Gay History, Gay Celebrities, Gay Icons
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1st August 1930 - 3rd April 1999
He was the youngest of seven
surviving children of a Jewish family in the East
End of London. His father worked as a tailor in
a garden shed in London E1. The family had escaped
the pogroms in Galicia which was then part of the
When Bart was six a teacher told his parents that
he was a musical genius. His parents gave him an
old violin, but he did not apply himself and the
At the age of 16
he obtained a scholarship to St Martin's School
of Art but he was expelled for "mischievousness",
and he gave up his ambition to be a painter. However,
he took jobs in silk-screen printing and commercial
He entered National
Service in the Royal Air Force. After leaving
this, he borrowed £50 and set up a printing
business in Hackney with John Gorman who he had
met in the RAF.He joined the Communist Party.
Soon after, he began his musical career by arranging
a cabaret for the left-leaning International Youth
Centre. In 1952 he wrote, with John Gold, the
annual IYC review with a story about Robin Hood.
For the leftist Unity Theatre he wrote the lyrics
for an agit-prop version of 'Cinderella'.
After seeing St Bartholomews hospital ("Barts")
when passing by on a bus he changed his name to
Bart. His work included writing comedy songs for
the Sunday lunchtime BBC radio programme the Billy
Cotton Band Show.
In September 1956 he saw Tommy Hicks performing
guitar in a Soho coffee bar. He signed him up
to perform in a group called the Cavemen. Bart
persuaded John Kennedy and Larry Parnes to see
Tommy Hicks perform. They were impressed and they
signed him up and he adopted the stage name Tommy
The musical 'Twang!!' in 1965 was a flop but he
tried to prop up its failing finances with his
own money. He sold the rights to his past and
future works, including those of 'Oliver!' to
keep himself solvent but he still ended up declaring
himself bankrupt in 1972. This led to a decade
of drinking in his flat in Acton. He was banned
from driving in 1975 for driving under the influence
of drink, and he was banned again in 1983 for
His old friend John Gorman reappeared to help
Bart sort out his life. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous
and gave up drinking. He also took his diabetes
He gained attention again in the 1980s with a
new version of 'Livin' Doll' with satirical words.
Cameron Mackintosh, who owned half the rights
to 'Oliver!' revived a the musical at the London
Paladium in 1994 in a version rewritten by Lionel
Bart. Cameron Mackintosh gave Lionel Bart a share
of the production royalties.
Although Lionel Bart was known to be gay by those
in the theatre world he was often publicly romantically
linked with Judy Garland or Alma Cogan. He did
not regard himself to be publically out as being
gay until the 1990s. On 3rd April, 1999, Bart
died of cancer, aged 68.
& Relationships: His
friends included Noel Coward, Brian Epstein, Judy
Garland, Alma Cogan, and Shirley Bassey. He spent
weekends in Mustique with Princess Margaret. He
was great friends with John Gorman, who wrote
of their companionship in his autobiography. Here
is a quote from the book's blurb:
"The roots of his lasting friendship with
Lionel Begleiter, the Jewish lad from Stepney,
who was to achieve world fame as the lyricist
and composer, Lionel Bart, is told for the first
time. From the moment of their first meeting in
1948, and their national service in the RAF, Gorman
traces the formative years when they worked together,
struggling to build a successful design and screen
Bart won three Ivor Novello Awards in 1957, four
in 1959, and two in 1960. In 1960 he was given the
Variety Club Silver Heart for Show Business Personality
of the Year. Bart's greatest success was the musical
'Oliver!'. It opened at the New Theatre (later to
become the Albery Theatre) on 30th. June, 1960 and
received 23 curtain calls. It ran for 2618 performances
in London. It opened on Broadway in 1963 and ran
their for 774 performances. The 1968 film version,
directed by Carol Reed, won several Oscars, including
Best Picture. In 1986 he received a special Ivor
Novello Award for his life's achievement.
It was a great pity that
Bart’s prodigality meant he sold off the rights
to his greatest creation Oliver! As that meant his
income dwindled. He was always a man of excess but
in the later part of his life he did give up drink
and drugs and lived a comparatively happy and contented
Rock with the Caveman,
1957, a song written with Michael Pratt for Tommy
Steele. A Handful of Songs, 1957, a song for Tommy
Steele. Received the 1957 Songwriters Guild Ivor
Novello Award for outstanding song of the year.
Water, Water, 1957, a song.
Received the 1957 Songwr iters Guild Ivor Novello
Award for best novelty song. The Tommy Steele
Story, 1957, score for the film. Received the
1957 Songwriters Guild Ivor Novello Award for
outstanding film score. Wally Pone, King of the
Underworld, a musical . Fings Ain't Wot They Used
T'Be, 1959,a musical, written with Frank Norman.
Livin' Doll, 1959, a song written for Cliff Richard
(Harry Webb) who had his first No 1 hit with it.
Received the 1959 Songwriters Guild Ivor Novello
Award for best selling song. LittleWhite Bull,
1959, a song for Tommy Steele. Received the 1959
Songwriters Guild Ivor Novello Award for best
novelty song. Lock Up Your Daughters, 1959, a
musical. Received the 1959 Songwriters Guild Ivor
Novello Award for outstanding score of the year.
Do You Mind, a song for Anthony Newley Oliver!,
1960, West End musical.
Received two Songwriters Guild Ivor Novello Awards.
Received a Tony Award. Blitz!, 1962, a musical
Sparrows Can't Sing, 1963, title song and theme
music for the film. From Russia With Love, 1964,
a song for Matt Monro, used as the title song
of the James Bond film. Maggie May, 1964, a musical.
Received the 1964 Songwriters Guild Ivor Novello
Award for outstanding score of the year. Won the
Critics' Poll as Best new British musical. Twang!!,
1965, a musical. La Strada, 1969, a musical. Dr
Jekyll and Mr Hyde, score for a television film
starring Kirk Douglas (not shown in Britain).
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