How We Met: Lionel Bart And Richard O'brien

Composer, lyricist 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 children

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 six or 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 - I lived 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 I have. The difference is he is not an addictive personality, he can handle the occasional recreational drug. In between his marriages we went potty in the clubs.

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 and unspoken. 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 yourself.

RICHARD O'BRIEN: 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 his neck. 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.

Lionel's background 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 that I'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 classic.

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 him.

The jazz album `Absolute O'Brien' is out on February 14 on Medical Records

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there