A fine, fine life: Lionel Bart on BBCFour [Updated]

4th December 2013

Wednesday evening at 9pm on BBC Four sees the first showing of our latest broadcast documentary, Lionel Bart: Reviewing the Situation. Written by Caroline Stafford and David Stafford (and inspired by their fine biography, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be: The Lionel Bart Story), and directed by Mick Conefrey, this is a totally delightful tale of the astonishing rise and extraordinary fall of the songwriter of Oliver! (1960) and Twang!! (1965). With a fantastic collection of rare film and television archive, and interviews from – among others – Barbara Windsor, Marty Wilde, Ray Davies, Roy Hudd, Cameron Mackintosh and the late Victor Spinetti, it’s a (can I say this?) hugely enjoyable hour of television.

Preview coverage of the film so far is below – we would love to know what you think if you manage to catch one of the showings on BBC Four over the next week or so, or when the film makes it to iPlayer; Tweets tonight and tomorrow with #LionelBart would be especially welcome.

Time Out:
Lionel Bart was an exuberant showman with a penchant for partying. He had a compulsion to please people and an ignorance of all things financial, which was to prove his downfall. But before all that dreariness – not a disposition Bart was prone to – this lively hour-long documentary tackles the late composer’s triumphs.

Familiar faces such as Barbara Windsor, Ray Davies and Marty Wilde talk animatedly between clips of Bart’s rock ’n’ roll songs (written for Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele and Billy Fury, to name but a few) and musicals (namely ‘Oliver’, of course). Plus, snapshots of London’s past, imbued with quaint nostalgia, are laid on thickly. As it happens, this isn’t just a story about a big personality who made musicals, it’s about a scene in which everything was larger-than-life.

Guardian Guide:
Songwriter Lionel Bart is principally remembered for Oliver!. However, over the course of an eventful life and career, he also invented cockney rock in his work with Tommy Steele, wrote the words and music for the deceptively jolly Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, and lost everything in a blitz of booze and bad behaviour, before reinventing himself as an elder statesman of musical theatre. In a too short documentary, Barbara Windsor and Ray Davies are among those paying tribute to the songsmith.

Daily Mail:
Barbara Windsor, Marty Wilde and more contribute to this lively portrait of the composer of the musical Oliver!, a profile that draws on his personal archive, and which carries a poignant sting. Intriguingly, Bart never learned to read or write music, so sang into a tape recorder – and the results were transcribed.


Matt Wolf at The Arts Desk has written a very nice review, which is behind their new (and understandable) paywall… so this is the first paragraph of it:

These days, it seems you can’t move without encountering musicals in some context or another on TV. Series like Smash and Glee trade on the genre to a degree hovering between the loving and the parasitic, while two contrasting documentaries, The Sound of Musicals and The Story of Musicals, have shed varying degrees of light on how shows get actually get to the stage (or not). Shifting from the art form to the artist, Lionel Bart: Reviewing the Situation casts an affectionate if not wholly sentimental eye on the man behind arguably the greatest of all British musicals, Oliver!, only to lay bare an existence on stage and off that was anything but a knees-up. Watching director Mick Conefrey’s fine hour-long report, one can only ponder the inevitable: how long before Bart’s life is translated in all its bruised glory to the large screen?

There were also some really nice Tweets during transmission, of which this is a sample:



  1. David Lusted says:

    Well done, John and the Illuminations team. A long overdue appraisal of one whose role in the little British competition there is to US musicals deserves attention. Compelling testimonies from associates and unexpected positioning in both British pop music and radical theatre.

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