March 20, 2009 | andrew
| ShowsA brief biography of Lionel Bart, composer and lyricist of OLIVER!
Lyricist and composer Lionel Bart’s successes range from writing musicals, penning songs for British rock `n` roll stars, and creating jingles for adverts, to composing the theme song for a Bond film and even being the first manager of The Rolling Stones!
Bart was born Lionel Begleiter in Whitechapel, London, in 1930 and was the eleventh child of a Jewish tailor. Of the eleven children, only six survived. Some believe that he changed his surname to Bart after taking the bus past St. Bartholomew’s (Bart’s) Hospital in London everyday as a student, whereas others believe it actually came from the name of a silk screen printing firm that he once owned – G & B Arts. Whichever is the case, Bart often embellished and constantly re-wrote his childhood and was also very well known for having a sharp wit.
His musical ability was apparent from an early age, and when he was just six years old his parents were told by a teacher that he was a musical genius, so he was bought a violin. He did not apply himself to his lessons, however, and these soon stopped.
As a young man Bart was quite an accomplished painter, and at the age of sixteen he won a scholarship to the prestigious St. Martin’s School of Art in London. Again, he did not apply himself fully and was actually expelled for “mischievousness.” He then gave up his ambition to be a painter although he did continue to work in the commercial art trade.
Bart first gained public recognition through his songwriting. Amongst many other songs, he wrote Living Doll for Cliff Richard and Butterfingers for Tommy Steele. In 1957, he won three Ivor Novello awards, a further four in 1958, and two in 1960. He went on to write the theme tune for the 1963 Bond film, From Russia With Love.
Bart’s most acclaimed work is the 1960`s hit Oliver! for which he received a Tony award, although he wrote and contributed to other musicals including Lock Up Your Daughters (1959), Fings Ain`t Wot They Used T`Be (1959), Blitz! (1962), Maggie May (1964), Twang! (1965) and La Strada (1969).
Unbelievably, he was not formally musically trained and never learned to read or write musical notation. Bart would hum a tune into a tape recorder and then get a professional transcriber to write the notes down. He also sold the rights to Oliver! for just £15,000 before it reached the West End, so he never really reaped the rewards.
In 1986 Bart received a special Ivor Novello Award for his life's achievement.
His life was a classic rags-to-riches-to-rags theatre story and he died penniless in 1999.