Tommy Bruce
Jump to Tommy's funeral service

Obituary from The Guardian

Singer and showman from the swinging 60s

Alan Clayson
Friday July 14, 2006
The Guardian

Tommy Bruce, who has died of prostate cancer aged 68, regarded his singing voice as "diabolical", and never considered a pop career before he was persuaded to record the ragtime standard Ain't Misbehavin in 1960. It was his only big hit, but - along with his natural showmanship - it was enough to keep him in well-paid work for the rest of his life.

Bruce's upbringing was near-Dickensian in its hardship. He was born in Stepney, east London; by the time he started at secondary school, both his parents had died. On leaving a Middlesex orphanage in 1952, he endured an unhappy engineering apprenticeship before becoming a van driver. Then an uncle found him a job at Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market, to which he returned after national service as a storeman in the Royal Ordnance Corps.

By 1959, he was living in Notting Hill, west London, where a fellow tenant, songwriter Barry Mason, decided that Bruce at least looked like a pop star, and asked him to make a demonstration tape of Ain't Misbehavin, in a style reminiscent of the Big Bopper's recent million-seller, Chantilly Lace. He was backed by four Birmingham musicians, known as the Bruisers, and his EMI producer was Norrie Paramor. With its slurred diction and gravelly ranting, Bruce's rendition reached No 3 in the charts.

Bruce was next plunged into an exhausting schedule of variety seasons, one-nighters with the Bruisers, and such presentations as 1960's Rock'N'Trad package tour - swiftly renamed Idols on Parade - with 15 other vocalists, headed by Billy Fury. High-pitched fan adulation, however, gave a false impression of his standing as a chart contender. A second single, Broken Doll, struggled to No 36, and a hat-trick of flops prefaced 1962's Babette, which barely made the Top 50. Further releases included London Boys, a B-side that was adopted as a signature tune, and, in 1963, a rocked-up version of the Lavender Blue nursery rhyme, with Bruce conveying the impression that he, too, was aware of its ridiculousness.

By then he was a regular on ITV's Stars and Garters, a variety series broadcast on Saturday evenings to counterpoise the BBC's Billy Cotton Band Show. His cockney urbanity suited the beery atmosphere, and, tellingly, he was involved in comedy routines as well as singing spots. He was thus set up for a lucrative living in cabaret, much of it before British holidaymakers in Spain and Malta. After settling in Watford, he also cut an avuncular figure on the 1960s nostalgia circuit, and was received with affection when sharing the bill at Heroes and Villains, a huge charity fundraiser at London's Dominion Theatre in 1985.

Onlookers could not help but visualise each performer, albeit ravaged by age, in some fixed attitude, doing what they did during some optimum moment in the swinging 60s - and, sure enough, there was Bruce, shirt open, tie loosened,  giving them Ain't Misbehavin. In March he won a lifetime achievement award from the Heritage Foundation, an arts and entertainment trust, and his biography, Have Gravel Will Travel, written by manager Dave Lodge, appeared last month. He is survived by his wife Ida, and a son and daughter from a previous marriage.

Thomas 'Tommy' Charles Bruce, singer, born July 16 1937; died July 10 2006

Tommy's funeral service was held in the chapel at West Herts Crematorium, Watford, on July 17.

About 50-60 friends gathered outside about 30 minutes before the service, most trying to find shelter from the scorching heat.

Among the celebrities present were Bruce Welch, John Leyton, Wee Willie Harris, Vince Eager, Danny Rivers and Dave Sampson.

The service itself was a a wonderfully upbeat event, conducted by Tommy's daughter.

Several of Tommy's songs were played, and a 1970s television video of Ain't Misbehavin' produced his final standing ovation.

BELOW:  A 3 Is reunion at Tommy's funeral - three great perfomers who made early public appearances at the London coffee bar in the late 1950s: Chas McDevitt, Vince Eager and Brian Welch.