The character has been played by Ellis Hollins since 2003. The actors drama teacher Judith Barker learned of the part through an agent friend and put him forward for the role.
Tom is born on Millennium Eve 1999 to parents Gordon (Bernard Latham) and Helen Cunningham (Kathryn George). After Helen and Gordon are killed in a car crash in 2004, Tom's older half sister Mandy Richardson (Sarah Jayne Dunn) becomes his legal guardian. Some time after, Mandy cannot cope looking after Tom, so gives custody to Tom's half brother Max Cunningham (Matt Littler). Max and best friend Sam "OB" O'Brien (Darren Jeffries) raise Tom in their flat. Tom runs away from home after overhearing Max tell OB he believes Tom will be better off in care. However, Mandy finds him by his parents' grave.
Max starts a relationship with Clare Devine (Gemma Bissix). When Mandy's baby daughter Grace dies due to sudden infant death syndrome, Tom looks for a mother figure in Clare. After Clare and Max marry, he soon begins to see through her. After Tom overhears her on the phone to her father, who she previously claimed was dead, Clare begins to manipulate Tom and makes Max believe Tom is lying. Clare draws on the walls of Max's flat and pours water on his bedsheets and blames Tom's misbehaviour. After Max tells Clare he wants to accompany her to a fertility clinic, Clare poisons Tom's food so he is ill and Max cannot come. Max has a heart attack and grows more ill when Clare stops giving him his medication. At Christmas, Clare takes Max and Tom to a lakeside, where Clare pretends Tom has fallen into the water. Max tries to save Tom and almost dies, but is revived by OB. Max finally sees the real Clare and apologises to OB and Tom. Weeks later, Clare tells Tom that he was the cause of his parent's death, and would eventually kill Max. Clare calls a social worker, who arrives just as Tom shouts he does not want to be near Max, and takes Tom into care. Tom refuses to see Max, but after Max threatens Clare, the brothers meet and Max explains that Clare was lying. Tom then moves back in with Max.
Max begins to get close to Steph Dean (Carley Stenson), who Tom develops a crush on. Max and Steph eventually become a couple, despite Tom's jealousy. While OB takes Tom swimming, he flirts with Summer Shaw (Summer Strallen) and Tom nearly drowns, but is saved by lifeguard Simon Crosby (Simon Lawson). Gilly Roach (Anthony Quinlan) tells Max that Simon has images of Tom in his swimming costume on his computer, believing he may be a paedophile. When it is revealed that Simon is not a paedophile, Max and OB fall out. However, Tom makes them make up. Max tells Tom he is going to propose to Steph, which he does by putting the ring in a hot cross bun, which Tom eats. Steph and Max watch as Tom is given an x-ray. When Steph sees the ring, Max asks her to marry him, which she accepts. Steph and Max get married. As Max and OB carry a jukebox for Steph later that day, Tom plays on a road. Max notices Niall Rafferty (Barry Sloane) speeding towards Tom, so pushes him out of the way. However, he is hit by the car himself, and dies beside Steph, OB and Tom. Tom blames himself, but OB convinces him that he did not kill Max, and Clare was wrong. Mandy and OB discuss custody of Tom, with Mandy initially agreeing to take responsibility for her brother. OB however decides he wants to become Tom's guardian, but Tom tells OB that Steph needs him more. In Max's will reading, he leaves his estate, £500,000 and MOBs to Steph and Tom. Steph grows closer to Niall, but ends their romance when she catches him angrily grabbing Tom. Following this, Steph and Tom decide to begin a new start, so leave Hollyoaks. Tom and Steph return, having spent several weeks with Steph's sister. Steph is worried for her and Tom's safety after learning Niall killed Kieron Hobbs (Jake Hendriks) and Tina McQueen (Leah Hackett) and tried to kill several others. Steph takes Tom on holiday to Scotland with her brother Craig Dean (Guy Burnett). Unknown to Steph, Niall follows them to Scotland, where he kidnaps Tom. After Tom escapes, he alerts Steph and Craig. Steph tells Niall she does not love him in a confrontation on a cliff. Niall, seeing what he has caused, then kills himself. Steph and Tom then visit Steph's father Johnno, and then, return to Hollyoaks the next day.
Steph begins dance classes, which Tom and niece Holly Hutchinson (Lydia Waters) attend. There, they are bullied by Persephone Hart (Elizabeth Hadley). The situation is quickly resolved by Steph and Sarah Barnes (Loui Batley). Steph's stepbrother Darren Osborne (Ashley Taylor Dawson) takes Tom to The Dog on one occasion, which ends up with Tom getting drunk and having to have his stomach pumped. Tom befriends Gilly, who falls in love with Steph and proposes to her. Tom overhears Steph and Nancy Hayton (Jessica Fox) discussing Steph's cervical cancer, which upsets Tom as he again blames himself. Steph however, reassures Tom that she will be fine. Steph is later told her cancer is terminal, which again upsets Tom. He then sings at Steph's wedding to Gilly.
Mandy returns to Hollyoaks to see Steph about custody of Tom when she dies. She takes Tom to Relish for lunch when he sees Warren Fox (Jamie Lomas) at the window, despite Warren's death in 2009. Tom tells Mandy, who tries to convince him that he did not see him. However, Tom later confides in Frankie Osborne (Helen Pearson) about what happens to people after they die and he begins to believe that he is seeing Warren's ghost. Steph is killed in a fire at Il Gnosh. Tom stays strong to begin with but later begins crying over her death. Tom, Frankie, Jack Osborne (Jimmy McKenna) and Darren then watch a farewell video from Steph which she filmed weeks before.
In January 2011, Tom hears somebody in the kitchen, so warns Jack to investigate. When he does Jack gets a blow in the head by the intruder. The intruder starts to confront Jack, but Tom gets hold of a cricket bat and hits the intruder on the head unconscious. The intruder appears to be a woman when Jack removes the hood she is wearing and Tom fears that he might have killed her. The girl is revealed to be Frankie's granddaughter Esther and she eventually moves in with the family. Tom finds Esther's presence hard to deal with, especially as he is going to court for his attack on her. However, when he is cleared, he begins to accept Esther and the pair now get on well.