Only Man on the Island” / “I Puts the Lightie On” – UK #16 (Decca 1958)

Solo

  • “It’s All Happening” / “What Do You Do?” – (Decca 1958 )

  • “Come On, Let’s Go” / “Put a Ring on Her Finger” – UK #10 (Decca 1958)

  • “A Lovely Night” / “Marriage Type Love” – (Decca 1958)

  • “Hiawatha” / “The Trial” – (Decca 1959)

  • “Tallahassee Lassie” / “Give! Give! Give!” – UK #16 (Decca 1959)

  • “Give! Give! Give!” – UK #28 (Decca 1959)

  • “You Were Mine” / “Young Ideas” – (Decca 1959)

  • “Little White Bull” / “Singing Time” – UK #6 (Decca 1959)

  • “What a Mouth (What a North and South)” / “Kookaburra” – UK #5 (Decca 1960)

  • “Happy Go Lucky Blues” / “Girl with the Long Black Hair” – (Decca 1960)

  • “Must Be Santa” / “Boys and Girls” – UK #40 (Decca 1960)

  • “My Big Best Shoes” / “The Dit Dit Song” – (Decca 1961)

  • “The Writing on the Wall” / “Drunken Guitar” – UK #30 (Decca 1961)

  • “Hit Record” / “What a Little Darling” – (Decca 1962)

  • “Where have all the Flowers gone?” / “Butter Wouldn’t Melt in Your Mouth” – (Decca 1963)

  • “He’s Got Love” / “Green Eye” – (Decca 1963)

  • “Flash Bang Wallop” / “She’s Too Far Above Me” – (Decca 1963)

  • “Egg and Chips” / “The Dream Maker” – (Columbia 1963)

  • “Half a Sixpence”/ “If the Rain’s Got to Fall” – (RCA 1965)

  • “Fortuosity” / “I’m a Brass Band” – (Vista 1967)

  • “King’s New Clothes” / “Wonderful Copenhagen” – (Pye 1974)

  • “Half a Sixpence” / “If the Rain’s Got to Fall” – (Safari 1984)

  • “Singing the Blues” / “Come On, Let’s Go” – (Old Gold 1985)

Albums:

  • Tommy Steele Stage Show-#5 (Decca 1957)

  • The Tommy Steele Story– UK #1 (Decca 1957)

  • The Duke Wore Jeans (Soundtrack)– UK #1 (Decca 1958)

Films:

  • The Tommy Steele Story (1957)

  • The Duke wore Jeans (1957)

  • Tommy the Toreador (1957)

  • Light up the Sky 1960) known as Skywatch in the US

  • It’s All Happening (1963) known as The Dream Maker in the US

  • Half a Sixpence (1967)

  • the Happiest Millionaire (1967)

  • Finian’s Rainbow (1968)

  • Twelfth Night (1969) (made for TV)

  • Where’s Jjack? (1969)

  • The Yeoman of the Guard (1978)

  • Quincy’s Quest (1979)

For many years it was thought that Elvis Ppressley had never set foot in England, and had only ever spent a few minutes on the tarmac at prestwick airpor in Scotland where his military plane, en route to the United States after completing his military service in West Germany, stopped to re-fuel. However, on 21st April 2008, in a (BBC Radio 2) interview with theatre impresario Bill Kenright, it was claimed that Presley, then 23, had visited England for a day, after striking a phone conversation with Steele in London in 1958. According to Kenwright: “Elvis flew in for a day and Tommy showed him round London. He showed him the Houses of Parliament and spent the day with him”. Kenwright admitted on 22nd April 2008 that he was not sure whether he should have told the story.

Tommy Steele said: “It was two young men sharing the same love of their music. I swore never to divulge publicly what took place and I regret that it has found some way of getting into the light. I only hope he can forgive me.”

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The Chinese call Britain ‘The Island of Hero’s’ which I think sums up what we British are all about. We British are inquisitive and competitive and are always looking over the horizon to the next adventure and discovery.

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