Thomas 'Tommy' Charles Bruce, singer, (July 16 1937 - July 10 2006) had one of the most individual of British vocal styles to emerge during the early 1960s.
Bruce's upbringing was near-Dickensian in its hardship. He was born Thomas Charles Bruce 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.
Here's the B side to Ain't Misbehavin'
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. Some people maybe surprised to know that he appeared in films, the most notable of these being "The Man With The Yellow Hat" in which he took the lead role supported by
Eleanor Somerfield and John Slater.
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 Spainand 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, microphone gripped just above his paunch, giving them Ain't Misbehavin.
In 2002 Tommy made what was to be his last performance at The London Palladium. He received two standing ovations during his five-song set. This proved once again what the big promoters constantly overlooked, the public loved Tommy Bruce and more to the point he loved them.
In March 2006 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 in June 2006. Sadly, Tommy died as a result of prostate cancer on July 10 2006. (info from various sources)