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
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
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.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own