The Lionel Bart Story

 Mick Conefrey|   | 

Lionel Bart: Reviewing the Situation. Dec 4th, BBC4, 9.00 p.m.

With Tommy Steele he invented British rock’n’roll.  He gave Cliff Richard and Anthony Newley their first number ones and James Bond his first ever theme song.  With Joan Littlewood he was a player in the theatre revolution of the 1950s.  And he wrote the book, lyrics and music for Oliver!, the best British musical ever. At his height he was making

Lovingly created from never-before-seen footage, stills from his personal archive and interviews with those who knew him best, Lionel Bart: Reviewing The Situation presents a bright and breezy romp through the breathtaking highs and gutter-crawling lows of a musical phenomenon.

He conquered America a year before the Beatles, was a millionaire before he was thirty, sported an achingly hip wardrobe, had his pick of the best looking boys, and counted Judy Garland, Noël Coward, the Beatles, the Stones, Princess Margaret and every London cabbie as his close friends.  His techno-baronial Chelsea house, the Fun Palace, was in permanent party mode.  He was the Whitechapel Midas.  Even his lavatory had turned to gold.

And then came Twang!!, a Robin Hood extravaganza, starring Barbara Windsor and Ronnie Corbett.  The drama of its conception and rehearsal was a epic of drug fuelled hubris.  When it finally staggered into production it quickly became the most monumental  and certainly the most publicised flop in British theatrical history.

For the next fifteen years Bart traced a graceful decline into alcoholism and bankruptcy, followed by a modest revival of the fortunes and sparkle before his untimely death in 1999.

Greek Tragedy, then, but with tighter trousers and catchier tunes.

Based on Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, David and Caroline Stafford's best-selling biography of the man, the programme includes contributions from Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Barbara Windsor, Roy Hudd, Bruce Welch, Dudley Sutton, Don Black, Herbert Kretzmer, Ray Davies, Toni Palmer and features possibly the last ever interview with the late great Victor Spinetti.

Lionel Bart: Reviewing The Situation is narrated by David Stafford, written by Caroline and David Stafford, produced by John Wyver and directed by Mick Conefrey.  It is an Illuminations production for BBC Television.


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