The Tommy Steele Story : The Story about the Film

The year was 1956, on a dark winter's evening; Herbert was at home where he took a phone call from his old friend Sydney Box.

Sydney had been asked about making a film about the new teenage craze of Rock ‘n’ Roll music which was sweeping through Britain.

Sydney knew exactly who to ask about musicals, Herbert Smith, who had had so much experience of making musical movies in the 30’s, On the Air (1934) In Town Tonight (1935) Soft Lights & Sweet Music, (1936) Calling All Star, (1937) Around the Town. (1938)

Herbert was pretty ignorant about Rock ‘n’ Roll but at the time, I was 12 and spent hours playing Rock music on my Dansette Argosy record player. My favourite was Elvis, I had his 1st LP with the Black and white photo, pink/green text, it had all the jazzed up country music on it, but we thought it was Rock ’n’ Roll.

Herbert was pleased to work on a British Rock ‘n’ Roll movie, but who should star ? Well, I was not consulted at this time but Herbert went to see an old friend, Jimmy Phillips who had a music publishing business, Peter Maurice Music in Denmark Street, the London “Tin Pan Ally” .

Jimmy whose finger was on the pulse of this new music told Herbert about a new coming Rock musician called Tommy Steele. He had his first record out which was a hit in 1956, Rock with the Caveman. After some fast research it was decided that the Rock movie would be about Tommy Steele. Herbert had learned about Tommy’s travels with the merchant Navy and could see the possibility of stringing a story around the travel aspect of Tommy’s life. Tommy was only 19 when the Story was told!

Herbert had a contract drawn up and went to a meeting with Tommy, his manager and his parents at Tommy’s terrace home, 52 Freane St. Bermondsey, SE15. The contract was signed there and then, done deal, Herbert was always prepared to do a deal with the contract in his pocket ready to be signed.

Herbert went back to Jimmy Phillips to find out about music writers who were on the up and up. Herbert knew great music was really important; they wanted HITS for their film score. Jimmy recommended another newbe called Lionel Bart who had known Tommy through the skiffle group.
A stroke of genius as the music in The Tommy Steele Story produced no less than four Top Ten Hits.

During the shooting of the movie at Beaconsfield Studios, I visited the set and the sound recording studio. I remember being very impressed with the guitar playing of Ike Isaac, talking at length with Lionel Bart who was asked to entertain me (keep me quiet) outside of the Studio during the recording in case I made a noise.
The movie came out just as Tommy had his no.1 hit Singing the Blues, the timing was perfect, the songs from the film followed in the UK Top Ten. I must mention the line up behind Tommy, as the sound was sensational:
Leo Pollini, Drums
Alan Stewart, Sax, the Sax solos were wonderful in Tommy’s hits.
Alan Weighell, Bass
Dennis Price on piano, Ike Isaac, Lead guitar.

I still enjoy listening to Rock with the Caveman today; it has a terrific beat, drive and sax solo.
By Barrie Smith © 2006