Richard Lewis - the early years

Richard Lewis CBE (born Thomas Thomas, later changing his name by deed poll) was born in Manchester to Welsh parents in 1914.

 

His mother and father came from Plasbach, a tiny Mid-Wales village but in 1912 they were forced to leave by high local unemployment and moved to Manchester, where they settled in Moss Side (on Baden Street, now demolished) and where his father Thomas found work on the railway as a signalman.

 

His mother (pictured with Richard during the early 1960s) was a strong matriarch to say the least and was one of thirteen children, her father being the village cobbler back in Wales.

 

Richard’s childhood was tough yet stable and at an early age is was clear he had a very good soprano voice and soon acquired a reputation in and around Manchester sometimes earning much-need money from some performances. He studied with a local teacher and conductor, TW Evans, who had a choir in which Richard's father, Thomas, sang.

 

His paid work included 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".

 

BBC audition

Matters moved on a pace when Richard 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.

 

At sixteen had to leave school and started work for a fabric firm making, among other things, lace tablecloths. He would suffer long years of frustration and uncertainty, longing to study singing full-time, but unable to do so.

 

But finally 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 nearly nine years waiting) he was offered a scholarship to study full-time at the Manchester School of Music (now the Royal Northern) studying under 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 and spent five years in the army.