UK / 1957
Director: Gerard Bryant
Writer: Norman Hudis
Cast: Tommy Steele, Patrick Westwood, Hilda Fenemore, Charles Lamb, Peter Lewiston, John Boxer, Mark Daly
Starring the boy wonder himself, this cheap and cheerful biopic tracks 1950s singer Steele’s meteoric rise from humble Bermondsey beginnings to rock ‘n’ roll stardom via the clubs and cafes of Soho.
Eager to escape the drudgery of his East End home, and the discouragement of his working class parents (Hilda Fenemore and Charles Lamb), Tommy sails off with the merchant navy as a ship’s steward, delighting the crew with his chirpy personality and propensity for breaking into song. His talent doesn’t go unnoticed, and while jiving in Soho’s legendary 2 I’s coffee bar, he’s asked to make a recording which brings him overnight success.
Steele’s natural charm is such that it sometimes betrays the affectations of his co-stars, and director Bryant’s desperate attempts to portray his subject’s lowly origins with forced realism. But these complaints are drowned out by Tommy’s grinning enthusiasm and his remarkably assured delivery.
Although Steele had only scored a few hits before his story was screened, the film is packed with songs. There are more than a dozen from him, mostly penned in collaboration with Lionel Bart, while a triumphant live concert sports tunes from the cream of the British pop scene including The Steelmen, Tommy Eytle Calypso Band, Chris O’Brien’s Caribbeans and Humphrey Lyttleton.
Best of all is the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group’s rendition of Freight Train featuring the wonderful Nancy Whiskey.