Terence Williams was born in the Elephant and Castle area of South London in 1938 and shot to fame in the rock ’ n’ roll era as Terry Dene. Tommy Steele had already been discovered at the 2i’s Coffee Bar in Soho, a venue also associated with Adam Faith and Cliff Richard, where Terry’s voice too was considered good enough for an immediate contract with Decca Records.
It was a rapid transformation from working as a packer in an HMV record shop in Oxford Street, during which time his splendid impersonations of Elvis Presley were deemed good enough to send a private recording to Ray Martin at Columbia Records who promptly sent it back!
His first stage appearance was in Romford with the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group followed by stints in between wrestling bouts at the Royal Albert Hall no less. His first single with a backing group christened the Dene Aces was “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation”, and became an instant success, selling more than 300,000 copies. His second, “Start Movin’” also made it into the charts and Terry appeared on the BBC pop show Six- Five Special, and soon afterwards became one of the first on ITV’s rival programme, Oh Boy! Success on this scale, however, was not something which a shy 18- year- old was ready for and touring the country playing at large venues resulted in a drinking problem and a fine for being drunk and disorderly. This may have been embarrassing for Terry but it was meat and drink to the press who went to town.
Arrested soon afterwards in Gloucester for smashing windows following another drinking session, the national newspapers had a field day and Marty Wilde was invited to take over the rest of Terry’s tour. Later, newcomer Bill Kent was brought in to front the Dene Aces in a tour of South Africa.
Meantime, a film called The Golden Disc was being shot about an unknown singer’s rise to fame with Terry in the lead role. As it turned out, Terry’s fans and the general public were kinder than the media and his sixth record, “Stairway of Love” was another success. He also appeared at the Royal Festival Hall and everything seemed back on track. What could go wrong now? The answer was being conscripted into the Army!
Now married to singer Edna Savage, it all proved too much and with the press continually on his back, poking fun and generally smearing his reputation, Terry broke down during basic training and was discharged. Happily, he soon made a welcome comeback and his fans forgave any failings and perceived flaws in his character. In 1959 the BBC’s television alternative to ITV’s Oh Boy! had been renamed Drumbeat and Terry went down a storm on it. Back on the road at Derby the boos were outnumbered by cheers.
Ironically in May that year he released his latest single entitled “There’s No Fool Like a Young Fool” coupled with “I’ve Come of Age”. Even more ironic, soon afterwards he released his final Decca single “A Boy Without a Girl” coupled with “Thank You Pretty Baby”. Although Edna Savage had supported her husband as much as possible, the pressures of stardom for both of them proved to be insurmountable and they parted company.
After two singles released on the Oriole label Terry now found himself only as a supporting role in a number of touring
concerts before gradually fading from the public eye. However, much brighter things were in store and he dramatically re- emerged as a Christian evangelist, publishing an excellent book called I Thought Terry Dene was Dead, and working as an itinerant preacher in churches, prisons and other venues. He also appeared with a Christian rock group based in Southampton when the author was privileged to meet the former star and be thrilled by his piano playing as well as his guitar. His gospel albums at the time were released by Pilgrim Records.
In 1984 he reformed the Dene Aces and in 1997 released an album called The Real Terry Dene. In 2004 Vocalion Records produced his Decca compilation and the same year he appeared at a Rock ’ n’ Roll Weekend Festival at Chippenham in Wiltshire, together with American contemporaries Little Richard, Bill Haley’s Comets and Charlie Gracie. More appearances in London, included a concert at the O2 Arena and in 2011 he appeared on BBC’s Juke Box Heroes. He also popped up on the BBC4 documentary entitled Pop Britannia which attempted to trace the history of Britain’s popular music scene.
He now has his own record company and in 2012 released an album called The Best of Terry Dene proving that nearly 60 years after he first hit the headlines, Terry Dene is not dead but very much alive and well!
In 1957, when “A White Sport Coat” became a bestseller, the transition was already under way from 10" 78rpm records ( left) with a small hole in the middle, to the 7" 45rpm record ( right). The latter were more flexible and it was possible to punch out the middle section to make a much bigger hole but it required a special adaptor to fit over the spindle and few people bothered.
Rock and roll stars were expected to look severe but Terry’s marriage to singer Edna Savage ( right) was a happier affair highlighted in the press. Sadly, the union did not last and both went on to marry again.
Terry Dene today with a cheerful smile and a guitar.In addition to his early rock and roll tracks he later recorded several Gospel songs and is also a fine piano player. He now owns his own company and record label.