After leaving school he joined the Merchant Navy and after four years he began performing at the 2 i’s coffee bar in London where he was spotted by Fleet Street photographer John Kennedy, who introduced him to Decca Records.
Larry Parnes changed his name to Tommy Steele and his first single, Rock With The Cavemen, made the UK top twenty in 1956. This was followed by his first #1, a cover version of Guy Mitchell‘s Singing the Blues.
He continued to record and make
television appearances such as Six-Five Special and made several films, including The Tommy Steele Story (1957), The Duke Wore Jeans (1958) and Tommy The Toreador (1959).
In between films, Steele toured in Denmark and South Africa (the South African tour of 1958 was used to promote the single Nairobi).
Tommy was greeted by riots of ‘ducktails’ (South African Teddy Boys) and was banned in Pretoria.
In August 1959 Steele was invited to Moscow, as a representative of British youth to a World Youth Conference.
He went and reported back to British youth that the Russians preferred skiffle to rock & roll, and that “all in all they’re pretty square in Red Square”.
But the next year in 1960, Steele renounced rock & roll and his position as representative of British youth in favour of becoming an ‘all-round entertainer’.
His first step in this direction was to play the part of Tony Lumpkin in the London Ol Vic’s production of Goldsmith’s She Stoops To Conquer.
Steele quickly established himself as a star of stage and screen (TV and cinema).
In 1963 he starred in the West End musical Half A Sixpence and then, in 1965, transferred to Broadway with the show for a year.
In America he made two films, The Happiest Millionaire for Disney and another musical, Finian’s Rainbow (1968), and then returned to Britain to make the film version of Half A Sixpence (1967) and Where’s Jack? (1969).