When Financial Secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung quoted from Below the Lion Rock in his first budget speech, it was the voice of Roman Tam, who sang the original 1979 hit, that reverberated in many people's minds. In three decades of Canto-pop, Tam, 52, who died of cancer last night, stood out as one of the few singers to become a cultural icon and whose songs have become golden oldies - a walk down memory lane for those who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s. Tam came to Hong Kong in 1962 from Guangxi province and worked as a trainee tailor, a trainee bank teller and also as a guard at the now demolished Lai Chi Kok amusement park. His parents had instilled in him a passion for music, but it was not until 1967 after the Beatles had become 'more popular than Jesus' and revolutionised the music scene worldwide that Tam formed his own band, The Four Steps. It was later renamed Roman and The Four Steps when he realised he could sing. He left the band in 1972, and teamed up with that other Hong Kong icon, Lydia 'Fei Fei' Shum, but their partnership lasted just a year, although they remained friends. He left for Japan in 1974 to learn more about music production, teamwork, image and showmanship. It was an education that stood him well on his return to Hong Kong in 1976, when he was recruited by TVB to sing its theme tunes and became a household name in Hong Kong. The '70s is often described as the golden age of Hong Kong, and Tam's songs remind those who lived through the period of a time when Hong Kong emerged from its 'sweatshop' economy to become a financial powerhouse. Huge housing estates began dotting Hong Kong's cityscape, while television sets became affordable and found their way into most public estate households. TVB then, as now, dominated the broadcasting market; its prime-time soap operas had millions glued to the tube every night. And inevitably, Tam's was the voice that sang the theme songs at the start of the shows. For almost a decade from the mid-70s, Tam's voice could be heard in streets across Hong Kong come 7 o'clock every night as tens of thousands of families in public estates and densely populated districts - with doors and windows open because air-conditioners were expensive - tuned to TVB nightly soap operas or martial arts dramas. Tam's catchy, sentimental tunes spoke of life's struggles and hardships, and they helped promote the TVB shows, which in turn made him a household name. A consummate showman, Tam was the first pop star to perform in drag and controversially posed nude for a magazine in 1983. A series of concerts in 1989 ran to 44 shows, a record in Hong Kong music history. Tam got away with his on-stage flamboyance because of his off-stage discretion and people skills; he won acceptance in mainstream Chinese culture at a time when homosexuality was outlawed and those with an alternative lifestyle had to hide it from their families and bosses. If Below the Lion Rock speaks of life's highs and lows and people's struggles for a better life, the hugely popular Romantic Swordsman tells more intimately of lost love and life's regrets. A theme song from a TVB martial arts drama series from the early 1980s, it tells the story of a scholar-swordsman who loses everything but his integrity. He loses his true love, a beautiful aristocratic woman, but then befriends and mentors a young, but uncultivated swordsman. A critic of karaoke culture, Tam said one could only learn to sing by being in a live band or an orchestra and learn a song's tempo and rhythms. Unlike most Canto-pop stars, Tam starred in few movies, but in 1991 he turned in an extraordinary performance as a eunuch in the court of the empress Dowager in The Last Eunuch of China. He also played heroines in traditional Cantonese operas on stage, reviving an artistic tradition where all female characters had to be played by male actors.