Detailed Pedia

Tommy Steele

Tommy Steele
Tommy Steele performing in Stockholm in 1957
Tommy Steele performing in Stockholm in 1957
Background information
Birth nameThomas Hicks
Born (1936-12-17) 17 December 1936 (age 85)
London, England
GenresRock and roll, skiffle
Occupation(s)Singer, actor
InstrumentsVocals, guitar, banjo
Years active1949–present
LabelsDecca, 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. After being discovered at the 2i's Coffee Bar, he 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. 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".

By the 1960s, Steele was an all-round entertainer, appearing in West End theatre productions and starring in musical films including Half a Sixpence (1967), The Happiest Millionaire (1967) and Finian's Rainbow (1968). He is also a songwriter, author and sculptor. He remains active as a performer. Steele 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. His father Darbo was a racing tipster and his mother Betty worked in a factory. 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".


Steele worked in multiple jobs, including a brief period as a merchant seaman. He was not eligible for national service because, at eighteen years old, he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. In his autobiography, Bermondsey Boy: Memories of a Forgotten World, he reports that he failed the medical because he had flat feet. Whenever not working, he played guitar and banjo and sang in two coffee houses in Soho, the 2i's Coffee Bar and the Cat's Whisker, both as a solo performer and with Wally Whyton's Vipers Skiffle Group.

When a ship Steele was serving on docked in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S., he saw Buddy Holly perform and fell in love with rock and roll, turning his back on the British skiffle craze. When he returned to London, Steele began performing at the 2i's Coffee Bar. He was discovered there by freelance photographer John Kennedy, who believed Steele could be Britain's answer to Elvis Presley. Within six weeks, Steele was headlining variety bills. Later co-manager Larry Parnes was incorrectly credited with creating the stage name "Tommy Steele". It was Steele who adapted the surname of his Scandinavian paternal grandfather, Thomas Stil-Hicks (pronounced Steel-Hicks), adding another E to the spelling.[citation needed]

Steele became known in the UK as the frontman for a rock and roll band, the Steelmen, after their first single, "Rock with the Caveman", reached number 13 in the UK Singles Chart in 1956. Steele and other British singers would pick known hit records from the United States, record their cover versions of these songs, and release them in the UK before the American versions could enter the charts. Most of Steele's 1950s recordings were covers of American hits, such as "Singing the Blues" and "Knee Deep in the Blues". Although Steele never proved a serious threat to Presley's popularity in the UK, he did well on the 1950s UK chart and "Singing the Blues" got to Number 1 in the UK before Presley did so. Guy Mitchell was number 1 with "Singing the Blues" on 4 January 1957 and Tommy Steele on 11 January 1957. Steele's 1957 album, The Tommy Steele Story, was the first by a UK-based act to reach number 1 in the UK.

Only four months after his first chart presence, he was filming his life story. To do so, Steele and his songwriting collaborators, Lionel Bart and Mike Pratt, wrote twelve songs in seven days. His first three single releases were issued at a rate of one every three weeks. In 1957, Steele bought a four-bedroomed house in South London for his parents. In August 1959, Steele undertook a three-day concert visit to Moscow.

In 1958, Steele had the opportunity to work with his younger brother, Colin Hicks, during a tour in which the latter replaced one of the other performers, Terry Dene, who had withdrawn for psychiatric reasons.

In late 2009 his greatest hits collection, The Very Best of Tommy Steele, reached the Top 40 in the UK Albums Chart. This was the first UK chart entry, of any kind, that Steele had had for over 46 years.


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.

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.

In the West End, he appeared in She Stoops to Conquer, 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, although many critics[who?] found his personality to be somewhat overwhelming on screen. In this last film, probably his best known appearance in films, 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. 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. 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.

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

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


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 is unknown. 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. 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.

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. 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 from 1958 onwards.

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 was born in Bermondsey, London. His father was Thomas Walter Hicks, and his mother was Elizabeth Ellen Bennett; they had married in 1933, in Bermondsey. There is a London Borough of Southwark blue plaque on Nickleby House, in the Dickens Estate in Bermondsey, commemorating Steele.

Steele and [Winifred] Ann Donoughue married at St. Patrick's Church, Soho Square, London, in spring 1960. 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.

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. He was knighted in the 2020 Birthday Honours for services to entertainment and charity.

In 2012, Steele was among the cultural icons selected by pop-artist Sir Peter Blake to appear in "Vintage Blake", a montage to celebrate Blake's 80th birthday.

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.

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




  1. ^ his mother's maiden name

This page was last updated at 2022-07-01 00:18 UTC. Update now. View original page.

All our content comes from Wikipedia and under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.