Bermondsey Boy. Memoirs of a Forgotten World.

By Tommy Steele

Printed: 2006

Publisher: Michael Joseph. London

Edition: First edition

Dimensions 17 × 24 × 4 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 17 x 24 x 4

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In the original dustsheet. Black cloth binding with gilt title on the spine.

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Surrounded by docks and sitting on the South-East of the Thames 1930’s Bermondsey was a thriving place. And it was here that Thomas Hicks was born. It wasn’t until much later that this Bermondsey boy would become known as Tommy Steele. Saturdays as a young boy were spent gazing at the colourful posters for the Palladium, or wandering up Tower Bridge Road to Joyce’s Pie Shop for pie and mash. He brings to life with extraordinary vividness what it was like to live through the devastation of the Blitz – having to run to the shelter naked in the middle of the night wondering as each bomb crashed down, which street had taken a hit. His beloved father Darbo was a tipster who worked the crowds at the races by day, and by night was a doorman at The Nest, an infamous watering hole for entertainers and his mother Betty, was a part-time tin basher at Feavers box factory. The Hicks household was full of love and laughter but also struck by tragedy with the loss of three children. Aged fifteen, Tommy joined the merchant navy and it was here he began singing and performing for his fellow seamen and his natural ability as an entertainer soon made him a favourite. Whenever he was ashore in the States, Tommy would listen to the latest music and soon became hooked on the rock n roll movement that was taking America by storm. From Tommy’s humble beginnings, to life at sea and finally a life as a performer, Bermondsey Boy is a colourful, charming and deeply engaging memoir from a much-loved entertainer.

Review: Tommy Steele (born Hicks) was born about a year or so after me and lived through times so well-remembered by me. He has put together a jolly good autobiography and gives a marvellous insight to the genuine guy he is. He first came to my notice when I resumed my ballroom dancing tuition in the Lonsdale Dance Studio next to the old Savoy cinema in Croydon. As I entered the ballroom I was taken aback by a jive record being played on a 78 rpm record called Rock with the Cavemen, Tommy’s first hit record. This book takes one through from his very early days as a toddler, schoolboy, cabin boy and later his music and theatre life. He was and probably remains a staunch family man. Some of his experiences as a P&O cabin boy and other duties were very well written and quite exciting. He tells a good story and because it’s all down to earth and true it is remarkable that he is here to tell it.


                                               Tommy Steele in 1957

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 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.

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