Lionel Bart


An English composer and lyricist of Austrian-Jewish descent, Lionel Bart is most famous for his musical Oliver! (1960). He also provided songs for Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard, including Living Doll and Little White Bull.

Bart was born in London on 1 August 1930 and began his career as a graphic artist and scene painter. While a member of the skiffle group 'the Cavemen' in the mid-50s, he began writing songs for Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard and Billy Fury, and also worked on musicals for Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop. He was self-taught as a composer and relied on assistants to transcribe the music for him.

Bart's first West End success, Fings Ain't Wot They Used t'Be established a series of works about working-class communities. It was followed by the stylistically diverse Oliver!, with its combination of Jewish melody, music hall numbers and sentimentality, and Blitz! (1962), based on Bart's own experiences in World War II.

In 1965, Bart wrote the ill-fated Twang!!, a burlesque on the Robin Hood legend, beginning a period of personal and artistic decline. His musical La strada was withdrawn from Broadway after just one performance in 1969. Major London revivals of Blitz! in 1990 and Oliver! in 1994, however,  helped restore his reputation. He died in Hammersmith on 3 April 1999.

Bart's songs from Oliver! have entered the cultural language and include 'You've got to pick a pocket or two', 'Consider Yourself' and 'Food, glorious food'. As one of the most successful of all British musicals, it remains his most important contribution to musical theatre.

Related composers: Jerry BockSondheim, Richard Rodgers

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