Documentary telling the larger-than-life story of Lionel Bart, the composer of the musical Oliver!, using unseen personal archive and interviews with friends and colleagues.
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This programme contains some strong language
In the late 1950s and early '60s one British songwriter
dominated the pop charts and the West End stage -
the impossibly glamorous Lionel Bart.
I mean, he was
Britain's greatest tunesmith.
He's one of the few guys who married pop and theatre.
He said, "Cam, remember the magic of my music
"is between the notes, it's not on the notes."
He wrote Living Doll for Cliff,
Little White Bull for Tommy,
From Russia With Love for Bond and...
# Ba-ba, ba-ba,
# That's how it goes...
Oliver, the best British musical ever.
# They all suppose... #
Then at the height of his fame
he crashed down to earth with a bang.
Hubris and extravagance brought bankruptcy
and alcoholism followed eventually by a modest bounce back.
A tale, then, of ambition, triumph, ruin and redemption,
Greek tragedy with tighter trousers and catchier tunes.
He was just the most wonderful character, he really was.
We all had great affection for him, the public did,
and the more into trouble he got the more they seemed to love him.
He was my uncle.
He was a good man.
# If the kids get chickenpox
# They catch it
# If they're growing out their socks
# They catch it
# If the cost of living...
Lionel Bart was born Lionel Begleiter in 1930
in the East End of London,
then as now one of the poorest
and liveliest areas of Britain.
# The rent you haven't paid
# They catch it... #
There were kosher butchers,
someone taking the feathers out of kosher chickens,
the woman saying, "Two a penny bagels,
" Two a penny bagels,"
all this Jewish life going on all over the place.
shows everywhere in Yiddish
and it was a hubbub of noise and music.
The Begleiters were a big, noisy, Jewish family.
Lionel's mother, Yetta, was a sturdy mama,
a whirlwind who rarely left the kitchen.
His dad, Maurice, was a tailor.
They had seven children.
The youngest by a long chalk,
"the last shake of the bag" as his dad put it,
All his life he had to have noise.
When you went to Lionel's house he'd have a television on there,
a radio on here, a radio on there.
It used to drive me crazy,
but he had to have noise because he'd always had noise.
The brothers and sisters all yelling for attention. He was the baby.
Hoping to turn him into the next Yehudi Menuhin,
Lionel's dad bought him a violin and signed him up for lessons.
His mum called the fiddle the "wailing cat"
and binned it the second Lionel lost interest.
And that was the end of his formal musical education.
GEORGE FORMBY: # The other night a loving couple courting close to me...
The informal education never stopped, though.
At home the wireless pumped out light classics, novelty songs,
big bands, crooners and the great American show tunes
of Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart and the Gershwins.
BIG-BAND MUSIC PLAYS
There were street songs, mucky playground chants,
music hall favourites,
and the sounds of the synagogue.
Lionel soaked it all up like a sponge.
You're brought up in a certain way and certain events take place
and if you go to synagogue,
it's full of great musical tunes.
And they absolutely stay with you and you can't get rid of them.
If you said to him, "you know...
HE PLAYS A SCALE
..You know where you are.
You're in the Jewish world there, just with that scale.
And that's the beginning for Fagin.
# A man's got a heart, hasn't he? #
Again a mix of minor
which is always in the Jewish, um, melody...
# A man's got a heart, hasn't he? #
It gives that hope question. Joking apart.
# Hasn't he?
# And though I'd be the first one to say
# That I wasn't a saint... #
The soundtrack of his childhood would never leave Lionel,
but for now destiny took him far from the East End.
Well, a bus ride away anyway.
At school he was described as an artistic genius
and showed a genuine talent for painting and drawing.
He was so good that at the age of 13 he won a scholarship to
St Martins School of Art in the West End of London.
There he was introduced to nude models, aerial perspective,
mohair sweaters and, best of all, a new spiritual home.
JAZZ MUSIC PLAYS
JAZZ MUSIC PLAYS
In the grey post-war world
Soho was the most exciting place in Britain.
Crime, coloured shirts, foreign food,
jazz and sex all lived in Soho
and it was where common kids like Lionel
felt that they too could be part of something worth doing.
People were filled with ideas,
it was very exciting for young people.
Also what's forgotten is that
the radical Attlee government of '45
had created what the snobs called the red brick universities
and they were now pouring out writers, poets,
It was a very, very exciting time to be alive.
After National Service in the late 1940s,
Lionel set up a printing business with a mate, John Gorman,
but at night Soho was still his manor.
He was a "face".
He hung out in coffee bars and dreamed
and schemed of making his first million.
His musical antenna, finely tuned to the zeitgeist,
tingled when he heard this.
MUSIC: "Shake Rattle and roll" by Bill Haley and His Comets.
Rock'n'roll hit British jukeboxes at the end of 1954.
To the old and tired it sounded like the end of civilisation.
To the young and hip it was a call to arms.
MUSIC: "Rock Island Line" by Lonnie Donegan.
Rock'n'roll had a hell of an impact.
It had an excitement about it which has never been quite like that since,
apart from the Beatles.
I can remember the jukeboxes playing at night-time
moving down the streets there, listening to them and it was great.
It was a great feeling.
When the 2Is coffee bar in Old Compton Street
turned its cellar into a music venue
Lionel, the Soho face,
was one of the first through the door.
ROCK'N'ROLL MUSIC PLAYS
Everybody went to the 2Is.
It was a fantastic atmosphere.
I met Lionel Bart in the flesh.
I think he looked what I would have called Bohemian.
He had sandals and thongs.
Remember those sandals that wrapped round the bottom of your leg,
a bit like a Roman centurion, I remember those.
Lionel was never someone who could just be a spectator.
He first talked the 2Is management into letting him decorate
the place with arty murals
then he formed a band and wrote a song.
# The old-time cave dweller lived in a cave
# Here's what he did when he wanted a rave
# He took a stick and he drew on the wall
# Man, a fellah had to settle for
# Rock with the caveman
# Shake with the caveman
# Shake with the caveman... #
Rock With The Caveman was Lionel's first hit,
kick-starting the career of his friend Tommy Steele.
Here we go.
# Cavema-a-a-an! #
Tommy was Britain's first home-grown rock'n'roll idol.
His rise was so meteoric that just two years later
at the venerable age of 21
he was looking back on it on This Is Your Life.
"We called ourselves The Cavemen."
Yes, it is, one of the members of the original group.
Lionel Bart, come in.
Lionel, you tell me what was the story of The Cavemen?
Well, it all began in this basement, the cave,
that's where we first met, where I first met Tommy.
And we all got together and together with another chap called Mike Pratt
we formed this group called The Cavemen.
Come in, Mike Pratt.
# I've got a handful of songs to sing you
# Can't stop my voice when it longs... #
Lionel and Mike Pratt became Tommy's chief songwriters,
turning out material for his first three films which yielded
a clutch of hit singles.
# There was a little white bull
# Very sad because he was a little white bull
# Little white bull... #
The secret of a hit song, I suppose,
is people know the next note coming up and almost the next word coming up.
But you surprise them here and there
with the wrong word and the wrong note,
but then you get back to what they feel familiar with.
It's not studied, it's instinctive, isn't it, really?
Lionel's songwriting facility was
noticed by Larry Morris Parnes, Tommy Steele's first manager.
At his Kensington flat,
Mr Parnes was grooming a small stable of young men for rock stardom.
What perplexes a lot of people is that no training seems to be
-needed for success.
-I would disagree with you. My boys are not untrained.
A lot of them are natural and have natural ability,
but they do train themselves as they go along.
The boys, Duffy Power, Vince Eager, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde,
were equipped with the best.
Names by Mr Parnes, shoes by Saxone, trousers by Vince of Newburgh Street
and songs, of course by Lionel Bart.
# Just because I can't tame you I don't suppose I can blame you. #
Larry fixed up a meeting so I could write the song
and I thought there would be a grand piano
and he would sit down and go... "Maybe we will do this."
Play a boogie-woogie or something. But it wasn't like that at all.
I came into his flat and there was a keyboard and it had little
bits of paper stuck on all the notes, with numbers on, right the way up.
And I thought, "Well, this is really strange." But that is how he wrote.
That's how he was getting really good melody lines.
# I'm too young to live in sorrow. #
# So if I shower you with kisses
# If I tell you, honey, this is...#
Using the composition by numbers technique, Lionel provided songs for
Adam Faith, Anthony Newly, Frankie Vaughan, Shane Fenton and Joe Brown.
Single-handedly inventing what was later called cockney rock.
Saturday morning, what do I get? Kids. Nippers. All round my stall...
He was the unknown history of British pop music, really,
it didn't all start with the Beatles and the Kinks.
I see influences in Blur, with Blur's music, a lot from Lionel Bart.
Particularly Parklife. There's a direct link between Phil Daniels'
vocal on Parklife and Lionel Bart's songwriting.
His biggest hit, Lionel often claimed, was written in ten minutes,
inspired by an ad in the back of the Sunday Pictorial.
It made its debut in a movie showcasing a newcomer
Lionel had spotted at the Two I's.
# I'll do my best to please her She's a livin' doll...#
TUNE IS PLUCKED ON GUITAR
The first time we had Living Doll it was almost like a... HE SINGS THE TUNE
that sort of like an Elvis type thing.
It was trying to be like an English rock record.
# Oh, take a look at her hair...#
Cliff and The Drifters, as we were then, were on tour and Cliff
came in and said "They want a single, from the movie."
And I just got my guitar, for some reason I said,
why don't we do it like this.
# Got myself cryin', talkin', sleepin', walkin'
# Livin' doll. #
# Got to do my best to please her, just cos she's a livin' doll
# Got a rovin' eye and...#
It's a great craftsman at work here.
It looks effortless but as Irving Berlin
used to say, the simplest things are the hardest to write.
And Lionel Bart had that looseness about him,
that swagger about his lyrics as well.
Looking at the man, looking at the lyrics, they are one and the same.
# Got myself a cryin', talkin', sweepin', walkin', living doll. #
Living Doll, more than 50 years later, is still the one
Cliff's fans scream for.
# Got a rovin' eye and that is why she satisfies my soul
# Got the one and only, walkin', talkin', living doll. #
Living Doll was Lionel's and Cliff's first number one.
It proved that Lionel could do pop standing on his head
but as he said many times, his real passion was never for pop.
It was for musical theatre.
As a child, his parents had taken him to Yiddish theatre.
As a teenager, his older sister had taken him to the West End
and classic American musicals.
She had also introduced him to the Communist Party and to Unity,
Britain's first radical theatre company.
Its noble aim was nothing less than the overthrow of capitalism
through drama, revue and song.
Lionel joined originally as a set painter,
but before long he was honing his real trade.
They were all funny comedy things which were big hits at Unity.
He wrote a number about a Russian horse winning the Derby.
# They're bringing a filly from the USSR...#
That was the song about a horse winning the Derby coming from the USSR.
# They've entered a filly from the USSR
# It's whispered her pedigree goes back quite far...#
In 1958, recommended by a friend at Unity, Lionel headed for
the Theatre Royal Stratford to perform a music hall in a rundown suburb of East London.
In spite of its unlikely location it was probably the most
exciting place to be in British drama.
Its presiding genius was Joan Littlewood,
one of nature's anarchists, much given to tearing up rule books,
politically, socially and theatrically.
She waged war on prim West End values
and championed plays by outsiders and the disenfranchised.
-Why don't you go out and do some touting or something?
-I'm doing the best I can.
When Lionel arrived, Joan and the company were improvising a new
show based on a few pages of script by an ex-con called Frank Norman.
It was set in a so-called gambling den, peopled by pimps, whores, bent coppers and razor gangs.
-It's your fault to start with!
Every geezer is workin' for him, not that I ever seen him do any work...
We put the English language on the stage as it is spoke.
Not just by the middle class.
And this is always, all English theatre was people talking terribly posh.
-Excuse me, my telephone,
do you mind awfully if I turn it off? That is better.
Joan had built an extraordinary company,
happy to follow her revolutionary lead. Lionel got it straightaway.
And he loved it.
They had no money, they were all on about £15 per week each,
and I'm talking about people like Richard Harrison James Bruce, Barbara Windsor.
And Yootha Joyce.
And we had to do a show in two weeks.
We had two write it, rehearse it and stage it in two weeks.
It was called Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be.
All the music Lionel had soaked up in childhood came gushing out,
"Fings" had knees up, murder ballads, patter songs, novelty songs
and an instantly hummable title song.
There were a couple of songs
in Fings that have that roll out the barrel old-time music hall
nature to them, and certainly that comes straight out of it.
So Joan Littlewood was sitting in the theatre saying
"I want a knees up song, I want a good time celebration song."
And he comes out with... Any director would go, that's it, "I'm sold."
Because you have seen it, you can feel it, you know
exactly where you are with a song like that.
Perfect for that. The other thing about Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'be,
as a lyric, it was quite daring.
# There's toffs with toffee noses and poofs in coffee houses and...#
# It used to be...
# Class, doing a town buying a bit of ice. #
# And that's when her brass couldn't go down
# At the union price, not likely
# Once in golden days of yore ponces killed a lazy whore
# Fings ain't wot they used t'be. # You want a second chorus?
I think Lionel's supreme thing was his lyrics.
There's a song that Totters Sings and it goes,
# Layin' about 'ere is All very well, dear
# But you'll get a fat rear from laying about
# Get on the street. #
Now that is, that's genius.
The overall tone of violence
and callousness was momentarily relieved by a solo number added
when a young West End cabaret artist joined the company.
It was three days before we opened, I was called to the stage
and there was Joan and Lionel and Joan said, "'Ere, bird's egg,"
she started calling me that. "Lionel has written a song for you."
I said, "For me?"
She said, "Yes, I like it and I want you to do it.
So immediately my little theatrical brain went, "How do you want me
"to do it? Choreographed, do I have dancing in it?"
She said "No, no, darling. I just want you to sit on a stool and just sing it."
"And for fuck's sake, sit on your hands.
"No Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, just sit on the hands."
He giggled and giggled and looked at me and went,
"It will be all right, it will be lovely, I will go over it with you later."
# Where do little birds go to
# In the wintertime
# There'll be blizzards and snow, too
# In the wintertime...#
That "sit on your hands and belt it out" brashness of even the slow
numbers made things as fierce as rock'n'roll.
When it transferred to the West End it fulfilled Joan Littlewood's
revolutionary aims impeccably, exploding like a hand grenade
into the sedate world of British theatre, thrilling the young and appalling the old.
Actress Hermione Gingold was among the appalled.
It was shocking, I was embarrassed.
If you're doing a very serious play and it calls, as it sometimes does,
for swearing or for certain shock words, it is all right, but not to get laughs.
That I object to.
I must tell you now that originally it was not designed to get
laughs, here was true Cockney dialogue.
-Language as one knew it if one had been in Soho for any length of time.
-Yes, the real Soho.
I have shopped in Soho and I never heard anything like that.
Darling, you don't shop at the right times.
These were still the days when all theatrical production had to
be approved by the Lord Chamberlain.
Official theatre censor and guardian of the nation's morals.
He drafted a seven-point letter.
One day we were all called into the set and Lionel was there
and Joan was there and Lionel was reading out this letter.
I can remember the words exactly.
"The actor playing the part of Tosher will not get the actress playing the
"part of Rosie up against the table
"in an attitude indicative of copulation."
That was one sentence and the other one was,
"The actor playing the part of the builder's labourer,
"will not cross the stage carrying the plank at an erotic angle."
We couldn't believe it.
We just stood there howling with laughter,
Lionel was just crying with laughter and Joan said, "Isn't it wonderful?"
She said "Do you think we could work it into the show?
"Could we read it out?" We never took a blind bit of notice.
Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'be ran for two years in the West End.
Noel Coward saw it, Judy Garland saw it, Princess Margaret saw it.
But for his next project Lionel upped his game and decided to
adapt one of the great classics of English literature.
And of British cinema.
David Lean's 1948 film adaptation of Oliver Twist was right up
Not unlike Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'be, it was brutal,
callous, sentimental and Jewish.
Oliver is a brilliant story.
The great thing that Lionel did was,
I am told he never read the book,
but then I never read the book of Les Miserables, so he
and I have a lot in common, but what he did do was see the film,
the great David Lean film starring Alec Guinness and it was that that he adapted.
He saw the kernel of the story,
something he wanted to turn into his very particular style.
Come on in.
It was an act of barefaced cheek,
for an untrained East End upstart to make a musical
out of one of the greatest classics of English literature.
Luckily, Lionel was never short of barefaced cheek.
We had the score and I went round with him sometimes
to get it to get it on the radio to get some money for it.
Of course he can't sing but he used to sort of talk his way,
like Rex Harrison would talk his way through a song. And nobody would touch it.
They all turned it down.
I think the only person who took him seriously was in fact the producer Donald Albery.
He gave Lionel the chance to do this,
but when the show opened on its pre-London tryout in the Wimbledon Theatre,
I think it wasn't very well received.
# ..winding stairway without any banister...#
All through the Wimbledon tryout, Lionel
and director Peter Coe tinkered, cutting and adding scenes and songs.
The West End opening on June 30, 1960 was not a sell-out.
The smell of turkey was in the air.
I spent a lot of the day with Lionel,
the day it opened. I was interviewing him.
He was as nervous, the friend of mine used to say,
he was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs.
Lionel walked out of the theatre once the curtain went up
and spent most of the evening with Barbara Windsor,
who was down the road starring in Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'be.
And he came into our room and sat there
and he was shaking, saying, "They're not going to like me, they're not going to like me."
And then someone comes in, "The curtain is coming down,
"get back to the theatre."
His first reaction was thinking, "Oh, my God, they're booing me."
He heard this terrible noise,
this enormous sound coming out of the theatre.
They were shouting, "Author! Author! Author!"
And as he came through he thought they were shooting, "Awful! Awful!"
And then he realised it was being given the most extraordinary ovation.
Almost one of unparalleled success, I think it went on for about 20 minutes.
It was the biggest, least expected hit of the year,
I remember the crowd shaking his hand, slapping his back,
filling the room with his nervous little twitches and smiles and grins.
And not quite believing what was going on around him.
# If you don't mind having to go without things
-# It's a fine life
-It's a fine life...#
That first production ran for a record-breaking five years
in the West End, it was a smash on Broadway and it's been running
in one production or other somewhere in the world pretty much ever since.
# Let the prudes look done on us Let the wide world frown on us
# It's a fine, fine life. #
Lionel had come a long way.
Whereas Fings was all pastiche and parody, Oliver! was fresh
and full of surprises.
Not bad for a one fingered pianist.
# There's a little ditty They're singing in the city
# Especially when I've been on the gin or the beer...#
# I shall scream I shall scream
# Till they hasten to my rescue I shall scream. #
# Where is love? #
People go, "Oliver!, what a wonderful family musical," which it is,
and always has been, but I think people forget how revolutionary
that musical was when it came out in 1960.
Nobody had ever seen anything as dark and gloomy and,
the death of Nancy at the end, Ron's extraordinary performance.
I'm reviewing the situation
# Can a fella be a villain all his life?
# Oh, the trials! And tribulations!
# Better settle down and get myself a wife. #
The role of Fagin was created by Ron Moody
and he's reprised it several times since.
Like Hamlet, it's a part that every spirited actor wants a crack at.
Roy Hudd's turn came in 1977.
# I think I better think it out again. #
To play Fagin was a terrific treat, and we were talking once
and Lionel said to me, "You are very good in this, you know."
I said, "Thanks for that."
He said, "You don't play him like so many do, like Father Christmas."
He said "He ain't Father Christmas, he's anything but Father Christmas."
"He's an evil old sod."
But in that song it's the one time
when Fagin displays any sort of human feelings at all.
# What happens when I'm 70? #
Jesus, there must come a time, 70, when you're old or you're cold and who cares if you live or die?
The one consolation is... the money you may have put by!
And suddenly he is off again with optimism.
Lionel's undoubted favourite song from the Oliver! score was
the big Act 2 show stopper, As Long As He Needs Me.
# I'll cling on steadfastly
# As long as he needs me
# As long as life is long
# I'll love him, right or wrong
# And somehow I'll be strong
# As long as he needs me...#
Over the past couple of decades, the Sylvia Young Theatre School has
provided a reliable flow of talent to various productions of Oliver.
# I won't betray his trust...#
OK, lovely. Good build.
Now we are building to the real passionate part,
the point where we get closer to her emotion, her true emotion.
Now Bart does something clever here.
You don't even know how clever it is, I suspect.
Let's see if we can work it out, what he does.
Of all the songs in Oliver!, and there are some fine numbers, I think
this one stands out so much because a lot of his numbers,
you want to move to and you want to, you want to jig along with,
if you like but this one makes you sit and listen.
What happens at this point?
HE PLAYS PIANO
You will all recognise that, it is quite common at the end of a song.
-There's a key change.
-There is a key change.
It's used a lot. It gives the song a little bit of lift.
It gives it a new direction at the end. It's a wonderful key change.
Anyone want to have a guess how many semitones it is?
-Anyone have a great ear?
-It's not a third, is it?
It is, it is three semitones which I have to tell you, is not that common.
OK, let's go back to # When someone needs you...
# You love them so
# I won't betray his trust...#
There are thousands of musicians,
thousands upon thousands who have tried to create, even taken this
as their starting point, I see how this works, you have that and then
you have a new idea and then you come back and you build it and it goes up.
And it doesn't work.
If you wanted to have an example of magic in music or
magic in art, it's here.
# Meeeeeeee. #
# When the big times come I'm gonna have me some
# I'm gonna do the things My daddy never done
# I'm gonna get rich quick And you're a lucky chick
# If you're around when I'm big time. #
With a catalogue of smash hits under his belt, two nose jobs
and only the ears still needing attention,
Lionel was rapidly assuming ownership of the 1960s.
He made it his business to know everybody.
But among the photo ops,
some genuine and long-lasting friendships developed.
There is this phone call,
the phone goes and the voice says "Hello, this is Noel."
I said "Noel who?" "Coward you Cockney C..."
Which is alliteration, right?
Noel Coward became a mentor to Lionel,
advising him on how to write lyrics, what to do with money
and the even more tricky question of surviving in a world where
you could still get sent to jail for being gay.
In those days you didn't dare mention it and that was a big problem for him
because, being in a big family, always saying "When will you get
"a girlfriend?" You're under a lot of pressure from your peers.
# What am I gonna do about the "I love you" bit? #
One of his closest friends was the song stylist Alma Cogan.
She once proposed to him on live TV, but both of them were in on the joke.
-# The "I love you" bit
-I love you. #
He said to me once and I had never heard the phrase before,
he said, "You know, the thing is
"when you're gay, you've either got to be pretty or witty."
He said, "I am pretty witty."
He was making nine quid a minute even
when he was sitting in the bath and God knows he spent.
Lionel was a fool for innovative suits,
dangerous hats and breathtaking cars.
One day, he said to me, "Here, Vic, come on, I'll give you a lift!"
And he had this car, it was like getting into the cockpit of a plane.
We got in this thing. "Voom! Voom!" I said, "Where we going to go?"
He said, "Up Wardour Street."
And I said, "Oh, why?" He said, "Cos all the faces are in Wardour Street!
"All the faces!
"I'm going to lock off one end of Wardour Street and lock off the other
"and have all them faces!"
"Voom! Voom!" IMITATES AN ENGINE PURRING
MUSICAL INTRO PLAYS
# Who's this geezer Hitler?
# Who does he think he is? #
The shows got bigger and bolder.
For the follow up to Oliver!, he restaged the Second World War,
only this time, as Noel Coward put it,
"making it twice as long and twice as loud as the real thing."
# ..he would disappear! #
By now, the collaboration between Lionel and the set designer,
Sean Kenny, had warmed to a close friendship.
A former architect, Sean loved to inspire awe.
AIR RAID SIRENS BLARE
The opening sequence of London being bombed,
you saw people rushing onto the Bank station,
on the front of the stage, during the overture,
and suddenly, the entire front of the stage lifted 30 foot in the air,
revealing behind it the spiral staircases,
for people to get down to the platforms, and during it,
trains rushing onto the stage at 30mph disgorging passengers.
And it was absolutely amazing!
# Look at me carrying on
# Look at him carrying on... #
In 1962, Lionel and Sean Kenny headed for Liverpool,
where they worked with local writer Alun Owen on Maggie May,
a folk opera set in the docks.
It was clever, ambitious and ahead of its time.
But neither Blitz nor Maggie May
could ever match the commercial success of Oliver!
Lionel nevertheless maintained a relentless work rate.
In 1963, film producer Cubby Broccoli commissioned him
to write the theme song for the second Bond movie.
INTRO PLAYS TO: "From Russia With Love"
# From Russia with love
# I fly to you... #
'I was managing Matt Monro at the time and it was a great marriage.'
I love the way Matt sings it and, er,
and I thought Lionel was terrific in that.
It was quite a different thing for Lionel Bart,
to do a straightforward commissioned work.
Lionel polished and repolished the lyrics endlessly.
# ..from Russia with love... #
I used to joke with him and say, "Lionel, that's a great rhyme!
"How did you get 'tongue-tied young pride' in there?" You know. He says,
"Yes, darling, well, I told ya, I'm a bit of a word juggla!"
# That was the week that was! Floods from Newton Abbot to... #
Not everybody was so impressed.
Lionel had grown too successful, too prolific, too popular.
The backlash had to come.
# Consider yourselves in luck! # AUDIENCE LAUGHS
Those terribly satirical people who did
That Was The Week That Was on the BBC were merciless.
# ..so much... #
I'd like you, if you would, to comment
on one or two of the things you've said, may I?
He says, "People like what's familiar," said Mr Bart.
"They're thinking a note ahead every time they hear a tune,
"a word ahead when they listen to a lyric.
"All I do is to let them feel both are familiar, recognised like,
"then give them a little surprise by changing the phrase."
Don't you owe them more than that, Mr Bart?
-You know, just one changed phrase, surely?
-I don't owe them anything, they don't owe me anything.
They like what I do? I'm delighted. If they don't, that's just too bad.
Lionel didn't actually need anyone to tell him
he was an East End upstart with one-finger piano skills.
His success was already fuelling dangerous insecurities.
The response was, once again, to up the stakes.
# A London cab goes, "Bang!" An armoured suit goes, "Clang!" #
Twang!! was a big budget spectacular take on the Robin Hood story,
designed to bludgeon his detractors into submission.
# ..that is the sound you set... #
You get this phone call, Lionel's doing a musical.
We'd been waiting for him to do a new musical, you see,
and it's all going to be about Robin Hood, sounded a good idea,
Robin Hood, you know, and, er...and...
Bernard Delfont was the producer.
Paddy Stone, the great Paddy Stone, choreographer.
Oliver Messel was going to do the costumes.
Joan Littlewood was directing.
There was going to be Jimmy Booth, er, me,
Bernie Bresslaw, Ronnie Corbett.
It shouldn't have gone wrong. It should never have gone wrong.
The chemistry, the creative chemistry,
that was set up for the original production
did not mix, it exploded, in the wrong way,
we weren't working as a team.
The rubble left by that chemical explosion
had to be reassembled everyday.
New lines, new songs, new scenes, new story!
Overall, how many changes, how much rewriting has been done at it?
I don't do anything the same.
Well, I was down there this morning watching one scene being changed at
-the 11th hour? You start tomorrow?
-I'm on my most unfortunate day,
cos every one of my scenes have been changed at this time, you know.
How do you cope with this change? I mean, how do you make sure
you don't put the wrong lines in the wrong place?
What we do is write it on the scenery.
Oliver Messel's going to have a fit when he sees his scenery,
because we've got all dialogue written, you know.
There was a chap we knew and he said,
"Is it all right, Joan, if I just go to the loo?"
You know, so she said, "Yes, go on." So they carried on rehearsing
and he came back in and he said, "Where were we?"
She said, "No, I'm sorry, we cut your scene out."
He said, "Blimey, good job I didn't have a crap,
"I'd have been out the show altogether!"
HE LAUGHS: That's what was happening, though!
It was chaos! LAUGHTER CONTINUES
After a disastrous pre-West End tryout in Manchester,
Joan Littlewood jumped ship, along with Oliver Messel
and the show's producers, but Lionel soldiered on, fuelled by
hope, grit and a selection of top quality pharmaceuticals.
Take a step and kneel, all right.
He brought in a Broadway show doctor
and kept everything afloat with truckloads of his own money.
You, fall on the ground and go like that.
'To use your own money'
to bring in a show that your own intelligence
tells you, beyond question, it's going to fail
represents a psychological enigma...
..that, um, it would take a team of psychiatrists
sitting around the couch to even get close to.
He just thought this was going to work.
You couldn't talk to him at all.
I mean, even when I spent a couple of days with him in his flat,
he said, "Everything was going to be all right, it's great!
"They'll love it! They'll love it!"
You see, and that's what... And he wouldn't listen.
He just wouldn't listen!
# ..the mission bells once rang... #
The London opening was at the Shaftesbury Theatre
on the 20th of December 1965.
The stars turned out to witness a crucifixion.
I was there the opening night
and I think McCartney was on the same row as me.
Because, by then, all the young emerging artists
were encouraged to go and see Lionel Bart musicals.
And, um, the gowns were sort of flowing and Maid Marian's
caught on a nail on one of the sets and all the set fell down.
A glorious disaster.
Oh, God, what an opening night that was!
They just yelled at us, screaming, "Get off!" Oh, God!
And I always remember, in the middle of this, Danny LaRue standing up,
saying, "Give them a chance, it's not their fault!" Oh, it was...
You...you had to be there!
The headlines said it all.
The Sun went, "Clang!!"
The Sketch went, "Boo, boo, boo for Bart!"
And the Daily Express?
"Twang" two exclamation points, "..goes Plonk" two exclamation points.
I didn't write the headline, but, um,
the general drift of my review was, "I was hoping for a miracle."
Lionel, in a way, did not forgive me for those words
and, to the end of his life, every now and then, he would say...
"You were hoping for a miracle." It stuck deep in him.
Twang!! limped on for a month of empty houses
before Lionel was finally forced to admit defeat.
# What is happy for some may bring others down low
# What is man?
# He is fish, fowl and flea
# He is both you and me
# He is everything that ever was... #
To lick his wounds, he retired to his other grand folly.
He'd bought a Victorian pile in Chelsea
and, at ruinous cost, remodelled it in a style
combining baronial Gothic with cutting edge technology.
He had a big living area with a piano in it and stuff and he had...
I think he had, like, suits of armour going up the stairs,
things like that, and a big massive lampshade.
He had a TV in the wall, with a remote control.
And, at the time, that's rare.
Everybody called it "The Fun Palace", a place
in permanent party mode, where the drinks were always on Lionel.
I met a guy once and he said to me, "Oh, you're Lionel Bart's nephew?"
I said, "Yeah." He said, "I went to a party at Lionel Bart's house once.
"I went in there Wednesday and came out Saturday.
"My wife called the police!"
He liked showing off, you know, he had the dough!
And this is a fun time, it's the '60s, everybody was swinging!
Every night was party night!
You know, we all got stoned and...and...lived it up!
Lionel continued to spend with reckless abandon.
His generosity and gullibility were legendary.
I mean, he'd get a young chap, a boyfriend, for a weekend,
and give him a sports car!
Now, if you're going to do that kind of spending...
..you're on the way down.
Only Oliver! continued to go from strength to strength.
In 1969, Oliver! the movie won six Oscars,
including Best Original Score.
Universal Studios presented Lionel with the keys to Hollywood,
including the little one for the drinks cabinet.
When he first went to Hollywood, they give him anything he wanted!
The big offices!
"I had this huge office, Vic! I didn't know what to do, so I says,
"'I think I need a gorilla in here, a big stuffed toy!'"
And they got him one!
So he sat at the desk with a gorilla next to him.
Didn't do anything when he was there,
except go around and see everybody and have a good time.
If he'd have done the work, then, you know,
they might have carried it on, but they said, "Where's the work?
"Where's the piece you're supposed to be writing?" "It's all up here."
"No, no, that's not good enough," you know, "On your bike."
AEROPLANE ENGINE ROARS
# George Alfred Blake... #
Back in England, it seemed as if his whole life was going, "Twang!!"
He bought every round, he handed out presents.
And to fund it, he sold first The Fun Palace, then,
piece by piece, the rights to Oliver! and his back catalogue.
Why do we behave the way we do?
We spend our lives trying to work it out.
And Lionel just had...
the self-destruct button...
far too close to hand. He just had to reach out with his thumb...
and press it.
HE PLAYS "Where is Love?"
By 1972, he was a certified bankrupt.
He played even poverty to the gallery, though, presenting himself
on BBC's Nationwide as a vagrant, left only with rags and rubble
and the winsome shreds of a half-remembered tune.
He was no good with money. No good at all.
He hadn't got a clue.
I mean, that's why he sold rights to shows on the back of fag packets,
so he could buy another round of drinks, for God's sake!
And he always believed, Lionel, you see, and so do I,
if he'd handled himself properly, he would've written another Oliver!
He always believed he could, he'd done it once,
why not time and time again?
And so, he kept on trying.
He kissed and made up with Joan Littlewood
and went back to his roots with The Londoners at Stratford East,
a brave attempt to recapture
the freshness of Fings Ain't What They Used T'Be.
# Seven years bad luck if you break a looking glass, they say
# Well, I've heard 'em say Well, that's what they say... #
It's like a shadow of Lionel Bart at his best.
Of course, it was enjoyable and it was great to see him,
but it didn't signal a renaissance
or a return, it signalled, um, a farewell, really.
There were personal setbacks too.
Between 1966 and 1973, he lost both his parents
and many of his closest friends.
Sean Kenny. They all died.
And he was drinking so much,
it looked likely he'd be next on the list.
I mean, he used to say to me he forgot 14, er, 15 years of his life.
He says, "I don't remember, love, anything about it."
He said, and I'll do a bad impression of Lionel here, he said,
"I got lost somewhere between, er, vodka and vine, dear.
"Between vodka and vine!"
# You've got to know Got to know where you're going... #
He was literally going west,
from fashionable Chelsea, he moved first to Fulham,
then to Shepherd's Bush,
before finally fetching up in a first-floor flat in Acton.
There used to be an off-licence on the corner
and there's one next door still, so his joke was,
"I only moved there because it was between two off-licences,"
because it was easy for him to get booze, you know,
when he was on the sauce, you know, so that was a family joke, you know.
# You mustn't show... #
He never stopped working, but now, other activities took priority.
If you're staying up most of the night,
and you're getting stoned, and you're drinking too much,
and you're worrying about sex and getting sex,
and organising it and arranging it, this, that,
when do you write?
# And draws her dream... #
I don't think any alcoholic knows really why they drink.
It's, er, it's an invisible line you cross.
Either you are, or you aren't,
but once you've crossed it, there's no going back.
Lionel got up to, um, I think in excess
of a couple of bottles of brandy, a couple of bottles of vodka a day,
and that's heavy drinking.
Something has to give.
He was a very intelligent man and he said,
"This is outrageous, I'm losing everything,
"and I look at myself in the mirror and I don't like what I see."
You know, "I've got nothing to wear!" He had no clothes!
He couldn't afford anything!
The bed had to have bricks put underneath it,
because it was broken, a couple of house bricks to hold it up!
He hadn't bought any sheets in ages!
Everything was burnt, cos he burnt all the sheets
with the cigarette smoking, that sort of thing!
I mean, he was becoming like a derelict!
And he just said, "This can't go on!"
The remarkable thing was that so many of his friends stuck by him.
In the early '80s, with their help,
Lionel started on the slow process of rehab.
There were clinics, counselling, crises,
before he finally pulled himself back into the real world.
In 1989, he signalled his return with this!
# Something for the drive... # WHISTLING
# Something for the beach
-# Have a dip inside
-It's all within the reach... #
It was the start of a modest, but extraordinary comeback,
writing and starring in this commercial for the Abbey National.
The song was classic Bart - catchy, simple and seemingly effortless.
I'd not seen him for ages and, suddenly, there he was!
And we all thought, "Oh, good, everything's OK again," you know.
-# Think of what you have got
-# Instead of what you have not
-Doo-doo, doodle-ee-doo! #
Retitled Happy Endings, it was released as a single.
It only made number 68 in the charts, but it was widely whistled.
- ALL: # ..now! Now! # - CHILD: # Now-oh! #
'Happy Endings, for me, was magic. All the other songs'
were wonderful, don't get me wrong,
but that song, I thought, he showed that,
after all those years, he still had it in him
to come up with a great melody line.
-As a song, it stood out.
Sober and smiling, he started proper work on big projects
that had been gathering dust for years.
Quasimodo, based on the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
La Strada, based on the Fellini film.
And Gulliver's Travels.
But the public still bayed for the old hits.
So, in 1993, Cameron Mackintosh announced a major new production
of Oliver!, with new sets, new orchestrations,
a budget of £4 million, a young hotshot director, Sam Mendes,
choreographer Matthew Bourne and Lionel, back on board
-to make the changes required.
# ..always the chance to be somebody to foot the bill... #
Lionel was working!
He was eating, rather than drinking, and he was happy.
By then, Cameron Mackintosh had become co-owner of Lionel's rights
to Oliver!, on the condition, which was readily agreed,
that Lionel would be given back a share of his royalties.
# ..one of us! # MUSIC STOPS
Cameron Mackintosh didn't have to do that.
He did it as an act of kindness.
That gave back Lionel his dignity and it gave him a purpose in life.
Um, Oliver! was back, and he had money again.
'I can't imagine, however much he was to blame, how awful it must be'
to have created something so extraordinary,
and so affecting as Oliver!, and not feel you own it any more.
-Will you welcome
the man responsible for all these wonderful songs? Lionel Bart!
BAND PLAYS: "Consider Yourself"
He'd reached, near as dammit, a form of serenity,
slotting himself comfortably
into his new role of elder statesman of musical theatre.
# And when that happens I'm gonna hold you... #
'The last few years, he did start enjoying himself'
and it was a joy to see it!
'He started really valuing his life.'
# ..again! #
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
But the years lost to drink and drugs had taken their toll.
'In the last few years of his life, he was a very sick man at the end.'
But he'd wrecked his body and his mind with, er...
He had an overdose of life, really.
One of the country's most popular songwriters, Lionel Bart,
has died at a London hospital.
-# What can you do... #
-'He was 68.'
# And what have you got to be a performer? #
Lionel Bart's songs have buried themselves
deep in the collective unconscious. They never were high art
or anything like it. They were so much better than that.
So let us be proud of Lionel and let Lionel, at last,
be properly proud of himself.
'If Lionel was here now, and you were making a documentary about it,
'he'd pretend, "Oh, darling, I don't want all that.'
"Don't be silly." But deep down, he would be loving it.
Because we're in show business!
Yeah, he would be pleased, yeah, yeah.
Probably wouldn't be too pleased with some of the things I said,
but he'd know it was all true anyway!
Oh, he'd tell you to fuck off!
But then, at the same time, he'd hog the camera.
He'd say, "Well, nah, none of you know anything.
"Don't know nothing.
"You don't know me."
# Isn't this where we came in Isn't this where we found out
# What the picture's all about?
# Let's get up, get out and shout!
# To the lovers lining up Is it worth the agent's price?
# Yes, the happy days were nice Now why see the thing round twice?
# Yeah, she does break down and cry Yes, he leaves her on the floor
# Saying as he slams the door "I won't tell them no more!"
# Are they goose bumps on your skin Are you holding back your grin?
# Any Oscars left to win Isn't this where we came in? #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
FLAMENCO-STYLE MUSIC, GUNSHOT ECHOES
Documentary telling the larger-than-life story of Lionel Bart, the composer of Oliver! - one of the greatest musicals of the last fifty years. Drawing on his unseen personal archive and interviews with Barbara Windsor, Roy Hudd, Cameron Mackintosh, Marty Wilde and Ray Davies, it paints a vivid, poignant picture of the rise and fall of one of Britain's favourite songwriters.