The veteran star of stage and screen is Lancashire-bound and ‘in the mood’ to tell a tragic Miller’s tale, writes ANNA CRYER.
You feel you could spend all day talking to Tommy Steele –and you’d probably be the one to tire out first.
I have thousands of memories of Blackpool, I’ll tell you two about Tommy Cooper and George Formby
The 78-year-old entertainer will readily regale you with energetic tales of his many visits to Blackpool, and stories of his time on stage and off in the resort.
“I have thousands of memories of Blackpool, I’ll tell you two about Tommy Cooper and George Formby,” he said.
“In ‘57 I was appearing at the Palace, and one day I was walking along the Prom and I met George Formby, who was the most fantastic performer.
“He said ‘I know you, you’re Tommy Steele, would you like a coffee?’
“He was probably then about my age now. And we sat there, he said ‘I’ve got to go now, would you mind paying? My wife won’t give me more than two bob a day’. Apparently she was a real harridan.”
Hardly drawing breath, and leaping to his feet, to give the story full effect and actions, he continued: “I was on with Tommy Cooper at the Queens, and the Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev was about to drop the bomb on Cuba, the Cuban Missile Crisis was approaching.
“Tommy was terrified a bomb was going to drop on Blackpool. ‘I’ve been in one war, I don’t want another’ he was saying. We were waiting for a speech from JFK.
“Tommy was about to go on and do his act, I said I’ll let you know from the wings what’s going on.
“So he’s doing the act, and kept looking over at me. The third time he looked, I said ‘Boom’ and he was gone, he ran off so quickly.
“The audience just thought he was running around and he did go back on from the other side.”
Tommy’s busy now rehearsing for The Glenn Miller Story, a new musical in which he will star as the legendary wartime band man, which comes to the Opera House from Monday to Saturday, October 5 to 10.
Miller was a celebrated American big band musician, arranger, composer, and bandleader, whose name went down in history books after the plane he was in disappeared as it flew over the English Channel to Paris, in December 1944.
And chance coversations Tommy had have led to this new show telling Miller’s story being created.
“A teacher mate of mine asked me to give a lecture on rock and roll and country music,” he said. “I was talking about it and this kid said ‘what was it like singing with Glenn Miller?’
“I nearly collapsed, I’m not that old, I told him, I never got the opportunity, but then I had to explain who Glenn Miller was.”
They played some of the music and, Tommy said, the children loved it.
Then a short time later, during lunch with theatre producer Bill Kenwright – a ‘bosom pal’ of Tommy’s – the subject came up again.
“His eyes lit up, ‘That’ll be fantastic’ he said. ‘The Glenn Miller Story, the musical’. I said ‘great, who’re you going to get to play Glen Miller?’ And he replied ‘You’.
“Glenn Miller was the American icon. But he said ‘You’re a song and dance man, and this is a musical not a concert, you’re going to do it, you’re the only kind of person who can play a role like that.”
Tommy’s playing his cards close to his chest about how the show will work – Glenn was just 40 when he died and Tommy’s 78 – but he will be a kind of narrator.
“People ask ‘Are you going to be conducting the band?’” he said. “I start it as me at 78, and get younger.
“In the Glenn Miller Story film James Stewart played him when he was 60. Age doesn’t matter as much in theatre as it does in film – people break out into song and dance, and that’s not real, so anything can happen.”
He’s looking forward to being back in Blackpool, where the audiences give a ‘wonderful response’.
The Glenn Miller Story, Opera House, Blackpool, Monday to Saturday, October 5 to 10. Call 0844 856 1111 to book.