and playwright Lionel Bart, 68, studied at St Martin's School
of Art. He had no training in music but was drawn to it through
his love of the theatre; his hit musicals include Fings Ain't
What They Used T'Be and Oliver! He has written film scores and
many individual hits, winning the Ivor Novello Award for song-writing
nine times. He lives alone in Acton, west London. Born in Cheltenham,
actor and writer Richard O'Brien, 56, lived in New Zealand as
a boy. In 1972 he created the cult Rocky Horror Show. In the
mid-Eighties he hosted the TV game show The Crystal Maze; he
has recently had parts in the Spice Girls movie and Ever After.
He lives in Surrey with his second wife, Jane, and has three
LIONEL BART: I was
very close friends and collaborators with Sean Kenny, a great
set designer who did Oliver! and some of my other shows for
me. He'd conceived a piece for the Mermaid Theatre entitled
Gulliver's Travels. It was 1968. I went to see it with my agent,
and that is the first time I cast eyes, to my knowledge, on
Richard. He was in the company along with some worthies like
William Rushton and Mike D'Abo. The whole thing was conceived
as an ensemble piece where every actor played about sixor seven
roles. He was a little whirling dervish. At the time Richard
was slightly thin on top with long straggly hair down to his
shoulders. I went backstage afterwards for a drink with the
cast, and I thought, "Hello, this is a character, this
person is different." He made an impression.
He performed in the
musical Hair, we had mutual friends who were involved in the
show. We moved in a pack and became sort of chums. By this time
I was the doyen of rock `n' roll in swinging London. Everybody
kind of made a beeline to my fun palace - Ilived in Fulham,
where there was a party that had gone on for three and a half
years. Richard was one of the antipodeans over here, looking
for something - he didn't want to be a big fish in a little
puddle. I started to follow his career; I was at the very first
performance of The Rocky Horror Show, staged in a tiny little
annexe above the Royal Court Theatre.
I thought, "This
is going to break new ground" ... and my instincts were
right. I also went to the next opening of the show - at a cinema
in the King's Road.
I went through a
very bad patch in the Seventies with drink and drugs. I did
a Rip Van Winkle, went to sleep socially and professionally.
I sold my house in Fulham, went to Hollywood, but kept on my
mews flat in South Kensington and lived there when I came back.
Richard often used to come over when I was really bankrupt.
I didn't have a penny but we used to get up to madness.
A lot of my friends
couldn't cope with me putting myself through that aggravation
and they just stayed away. Richard didn't scare easily. I wasn't
easy to handle. Richard didn't lecture me, he nurtured me. He
has done his fair share of everything, as Ihave. The difference
is he is not an addictive personality, he can handle the occasional
recreational drug. In between his marriages we went potty in
All my friends then
were pretty crazy, but even today they tend to be loopy. I quit
drinking 12 years ago but I'm still attracted to people who
are a bit nuts. And to be creative, as Richard is, you have
to be slightly off the wall. What he had then,has now and will
always have, is an immense generosity of spirit - that is more
than money. He does a lot for people, charities, unheralded
But apart from those
things everybody he meets is entranced by him. He makes me laugh,
he's a sharp mimic, and whimsical. Anyone who makes me laugh
is important in my life. I think everyone should have at least
one belly laugh a day, and a hug for their health.
The O'Briens are
one of my surrogate families. Along with Justin and Louie Hayward,
Donovan in Ireland, I can just pitch up tent and they accept
uncle Lionel is here. I'm good with the kids. I'm a godfather
and an uncle many times over, and I used to send everybody presents
on my birthday because I couldn't remember all theirs.
It's all very casual
with us, we don't plan too far ahead. One of our favourite things
is supper at Groucho's. I can level with Richard, and don't
have to pretend and twinkle all the time - if I feel like a
boring old fart I can be. These days I don't bother to pose
at all. Ritzie is an exhibitionist and an outrageous flirt.
He's got million- dollar legs. Noel Coward once said to me,
"When you start losing the hair, shave it off and get a
sun-tan." That's okay if you've got elfin ears like Richard
but I've got old Dumbo ears. We've often been to the theatre
together and he's been my date on opening night. When Ritzie
and I turn up it's often as a bizarre twosome because he's always
wearing exotic plumage. I've mellowed in my attire; when I first
knew him I was Timothy Trendsetter, considered very flamboyant.
He collects bizarre
visual things, sculptures of an overt sexuality, artefacts from
his travels. He's from another planet in many ways. It's impossible
to pigeon-hole Ritzie. He's into New Age alternatives - feng
shui, crystals - which I don't care for at all.
We are kindred spirits,
friends forever and beyond. We offer each other honesty and
truth. He stayed with me through all the bad moments and the
good times. I've got a handful of people like that in my life,
I'm very lucky. It's such a blessing, not having to explain
When I first set eyes on Lionel I was performing in a show called
Gulliver's Travels at the Mermaid Theatre. I looked down into
the audience and there was this chap with a big brown plush
fedora on his head and a big scarf round hisneck. Everyone went,
" That's Lionel Bart," and of course I was intrigued,
thought, "This is wonderful," because the first show
I ever saw in London was Oliver! When I remembered to be a dutiful
son and phone my mother, I finished by singing a line from the
show, as part of our childish interplay.
So there was Lionel,
larger than life and twice as handsome. He came backstage for
a drink and was very kind and gracious, and smiled a lot. He
cut a dashing figure in his regalia, like the chap in the Sandeman's
Port adverts. He was the toast of swinging London and knew all
the movers and shakers of the era, from the Beatles to Twiggy.
We kept bumping into each other. Whenever there was a happening,
or a vibe, we'd be there.
A couple of years
later we met at closer quarters at a mutual friend's apartment
down the bottom end of King's Road and clicked instantly. Then
we started lunching together. He dined with my family. We had
chemistry. I don't know how it works, all I knew was here was
someone I could get on with and I liked. I've had people want-ing
to be my friend and I've gone, "Back off." I can spot
phoneys at 500 paces.
Of course I realised
that he was an important writer. He was critical of my writing
in the nicest possible way, and very helpful. A great sign of
friendship is when you can phone and say, "I'm really stuck
at the moment, please shine a light on it." I believe in
love, kindness, gentleness and loyalty. Generosity of spirit
is all those four virtues.
Most of the people
dear to me have it.
was not in the musical theatre, he was an art student originally.
When he started writing, it was Noel Coward whom he turned to.
Noel was very useful in giving him criticism of his lyrics and
what not. I feel rather privileged thatI'm part of a tradition
in some way. Through Lionel I discovered the importance of internal
rhymes and how to write poetic lyrics succinctly. I was thrilled
when he came to the debut performance of The Rocky Horror Show
- he was probably checking out the competition.
We get together as
often as our schedules will allow; to lunch and touch base.
We move in circles of first nights and private parties. We used
to go to the movies and theatre more often but Lionel is not
a well man, nor as nimble as he used to be. I love him to bits,
he's like one of the family. We tell each other everything.
There are no secrets between us. We just like giving each other
a cuddle and having a natter. Generally jokes at our own expense
make us giggle.
Naturally, with such
an enduring friendship, at times I've seen him wretched, but
we usually argue it through.
In the aftermath
of the bankruptcy Lionel didn't want to face the reality of
life and found solace in the easy road, the primrose path. Many
of us have enjoyed a recreational drink and the rest of it,
but it became like a poison to him. It finally came to the point
where he had to make a decision on where he was going and what
he was doing.
Thank goodness he
made the right choice.
Lionel would never
knowingly hurt anyone. He is serene, he knows the value of love
and that permeates his dealings with others. I see it in the
street - he is much loved as a London person, taxi drivers always
wave to him. He returns it and never plays the big dude. One
of my favourite songs of his is "Where Is Love?",
from Oliver!. The sentiments melt your heart. It is a divine
We are similar in
that we need to work and are both fearful that our work is never
going to be good enough. We are full of all those insecurities,
low self-esteem, ego and bravado.
I love him more today
than I did when I first met him. If the phone went at two in
the morning we don't have to justify it with apologies and lengthy
explanations. We are always there for one another. He's like
Great Uncle Bulgaria to all of us. I'm jolly glad I met Lionel
when I did. Life wouldn't have been half as much fun without
The jazz album `Absolute
O'Brien' is out on February 14 on Medical Records