A local rumour still surfaces every so often regarding the possibility that Tommy Steele, "The Bermondsey Boy" singer and actor, was born in Little Thurrock. Thurrock Museum has begun a search to find out more about his local family connections and if he was really born in Thurrock!
Tommy's real name was Thomas Hicks and he was born on December 17th 1936 to a working class family. The 1936 Little Thurrock electoral role shows a Charles Hicks in residence at 93 Rectory Road, Little Thurrock, with his wife Ellen. Subsequent years record just Charles in 1937, and the following year the house is unoccupied. However, biographies claim that Thomas Hicks was born in Bermondsey, London, and make no mention of the Little Thurrock area. Certainly, Hicks was living in Bermondsey at an early age.
In 1952, at the age of 15, Hicks joined the merchant navy and worked on the Cunard Line for the following 4 years. During this time he learnt to play guitar, singing and performing for his fellow merchant seamen. He discovered a natural ability to entertain, and was particularly suited to country and comedy songs. During shore leave, he often appeared with a country band, 'The Sons of the Saddle.'
However, his first real introduction into the music business was as part of a 'skiffle' trio ('The Cavemen') with Lionel Bart and Mike Pratt, playing in the coffee bars of Soho. After being discovered by agent Larry Parnes, Hicks was encouraged to change his name to Steele; (Parnes was also responsible for the stage name of Billy Fury) . Steele's career soon began to take off with hits such as 'Rock With the Caveman', the January 1957 no. 1 'Singing the Blues' (written by Melvin Endsley), the Calypso-style 'Water Water' and the folk-influenced 'Shiralee'.
In 1956 he appeared in his first film, and less than a year later was starring in his own biopic 'The Tommy Steele Story'. He turned to the theatre in 1960, and achieved great success in the 1963 musical 'Half a Sixpence', adapted from H.G. Wells' 'Kipps'.
Steele spent much of the 1960s performing in London and Las Vegas, and starring in a series of movie musicals, including 'The Happiest Millionaire' (1967), 'Half a Sixpence' (1968) and 'Finian's Rainbow'
(1968). He hasn't made a film since 1969, but has been occupied with theatrical reviews, club appearances and TV shows. His autobiography 'My Life, My Songs', was published in 1974, and in relatively recent times he has been developing a talent for art and graphic design.
- Electoral Register 1936, Local Studies, Grays Library;
- All Music Guide, Bruce Eder;
- MSN Entertainment