Lionel Bart was the man who wrote some of Britain’s earliest pop chart hits, including ‘Living Doll’, ‘Rock With The Cavemen’ and ‘Little White Bull’. The list of his successes is endless and includes musicals like Lock Up Your Daughters, Blitz! and Fings Ain’t Wot They Used To Be, but it was the smash hit musical Oliver! that assured his immortality.
First produced in London in 1960, Oliver! arrived on Broadway in 1963. It brought Bart every kind of theatrical award, international fame and the more or less constant flood of royalties that proved to be his undoing. Generous to a fault, sociable and rich, he was welcome at the most glamorous tables of showbiz, rock ’n’ roll and high society. In that glittering milieu, there was little stigma attached to hard partying, and unfortunately for Lionel, who was still flashing out new triumphs like the 1964 Bond theme ‘From Russia With Love’, he didn’t know when to stop. By 1965 his creativity had wandered into a different dimension – and there he wrote Twang!!
Twang!! was a musical about Robin Hood. The most amusing bit is the title, which anticipated the semi-satirical comedy then coming into vogue, but which had no place in a family musical show that in any case lacked Bart’s hallmark freshness and originality. Everything about it might be safely forgotten except for the fact that Bart believed in it. When it flopped, comprehensively, he tried to keep it alive with his own money. He sold the rights to his existing and future material, including Oliver!, until he was hamstrung by bankruptcy in 1972 and retreated into the bottle.
Happily, Lionel Bart eventually recovered his health; but until his death in 1999, he referred to Twang!! as ‘my famous flop’ – the personal disaster that swallowed his dreams as well as his money.
Where: London, UK
Toll: Millions of unhappy fans who loved Lionel Bart’s music, and mourn the wasted years as much as he did.
You should know: The failure of Twang!! left the field clear for the new kinds of musicals like Hair and the many hits of Rice/Lloyd Webber and Mackintosh, in fact it was Cameron Mackintosh who acknowledged the debt due to Lionel Bart by reviving Oliver! in 1994, and restoring a percentage of the profits to him.