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Songs should be like sneezes – spontaneous

Around 120 years passed between the publication of Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist and the release of the musical Oliver!

Yet it’s now almost impossible to think of one without the other.

Who doesn’t think of Oliver in the orphanage without Food Glorious Food popping into their head, or the roguish Fagin without humming You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two? That’s down to the musical talent of Oliver! composer Lionel Bart.

What’s remarkable is Lionel, who has been hailed as the father of the modern British musical, never learned to read or write music. He dreamed up the songs, including Consider Yourself and Where Is Love and hummed them out to Carry On film music composer Eric Rogers, who wrote them down.

Lionel later claimed he never took more than an hour to compose an unforgettable tune.

Starting out as a stage musical, his biggest hit, Oliver! was a phenomenal success, later leading to an Oscar-winning film starring Ron Moody, Oliver Reed and child stars Mark Lester and Jack Wild.

Born into a poor family in London’s East End in 1930, Lionel also had chart songwriting success. He penned hits including Living Doll, which was a number one for both Cliff Richard and the Shadows in 1959 and Cliff and the Young Ones, in an anarchic version recorded for Comic Relief, in 1986. Lionel also composed the theme song to Bond movie, From Russia With Love.

The talk of the town during the 1960s, Lionel sadly struggled to maintain his professional success, but theatregoers flocked to see a triumphant West End revival of Oliver! in 1994.

When Lionel died, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber paid tribute to him, describing the loss to British musical theatre caused by his untimely death as “incalculable.”