Half a Sixpence is a musical comedy, written as a vehicle for British pop star Tommy Steele.
It was based on H.G. Wells's novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul. Steele plays Arthur Kipps, an orphan who unexpectedly inherits a fortune, and climbs the social ladder before losing everything and realizing that you just can't buy happiness. The novel is somewhat autobiographical, being inspired by the rapid changes in Wells's own life when his early novels brought him financial security.
David Heneker (who had also worked on Irma La Douce and Charlie Girl) wrote both music and lyrics. Steele's importance to the show was made evident by his appearance in twelve of the musical's fifteen songs. Much of this musical seems to be tailored as a star vehicle for Steele's particular talents. This seems especially evident in the musical number "Money to Burn": when Arthur Kipps realizes that he is about to become wealthy, he decides that the first thing he will buy is ... a banjo. This is the cue for someone to hand Tommy Steele a banjo so that he can demonstrate his skill on the instrument. In fact, in Wells's novel, one of the first things that Arthur Kipps purchases with his newfound wealth is, indeed, a banjo.
Half a Sixpence transferred to Broadway in 1965, playing at the Broadhurst Theatre for 511 performances. This production also starred Steele. John Cleese played the small but crucial role of Walsingham, the stockbroker from a respectable family who embezzles Kipps's fortune. Half a Sixpence was the last West End show to transfer successfully to New York before the late 1970s and early 1980s musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
A film version, also starring Steele, followed in 1967.