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Saturday, April 3, 1999 Published at 17:38 GMT 18:38 UK


Oliver! creator dies after cancer battle

Oliver! has played around the world

Songwriter and Oliver! composer Lionel Bart has died aged 68.

He had been receiving treatment for cancer at Hammersmith Hospital in London.

The BBC's Stuart Hughes: Lionel Bart's life provided many of the ingredients for his work
Mr Bart was central to the revival of musicals in the UK at a time when American productions dominated the West End stage.

He also won dubious fame for losing his fortune from Oliver! and surviving years of alcoholism and excess.

[ image: Mr Bart lost millions by signing away the rights to Oliver!]
Mr Bart lost millions by signing away the rights to Oliver!
Lord Lloyd-Webber, a composer of hit shows including Cats and Phantom of the Opera, said: "Lionel was the father of the modern British musical.

"As composer, book writer and lyricist of Oliver!, he was responsible for one of the greatest musicals of all time and if this wasn't enough, he wrote arguably the all-time perfect pop song, Living Doll.

"Lionel's genius has in my view never been fully recognised by the British establishment. The loss to British musical theatre caused by his untimely death is incalculable."

Sorely missed

Singer Cliff Richard paid tribute to the composer who gave him his first Number One hit, Living Doll.

He said: "In my opinion, Lionel Bart was probably responsible for the best musical we have ever produced - Oliver!

"He is a talent that will be sorely missed and never forgotten, especially by me."

Roy Hudd: "He should have been the next Noel Coward"
Screamin' Lord Sutch said Lionel Bart "composed the classic rock and roll songs for Cliff Richard before anyone else was doing them when the Beatles had not yet got out of their nappies".

He added: "He is up there now writing lyrics for Elvis with the great rock and roll band in the sky. His lyrics will live on forever."

Entertainer Roy Hudd described him as a "great tunesmith", adding: "Anyone who can write like that is going to be terribly missed."

Drink and drug addictions

Mr Bart's most famous legacy is Oliver!, the 1960 show based on Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, which combined simple melodies and catchy lyrics.

It followed on from the success of his first musical Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be, which had a two-year run in London.

After the film adaptation won six Oscars he became romantically linked with the likes of Judy Garland and Alma Cogan.

Following the lesser successes of follow-ups Blitz! (1962) and Maggie May (1964), and the failure of 1965's Twang!!, he began a long decline into drink and drug problems, which lasted for much of the 1970s and 1980s.

He signed away the rights to Oliver! to finance Twang!! - a move that cost him an estimated £100m.

[ image: Lionel Bart: Central to the revival of musicals]
Lionel Bart: Central to the revival of musicals
At his peak he was among the Britain's most successful pop songwriters, penning hits for the likes of Cliff Richard, Anthony Newley, Shirley Bassey and Adam Faith.

He also wrote the famous James Bond theme From Russia With Love.

Born Lionel Beglieter, he was the son of a Jewish tailor in London's working-class East End, and had no formal musical education.

By the late 1970s his drinking had brought on diabetes and he had moved to a flat in Acton, west London, where he lived surrounded by packing cases.

He later kicked the drink and joined Alcoholics Anonymous, with a third of his liver destroyed.

He began composing again and saw his profile rise through revivals of his work, most notably Sir Cameron Mackintosh's 1994 West End production of Oliver!.

A member of his family said he had been working on a revival of the 1969 musical La Strada right up until his death.

He is survived by two elder sisters.

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