Check out some facts and trivia about the popular 1968 musical Oliver!
1. Ten-year-old Mark Lester – who played the title role as the orphan Oliver – didn’t sing any of his songs in the film. Branded ‘tone-deaf and arrhythmic’ by the musical arranger Johnny Green, Lester’s songs were instead dubbed by the arranger’s daughter, Kathe Green.
2. More than five thousand boys auditioned to play Oliver.
3. American actor Dick Van Dyke was offered the part of wretched criminal Fagin – despite his now infamous cockney accent as Bert in the 1964 movie Mary Poppins..! Ron Moody, who’d played Fagin in the stage version of the novel, was cast instead.
4. When he received his pay cheque for the musical at age 18 – it having been put aside in a trust fund for him – Mark Lester bought a Ferrari.
5. The entire film, including all the outside shots, was filmed in Shepperton Studios in Surrey. The heavily snowy sequence when the Beadle walks Oliver through the streets attempting to sell him as an apprentice was actually shot in July 1967.
6. Mark Lester wasn’t allowed to run about and play with the other boys on set in case he got bruised. His complexion would also turn red when he got out of puff, and wouldn’t return to normal for 15 minutes – another reason he was told not to run around, in order to preserve the continuity between shots.
7. All the children on set were terrified of Oliver Reed, who played the menacing burglar Bill Sykes, as he insisted on remaining in character while he was on set. Lester said, ‘He was one of those method actors who got into the role completely. When he picked Fagin up by the scruff of his neck, Ron was nearly strangled. And in the scene where he had to drag me along the streets, he really flung me about.’ Lester said that, since he was so frightened of Reed, he didn’t have to act during their scenes together.
8. Lester also talked about Harry Secombe, and how the make-up department played a prank on the actor – who played the Beadle, Mr Bumble – as he was afraid of hurting the child in a scene where he drags him along by the ear: ‘Harry Secombe was terrified of hurting me when he had to march me along by the ear. The make-up department made me a plastic ear and the camera crew pretended we were doing a take; when Harry grabbed me, my ear came off in his hand. I’d been primed to scream in agony and his horrified expression must be on film in an archive somewhere.’
9. Although he appears younger in the movie, Jack Wild, who played the Artful Dodger, was actually 15 – one of the oldest kids in the film.
10. The musical ends much more happily for Fagin than it does in Dickens’ novel. The final scenes of the film see Fagin dancing into the sunset – when, in the book, having been caught by the authorities, he spends a spell in prison, experiences a rapid deterioration in his mental health and is then executed by hanging.