It’s one of entertainment’s enduring mysteries, whatever happened to musician and bandleader Glenn Miller?
It’s not likely to throw up any definitive answers but The Glenn Miller Story is now touring the UK and opens at Milton Keynes Theatre on Monday with showbiz legend Tommy Steele.
Here, a youthful 78-year-old Tommy talks about the show and his involvement with it.
“Well, it all started after I gave a lecture to some secondary school pupils about rock ‘n’ roll and country music, and this little girl, who was probably about 12, asked me what it was like to sing with Glenn Miller, to which I laughed and said: ‘I’m not that old!’
“I told this story to friend Bill Kenwright over dinner one evening and he said: ‘That’s it….the Glenn Miller Story, we can do a stage musical about it’.
“And when I asked him who will play Glenn Miller, he said: ‘You are’. Despite my protests that I am a pensioner and English, and Glenn Miller was young and American, Bill insisted and said: ‘It calls for a song and dance man – you’.
“I said: ‘Bill, I’m too old to play Glenn Miller’. To which he replied: ‘Tommy, you’re never too old’. So he ended up talking me into it!
“Glenn Miller is my idol. I was taken by my parents to see him when I was a little boy. I was a kid during the Blitz. The bombs were dropping everywhere and in 1942 the Americans came into the war.
“I was only four and all of a sudden over American Forces Network came this music saying Glenn Miller’s coming to England, my mum and dad were thrilled. My dad took me to the Albert Hall to see him.
“Today, all I can remember is this wonderful sound and then came the mystery of his death. It’s a great story. Glenn Miller was a man searching for the perfect sound and I loved that whole tale of him being so meticulous about his music.
“When you add that to the tragedy, you have all the material for a musical theatre show. It’s an adventure in music you won’t stop tapping to.
“It’s a show about a man looking for a sound, then finding it. And it is a fully blown song and dance musical, with a big orchestra. It’s got a wonderful ‘taste’ to it, that’s all I can say. But this is not a concert, it’s a musical.
“People ask: ‘Are you going to be conducting the band?’ I start it as me at 78, and get younger. I am Glenn Miller. The film is iconic, wonderful, lovely, the great Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson.
“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. It’s a great example of music from the swing era, when he started out in the ‘30s, and it works beautifully.
“It’s never that strenuous when you’re in a great show and you can’t wait to sing the songs, do the dances. I can’t really explain it but you walk on stage, do two and a half hours and you’ve got an audience listening, you can’t be luckier than that, can you?
“Harold Fielding, who I did all those great shows with, Half a Sixpence, Singing in the Rain etc, he did it the other way.
“He used to say that once we’ve done it in the West End we must to two years on the road. I tour because I want to be on the stage and I love meeting people.
“You don’t really retire from showbiz and I’m doing what I love. You can’t ask for more than that, can you? And people keep paying me to work!”
The Glenn Miller Story is at Milton Keynes Theatre from Monday, October 26-31.