Been There, Seen It, Done It All!; the Only Englishman to Have Danced with Both Fred Astaire and Gene Kell Y Is Back in Birmingham Next Week. FRED NORRIS Meets the One and Only Tommy Ste Ele

By Norris, Fred | Birmingham Evening Mail (England), April 24, 1998 | Go to article overview

Been There, Seen It, Done It All!; the Only Englishman to Have Danced with Both Fred Astaire and Gene Kell Y Is Back in Birmingham Next Week. FRED NORRIS Meets the One and Only Tommy Ste Ele


Norris, Fred, Birmingham Evening Mail (England)


TOMMY Steele sits back, throws up his arms and says: "Records - what do they mean? I'll tell you what they mean. In showbiz they don't mean a thing, not even the paper they are printed on."

As Birmingham's own Mandy Rice-Davis once so famously said in entirely different circumstances: "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?"

The fact is Tommy Steele, the former Cockney cabin boy who sniffed the first heady scent of rhythm 'n' blues on shore leave in the States, collects records like a magnet picks up iron filings. He's got that many he pretends to have lost count.

But don't let that fool you. He's jealously proud of them all, whatever he says. The man is a show in himself. And that, of course, is why I am talking to him again.

Unbelievably, he is now 61. I put a year on him and he promptly pounces on me. "Hold on. I shall be 62 this year. But for now I am 61." At heart he is as young as they come and he is out on the road again for the umpteenth time.

I caught up with him this week in Swansea. Next week he will be back in Birmingham for a three-day season at the Hippodrome.

Backed by a 13-piece orchestra and, inevitably, a chorus of dancing girls, he will be singing the many songs that have helped to colour and shape his life.

Dancing girls

That's why, just as inevitably as those dancing girls come swirling out of the wings while he is on stage, our conversation turns to those records that don't mean a thing.

On the rock 'n roll front, he is the Daddy of them all. He was a blond-mopped idol, top of the hit parade and besieged by thousands of screaming teenagers when Cliff Richard - now a mere 58 - was still doing his Elvis Presley act in the bathroom.

As cabin boy Tommy Hicks from Bermondsey, he was sailing to America in the days when rhythm 'n' blues was having a love affair with country music and gave birth to a child called rock 'n' roll.

He was there when Buddy Holly, a virtual unknown, was touring British music halls with - wait for it - Des O'Connor.

Then he broadened his career and turned to the theatre and films and Hollywood. This is where the records pile up.

He danced with Gene Kelly on Broadway in the musical New York, New York and he danced with Fred Astaire in the Hollywood version of Finnian's Rainbow (incidentally the last time Fred danced on film).

His experiences with the two amount to a book in themselves. "Fred was the Rolls Royce. Gene was the Land Rover. …

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Been There, Seen It, Done It All!; the Only Englishman to Have Danced with Both Fred Astaire and Gene Kell Y Is Back in Birmingham Next Week. FRED NORRIS Meets the One and Only Tommy Ste Ele
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