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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars

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on 21 July 2014
I think this was once the Radio 4 Book of the Week. It is an interesting read, but somehow you wonder how much is not included. A well known homosexual, yet there is only a passing reference to one boyfriend who asked not to be named, as most probably he has a family who would be embarrassed, just as Dirk Bogarde at the end of his life refused to admit any relationship other than friendship and companionship with Tony Forwood, he said not to embarrass Forwood's family. For this reason the narrative seems a bit thin in places. There was speculation, he was engaged to Alma Cogan, clearly to obscure the truth. When she died it was disclosed she was engaged to her manager and she most definitely did not have any affairs,hence the fascination John Lennon held for her. I found the style a bit irritating at times,like managers in meetings who put on an effort to be crude to make a point which is obviously for show and does not impress. Words like 'legit' and 'arsed' do not fit well in a serious book. At the end of his life he is rather a sad figure, all his friends dead, he is yesterday's news, his financial affairs in a mess and due to drugs and drink unable to produce a serious work. I am sure I read 'Quasimodo' had been staged despite not being complete, and 'Strada' is tied in knots over the rights. It is a shame like his last hit there are no 'Happy Endings.' 'Oliver' is his masterpiece never to be equalled. I wonder if the rest of the shows are worth a revival, or are they too dated? There was a question in the Daily Mail trivia page, which I submitted, about 'Twang' and if it really was that bad. It seems as if it was. Among those who replied was Barbara Windsor whose very charming reply showed she still had some nostalgia for those days even if the show was a disaster. If you can watch the TV profile which crops up occasionally which features Dudley Sutton among others.
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on 4 January 2012
From the start this book immerses the reader in the world of Lionel Bart and it doesn't let him come up for air. It's a compulsive read.

Downsides? There are a few innacuracies, largely, I imagine, as a result of the book not being edited or proof-read properly. The authors adopt a saloon-bar style of narration that may not be to everyone's taste. But perhaps in the same way that Roger Lewis' biographies were written to reflect the personality of the subject (Olivier formal, Sellers all over the shop etc) this might be a deliberate reflection of the frenetic nature of Bart's life. Enjoyable. Recommended.
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on 24 January 2012
To paraphrase a lyric from his most famous musical. Apt, because the authors have to admit on practically every page that a story may or may not have happened, that many pieces of this troubled and splintered life are missing - presumed written only on cigarette packets - and that the only thing anybody really agrees on was that they loved this difficult `creative genius.'

Most readers will instantly know that Lionel Bart wrote "Oliver!" Those of a certain age will be able to hum the cleaned up version of "Fing's Ain't What They Used To Be" - and might even know that it came from one of the most revolutionary experimental theatre productions of its era. Some may also remember the old pianist with the toothless kiddie in an "Abbey National" commercial. A few musical theatre fans will also speak of "Blitz!" "Maggie May" and "Lock Up Your Daughters" with affection, simultaneously shuddering at "Twang!!"

The `pub quiz' bore will know all about Bart's connections to Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard among a host of other 1960s stars. It's really in the collation of these connections that this biography scores. Alma Cogan, Judy Garland, Kenneth Williams - just a few of the myriad names who drifted into and out of Lionel's circle, supported by him and lending him support in return.

The biography does a reasonable job of recording the occurrence of an interaction, noting where possible those for whom he wrote songs, gave advice or simply 'walked' into a glittering premiere. Of his non-celebrity friends, staff and family, there's clearly been some long conversations sifted to provide a few insights into how a man can be a millionaire one moment, at the height of his creative powers, then lose everything including health and home in a few short years.

`Fing is... there's little beyond anecdotal evidence left. A fairly short book is padded with `scene setting' period descriptions and the odd half-decent unconnected one-liner, because there simply isn't much else recorded as fact. Unlike most biographies which can verify stories of meetings and commentate on their significance to weave an integrated career tapestry, here the threads are tangled; and most surround holes that a lack of records and departed characters cannot fill.

Consequently, this is a slightly shaky chronology of highs and lows, with stories held together by the factual evidence of his public recordings legacy. Readable, despite padding and spelling errors, Bart emerges as more than just the "pity case" beloved of tabloids on a `slow news day.' We now have a reference work that should prove helpful to anybody researching the period, it's music and greatest characters.
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on 18 January 2014
Exceptionally written book from cover to cover following the life of Lionel Bart, the unrecognised father of the British Pop Industry and the British Musical. The world knows "Oliver!" but "Oliver!" is but a small part of Lionel Bart's prolific output through the 1960's. Bart had the midas touch, was mocked by the establishment, adored by artists and exploited by "hangers on". Despite a fall from grace into the worlds of drugs and alcohol, his work remained revered the world over, and he rose again to be a grand master in his own right in his later years. Uplifting, inspiring and accurate biography of a character, more interesting than any literature has managed to create.
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on 3 January 2012
If you lived through the sixties then this will evoke many memories for you. It is not only a biography of one of Britain's greatest songwriters but it covers a lot of history of the time. Tales of Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard, Alma Cogan, Judy Garland etc are littered liberally throughout.
The only grouse I have is the Author's writing style. Some poor language and four letter words are used during the narrative; I'm not a prude but think the writers should have kept it simpler.
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on 17 May 2014
Well written. One of those books you don't forget. Packed with interesting facts from the era that launched modern British pop. Recommended.
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on 6 January 2013
I adored this book!
I have read a previous autobiography and liked that but this really made him seem human and very real.
I loved the irreverence and witty one liners. It was very well researched and contained excellent first hand accounts. I was impelled to keep reading. I knew the bad bits were around the corner and they were not avoided or treated with fan like sympathy, which was a relief. Lionel is painted here as a man who was viewed as a genius but who himself was always fearful he'd be found out as a fraud.
A fabulous book with, for anyone planning to put Oliver! on, the most amazing analysis of how to play Fagin. Thanks to the authors who have put so much work into it and please someone... can all the demos be released... have loved hearing the selection that came out recently but can we have all of them?
Also really looking forward to Quasimodo which I have tickets for (Thanks to my daughter Daisy) at the Kings Head Theatre in March 2013!
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on 17 April 2012
I purchased this book on the basis of the review in one of the daily papers, and looked forward to what I thought would be a good read. However, this turned out to be on the boring side and most certainly not worth the money.
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on 18 February 2012
Well, yes, actually, I did. But, like Oliver, I didn't get it.

As far as it goes, this is an interesting and entertaining biog but it doesn't go far enough.

Unlike other reviewers, I actually liked the authors' irreverent style and the occasional crudities were quite refreshing in context IMHO.

Lionel was gay and the book would have benefited if the authors had interviewed at least one of his long-term lovers. The "love of his life" is referenced and passed over in a couple of sentences. The toy boys who ripped him off get more of a mention. Disappointing.

Quite why "Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be" was appropriated as a title of the biog other than as a hook to hang it on is beyond me. What has changed exactly? Has anything changed for gay celebrities since Bart's time? I don't think so. Not really.

Still, I'd recommend the book. Just don't expect too much more than an entertaining read, an overview of his career and a limited insight into a complex and enigmatic character.

3.5 stars out of 5.
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on 23 February 2012
Lionel Bart in my opinion at his best. I bought this for a friend who used to live in the East End, though I had had the CD for many years. Listening to it again it doesn;t lose any of its magic.
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