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Saturday, April 3, 1999 Published at 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK


Musical master who couldn't read a note

Oliver! had a hugely successful run in the West End

Lionel Bart was one of the great success stories of the 1960s.

His stage musicals Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be, Blitz! and, above all, Oliver!, which was also made into an Oscar-winning film, were full of catchy songs and were immensely popular.

Oliver! ran in London for more than 2,600 performances from 1960. Among his other song writing credits were Living Doll and the title song for From Russia With Love.

Millionaire lifestyle

He was a millionaire by the time he was 30, but in the 1970s, thanks to extravagant living and poor financial advice, he was declared bankrupt.

He also developed a severe drink problem, and was never to repeat his earlier successes.

Born Lionel Begleiter in the East End of London, he won a scholarship to art college in his teens.

After national service in the RAF he formed a skiffle group with Tommy Steele, and he was to write the music and lyrics for the films The Tommy Steele Story and Tommy the Toreador.

Chart-topping songwriter

He wrote the lyrics for the 1959 West End success Lock Up Your Daughters and, in the same year, the music and lyrics (Frank Norman wrote the book) for Fings, the title tune of which was whistled and sung up and down the country.

The same year his song Living Doll gave Cliff Richard his first number one hit record.

[ image: Cliff Richard: Had huge hit with Living Doll]
Cliff Richard: Had huge hit with Living Doll
Then came Oliver!, one of the great musicals of all time, with songs like As Long As He Needs Me, Consider Yourself and Food, Glorious Food.

The film Oliver! was equally successful. In 1962 Blitz! - a spectacular stage production - told the story of his wartime childhood. Maggie May followed.

In 1965, ignoring Noel Coward's advice never to invest in his own shows, Mr Bart staked everything on Twang!, which depicted Robin Hood as a medieval con-man.

It proved a colossal flop, and was one reason for him being declared bankrupt a few years later.

He even sold the rights to Oliver!, which meant that he did not benefit when it was successfully revived.

In his years at the top Mr Bart had lived beyond his means, and when he was discharged from bankruptcy in 1976, the registrar reprimanded his financial advisers.

80s revival

His career looked up in the 1980s. He gave up drink, Living Doll returned to the top of the charts, and in 1989 he appeared in a building society television commercial singing Happy Endings to a group of children.

The song caught on, and was issued as a single.

The 1990s saw renewed success for his musicals. Maggie May and Blitz! were revived in the West End, followed by a new production of Oliver! at the Palladium in 1994.

It was produced by impresario Cameron Mackintosh, who devised a scheme to restore a portion of the stage rights to Mr Bart. The show again enjoyed a huge success.

Lionel Bart wrote hundreds of songs and the scores for a number of films, including Sparrers Can't Sing and the James Bond film, From Russia With Love.

He also won a number of Ivor Novello song-writing awards.

Remarkably, despite his huge success, he never learnt read music.

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