Bromley man bows out after going from bricklayer to musical-writing millionaire

PUBLISHED: 16:59 18 March 2014 | UPDATED: 14:34 20 March 2014

Terry in his youth.

Terry in his youth.


A popular Bromley resident, who started out as a poor bricklayer and ended up a musical-writing millionaire, died suddenly this month.

Terry just a couple of months before he passed away. Picture: Marco WilliamsTerry just a couple of months before he passed away. Picture: Marco Williams

Terry Williams was taken ill at his home in Downe and died at the Prince Royal Hospital, Farnborough, on March 8. He was 79.

Tributes have flooded in and his family have received more than 500 cards and letters so far.

Terry may have been best known as the man who converted the derelict Bromley Lido, in Baths Road, into one of the town’s most successful health and fitness clubs in 1987.

He was to sell it on 11 years later for a small fortune – £1.5million.

Key years in Terry William’s life

1934 - Born to a poor, working-class background in Ivorydown, Downham

1946 - Boxing at a national level at just 12 years old

1940 - Apprenticed as a bricklayer with his father

1953 - Becomes a physical training instructor during his national service

1957 - Performs in My Fair Lady alongside Julie Andrews

1981 - On stage alongside Michael Crawford in Barnum

1998 - Sells the Lido swimming baths for £1.5million

2010 - His play about Freddie Mills premieres in Dartford

However, at the start of Terry’s life there was no clue that he would rise to success, nor to the erratic path he would follow.

He was born in Ivorydown, Downham, to a family with a “poor, very working-class background”, said his son Marco, 51.

By the age of 12 he was representing Kent in the national ABA boxing championships.

At 15, his formal education ended and he was apprenticed as a bricklayer, working alongside his father at a Peckham building company.

In 1953 he was called up for National Service in the Army and became a physical training instructor and boxer. It was during this time that he fell in love with the theatre.

After his discharge from National Service he got a job as a ship’s steward travelling between Britain and Australia and then lived in Ontario, Canada, working as both a bricklayer and an actor.

On his return to Bromley, realising he had a talent for acrobatics, he took up lessons where his skill and passion for the arts was harnessed and he successfully auditioned for the popular TV show Saturday Night at the London Palladium.

In 1957, Terry took to the West End, joining the cast of My Fair Lady alongside Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. He saw continued success in the Sixties, performing in many more shows including the ill-fated Lionel Bart musical Twang!! alongside Barbara Windsor and Ronnie Corbett.

As well as acting on stage, Terry also appeared as a stuntman in movies such as the James Bond film You Only Live Twice and The Pink Panther.

And in 1981 Terry worked with Michael Crawford in the long-running musical Barnum at the London Palladium.

He then took over the derelict Lido swimming baths to create the fitness studio that still stands there.

Marco said: “He was one of the pioneers of health clubs, before the major clubs opened. He did it all on a shoestring and out of no money at all.”

Terry then wrote his own musical, pouring thousands of pounds of his own money into the project, which was on a subject dear to his heart – the early life of Freddie Mills, a milkman and wartime fighter pilot who became world light-heavyweight boxing champion. The show premiered at the Edward Alderton Theatre, Dartford, in 2010.

He loved the village where he was to live his final days and not long before he died he wrote a song about the lime tree that stands in the centre of Downe. The song was to be recorded by children at the village’s May Queen Festival in order to raise funds for the local primary school.

After contracting a disease of the lungs, he died, leaving behind Marco and his daughter Sara Copper, 48, who both live in Knockholt.

Bromley author Robin McGibbon, a friend of Terry’s for 20 years, said: “He was cheery, positive and supportive, with an enviable creative energy that belied his years.

“Even in his final days, and not in the best of health, he was busy writing new lyrics for a stage show he was determined to put on throughout Britain.

“When I marvelled at his work-rate, he said simply: ‘You’ve got to keep going, mate, haven’t you?’”

The funeral will be held at the Parish Church of Saint Mary’s, in Downe, on Friday.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Bromley Times. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Bromley Times