Tommy Dolan; businessman, fireplace salesman, chip shop magnate and dad of four, whose iconic image held pride of place above the ‘World Famous House of Fires’ in Old Trafford, has died at 72.
A Manchester legend, Tommy’s picture on his fireplace showroom at the top of Seymour Grove saw him mocked up as Yul Brynner from The King And I, alongside the pithy slogan ‘yul save plenty’ and a claim to be open ‘eight days a week’.
And while the picture was the source of mirth for all who passed it, the city has lost one of its most colourful characters.
His son, renowned graffiti artist TJ Dolan, told Proper Manchester that he was ‘a very well loved, known and respected character’.
“Nothing was ever normal. There was never a dull day, you know? I mean, it was always fun. There was always something going on. It was chaos,” TJ said.
“Everybody thought he had a twin brother because he’d be seen in like three or four different places in one day.
“Nothing is ever going to be the same. He loved life and he added joy, you just can’t replicate that. I still keep thinking I’m going to see his car with his music blasting at 100. He just gave zero f***s.”
Never far from brushes with fame, Tommy began a wide-ranging and eclectic career after leaving school at 16 to work in the kitchens of the Piccadilly Hotel.
From there, he embarked on a career in catering which took him to London, where he met Muhammad Ali and cooked for David Bowie’s 21st birthday.
Returning to Manchester, he launched his own chain of chip shops – ‘Ye Olde English Chippy’ – which at its height boasted 13 branches across Greater Manchester, including a two-storey 24-hour chippy on Piccadilly Gardens.
But he soon pivoted – ‘Why sell potatoes when I could sell marble?’ – and opened his fireplace shop Tommy’s House of Fires in Old Trafford, selling fireplaces to everyone from locals to the legendary football players at nearby United.
Continuing to operate in both strange and rarified circles, he would drink with hellraisers like George Best at the shebeen run by Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy’s mum. He once sold a fireplace to the late Keith Flint from The Prodigy, which resulted in three day bender, during which he was spiked with LSD.
It was as a fireplace salesman that he perfected his eye for an attention-grabbing marketing campaign. He took out ads in the national press, proclaiming ‘FREE SEX (with every 100 fires sold)’ and ‘TOMMY’S GETTING A DIVORCE – (come get it before she gets half)’, which actually made headlines.
“I remember my mum taking me to school and loads of camera men flashing and asking her what did she think of her husband advertising their divorce,” TJ recalled. “She replied, ‘I’m not f*****g getting a divorce, I’m going to school’, and off we went.”
He added: “They simply don’t make people like these anymore.”
Tommy passed away unexpectedly in his sleep last month. He leaves behind his wife of over 50 years Judy and his four adult children, Emma, Anna, Danny and TJ.
For anyone wishing to pay their respects to Tommy, his funeral will be held on Tuesday August 22nd at St John’s in Chorlton at 12pm. The wake will be held at The Woodstock in Didsbury at 2pm.