The Early Years
Richard Lewis CBE (born Thomas Thomas, later changing his name to Richard Lewis by deed poll) was born in Manchester of Welsh parents in 1914. His mother and father came from Plasbach, a tiny village in Wales. They were forced to leave Wales because unemployment was rife at the time (1912) so they married, then went to Manchester. Father Thomas finding work on the railway as a signalman.
His mother was a strong matriarchal Welsh woman. One of thirteen children from her father's three wives, Richard's grand-father, who was the village cobbler.
Lewis had a good education but had to leave school at sixteen, starting work the next day for a fabric firm. He would suffer long years of frustration and uncertainty, longing to study singing full-time, but the possibility was remote.
A talented draughtsman and painter. A scholarship was offered to him at the local art school... but it was music he wanted.
During all these years he studied singing with a local singing teacher and conductor, TW Evans, who had a choir. Richard's father, Thomas, was a member. Soon Richard was showing that he had a remarkable soprano voice, acquiring a reputation in and around Manchester, earning a few shillings to help the family budget.
He became so well-known that he took part in a performance in Manchester of Mendelssohn's "Elijah" with Isobel Baillie, singing the part of 'The Boy'. He even, to his embarrassment, became known as "The Ernest Lough of the North".
He was invited to a BBC audition but just before leaving to record in London his voice broke. His teacher said 'no more singing'. These would be years of frustration. He longed above all to be a tenor, emulating his heroes of that time, Richard Tauber and Beniamino Gigli.
The day came when he could try his voice. He was a tenor, more excitingly, a fine one. He began to sing again, acquiring a reputation locally. But would this be enough?
When he was twenty-five (after nine years waiting) he was offered a scholarship to study full-time at the Manchester School of Music (now the Royal Northern).
His teacher was Norman Allin, the great British bass. His dream was at last realised.
But fate had not finished with him yet. Hardly a month had passed when the second would war broke out. Richard was drafted into the Royal Signals ... for five years.
Click on The War Years to continue