Lionel Bart 1930-1999
Play and songwright most famous for the musical Oliver!
Lionel Bart was the son of a Jewish
tailor in the East End of London
. He had no formal musical education, but his music teacher at school declared him to be a genius. He obtained a scholarship to St. Martin's School of Art at 16, and began to work as a set painter.
Bart's new name was inspited on a bus journey past St. Bartholemew's Hospital in London
. He wrote his first musical - Wally Pone of Soho - in 1958, but it was a failure. However, the songs he wrote for the early British rock'n'rollers Tommy Steele
(Rock With the Caveman
and Little White Bull
) and Cliff Richard
- at No. 1 for 6 weeks in 1959) brought him success.
Bart's first musical success was with "Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be". By the end of 1959 both "Fings" and "Lock Up Your Daughters" were running successfully in London's West End. In June 1960 he opened "Oliver!
" which had been turned down by a dozen promoters and had to be financed by Bart himself. It was an immediate hit with 16 curtain calls on the first night and had advanced sales of £30,000 in the first week. Oliver!
was followed by other fairly successful shows such as Blitz and Maggie May. At this time, Bart was 30 and earning about £16 a minute! In between this, he also wrote the title song to the James Bond film From Russia With Love
To finance his next musical "Twang!!" (based on the Robin Hood
story) he signed away all rights to Oliver! The new show flopped badly and Bart estimated he lost about £100m in that and in the lost rights to Oliver! He filed for bankruptcy in 1972 with debts of £73,000. By the late 1970's his heavy drinking had brought on diabetes. He stopped drinking but one third of his liver had been destroyed. Lionel Bart died on the third of April 1999 aged 68 after suffering cancer for 6 months.