Huddersfield Daily Examiner - - FRONT PAGE -

HERE was lots of oom-pah­pah on the open­ing night of Oliver! on the West End stage. Writer and com­poser Lionel Bart’s tune­ful twist on the clas­sic Charles Dick­ens novel re­ceived a 20-minute stand­ing ova­tion as au­di­ences found them­selves hum­ming show­stop­ping num­bers like Con­sider Your­self, Food, Glo­ri­ous Food and I’d Do Any­thing.

Oliver! ran for 2,618 per­for­mances af­ter de­but­ing in Lon­don’s West End in 1960, and went on to conquer Broad­way, so it was hardly sur­pris­ing that a movie ver­sion was soon be­ing mooted.

The orig­i­nal Lon­don cast in­cluded fu­ture Dame Edna Ever­age com­edy star Barry Humphries as un­der­taker Mr Sower­berry, while Ge­or­gia Brown played Nancy.

Lionel Bart had been un­sure about cast­ing Ron Moody as penny-pinch­ing crim­i­nal Fa­gin, but it be­came his most fa­mous role, thanks to dev­il­ish ren­di­tions of clas­sics like Pick a Pocket Or Two and Re­view­ing The Sit­u­a­tion.

The Lon­don-born ac­tor once de­scribed Fa­gin as “a crazy old Fa­ther Christ­mas gone wrong” and he was nom­i­nated for an Os­car for his per­for­mance in the film ver­sion. “Play­ing Fa­gin in the play and film was a small mir­a­cle,” he said.

Oliver! opened in UK cin­e­mas 50 years ago on Septem­ber 27 and went on to win six Os­cars, in­clud­ing best film.

The large-scale mu­si­cal was filmed at the fa­mous Shep­per­ton Stu­dios with the mid-win­ter scenes ac­tu­ally be­ing shot at the height of sum­mer in Au­gust. A ton of feath­erlight poly­styrene was strewn about the set to rep­re­sent snow­fall and ar­ti­fi­cial ici­cles were hung from ledges and pipes as some of the fe­male cast mem­bers wore biki­nis and topped up their tans among the fake snow.

The Lon­don sets cov­ered six sound stages and a huge stu­dio back­lot. The whole of Lon­don’s Blooms­bury Square was spe­cially recre­ated for the Who Will Buy? num­ber, while the Con­sider Your­self rou­tine took three weeks to film.

The movie cast in­cluded Harry Se­combe as Bum­ble, Peggy Mount as Mrs Bum­ble and Leonard Ros­siter as Mr Sower­berry.

Oliver Reed al­ways ve­he­mently de­nied that he got the role of Bill Sikes be­cause his un­cle Carol Reed was the movie’s di­rec­tor and de­clared: “I am not a prod­uct of nepo­tism.

Carol Reed au­di­tioned many young­sters for the piv­otal roles of Oliver Twist and the Art­ful Dodger be­fore Mark Lester and Jack Wild were picked.

Jack cel­e­brated his 15th birth­day dur­ing film­ing and was six years older than his nine-year-old co-star Mark, but looked young. He said of the time: “At an age when most young­sters are pre­par­ing for their GCSEs, I was sud­denly a jet-set­ter, briefly the toast of Hol­ly­wood and Lon­don’s West End.”

Jack, who sadly died at the age of 53 of tongue and throat cancer, re­mem­bered work­ing on Oliver! as a joy­ous time. “I was the leader of the gang and we got up to a lot of es­capades for the whole year we were mak­ing it. But Carol Reed was an ex­cel­lent di­rec­tor and he knew how to deal with us.”

Carol Reed him­self once pointed out: “The worst thing one can say to a child when aim­ing a cam­era at him is ‘act nat­u­rally.’ That will shrivel him on the spot. Chil­dren are nat­u­ral ac­tors but you must give them some­thing to act. How­ever many chil­dren you are go­ing to film, give each one a sep­a­rate iden­tity. Tell the lit­tle boy to pre­tend the bi­cy­cle is one he has just won in a com­pe­ti­tion. Tell the lit­tle girl she is a princess in dis­guise. Give them some­thing to work with and think about be­fore the film­ing be­gins.”

The cast re­hearsed for six months be­fore shoot­ing on the film be­gan. Mark Lester at­tended a stage school and made his film de­but at the age of six in a movie called The Coun­ter­feit Con­sta­ble.

It is said that, as a prac­ti­cal joke on Harry Se­combe dur­ing the film­ing of Oliver!, the make-up depart­ment cre­ated a false ear for Mark so that when the Goon star grabbed it, it came off in his hand.

Mark later said of his re­la­tion­ship with Jack Wild: “Jack was like a brother to me dur­ing the mak­ing of the film and was al­ways very pro­tec­tive. I gained a lot. The chem­istry be­tween us was just some­thing very, very spe­cial, which lasted through­out our lives.”

Lionel Bart at­tended the red car­pet film pre­miere with singer Lulu and the movie went on to be­come a huge hit.

How­ever, mu­sic ar­ranger Johnny Green re­vealed 20 years later that it was not Mark Lester sing­ing the heartwrench­ing songs like Where Is Love?

He said Mark was “tone deaf and ar­rhyth­mic” and he orig­i­nally had two boys ready to dub the sing­ing sec­tions but re­alised in post pro­duc­tion that the voices were not right.

So the beau­ti­ful voice ev­ery­one hears in the mu­sic was ac­tu­ally dubbed by a girl... Johnny’s daugh­ter Kathe Green.

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