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You are in: Northamptonshire » Going Out » Stage

Friday, 23 January, 2004
The man who brought rock to Britain
Tommy Steele in Scrooge He was Britain's first rock 'n' roll star. Nearly 50 years on, he's appearing in Scrooge at Northampton's Derngate. We've been talking to Tommy Steele.

Audio availableInterview with Tommy Steele (Real 56k, 2'49")

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Preview of Scrooge
Tommy Steele stars in Scrooge at Northampton's Derngate.

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We talk to Tommy Steele

Don't dismiss Tommy Steele as another ageing song-and-dance man who happens to be appearing in a corny musical which is touring the country.

"The overnight sensation bit was true. It was the first time rock 'n' roll had ever been seen in Great Britain, and because it was never seen before, you couldn't make any mistakes."
Tommy Steele

Not only was Tommy Steele Britain's first rock 'n' roll star, but he's been a Hollywood movie star, composer, conductor, serious actor, director and novelist. He's even a sculptor - did you know that he created the popular Eleanor Rigby sculpture in Liverpool? Surely he demands a bit more attention.

The young Tommy Steele (real name Thomas Hicks) was a sailor travelling the world. When his shipped docked in the United States, he heard the music of Buddy Holly for the first time and brought rock 'n' roll to Britain. Skiffle was all the rage back in blighty but he was excited by rock 'n' roll.

Overnight sensation

Tommy Steele in Scrooge
Song and dance man: Tommy Steele in Scrooge

He was spotted by Decca in the summer and got to number 13 in the charts with Rock With The Caveman a few months later.

"The overnight sensation bit was true," said Tommy. "It was the first time rock 'n' roll had ever been seen in Great Britain, and because it was never seen before, you couldn't make any mistakes.

"It was all new, so therefore the people in this country wanted to see more. No one else played guitar - especially country guitar - except me."

That same year - 1956 - Tommy got to number one with Singing The Blues. He was a teen idol who, just a year later, made a movie telling the story of his sudden rise to fame. Not even the Spice Girls got onto the big screen that quickly!

Career move

"It was all new, so therefore the people in this country wanted to see more. No one else played guitar - especially country guitar - except me."
Tommy Steele

But by 1960, he'd turned his back on rock 'n' roll: "I was just coming up to my 21st birthday and I did a panto [in Liverpool] - my first time on a musical stage, as it were. I was given show songs to sing and I was given steps to do. I loved it so much, I wanted to do some more.

"That summer I was sent over to America to go and meet with Rogers & Hammerstein to talk to them about them doing a musical for me at The Colosseum [in London], which was Cinderella, which was the greatest show ever seen in London in that idiom. That was how my career started as a musical performer."

Nearly half a century later, Tommy Steele still has the 'cheeky chappie' image and is still starring in musicals.

TV spectaculars

"The kind of audiences who come to see Scrooge are from eight to 80, so you've got the higher echelon of the age group who remember the rock 'n' roll days. Then there's the films, the television spectaculars and the musicals as they go down the age scale - things like Some Like It Hot or Half A Sixpence.

"Hans Anderson wasn't only a musical, it was a children's show, so lots of families came. The mothers and fathers who grew up with [the 1959 hit] Little White Bull brought their kids to watch Hans Anderson, who in turn, brought their kids to see Singing In The Rain."

I haven't yet seen Scrooge but the show is certainly getting excellent reviews as it tours the country (the special effects are said to be outstanding), but one thing is certain, its star is definitely one of Britain's greatest all-round entertainers.

Audio availableListen to Tommy Steele talking about his early rock 'n' roll career (Real 56k, 2'49")

Also See:
• Preview of Scrooge



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