If you want a smash hit musical, you gotta pick a pocket or two

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The Independent Online

Rowan Atkinson is currently winning plaudits for his portrayal of Fagin in the new West End production of Oliver!, but the show's success has simultaneously reignited an age-old row about the provenance of the show's famous tunes.

The musical numbers are credited to the late Lionel Bart, the British songwriter also responsible for "Living Doll" for Cliff Richard and the theme tune to the James Bond movie From Russia with Love.

However, a lady called Rita Wagland, who once lived above Bart, has added fuel to the theory that Bart may have had a little help.

According to her, she used to hear him playing versions of numbers from Oliver! in his flat – albeit with different names – and that the musical company of the Unity Theatre in London's St Pancras, where Bart worked, had written many of them collectively for their musical revues years earlier.

Certainly, Joan Clark, a director at the Unity, maintained up until her death that the lyrics to the songs had in fact been written by her, but Bart had never credited her.

"'Living Doll' wasn't written by Lionel. It was written by some young musician lads at the Unity Theatre who used to accompany the shows. They never saw a penny," Wagland tells this week's Camden New Journal.

"Lionel pinched a lot of stuff, but you could never dislike him despite all that. There was something about him."

Maybe so. But someone out there may have missed out on quite the windfall. Advance sales for Cameron Mackinstosh's current production reportedly stand at £15m.

Meryl tells it as she sees it

Like many an old stager, Meryl Streep feels Hollywood is still neglecting the sisterhood.

"Look around the room. There is discrimination in every profession," she told an assembled group of journalists at a recent screening in London of her new movie, Doubt.

"There are a lot of young women your age who are journalists. There are not many women my age. There is discrimination, there is ageism, and if you look at the corporate headquarters of your company there is not a lot of women there either.

"We are stratified, but we are changing and making more inroads and you are all part of that – which is great. We just have to keep fighting it."

Streep, 59, hopes the success of the Mamma Mia movie might now help change studio bosses' attitudes: "There was an audience for material that appealed to women and girls, and that they could actually take money for. So maybe they'll take that lesson."

Oscar hair-dos and don'ts

Oscar night is fast approaching and it's not just the fashion houses that actresses will be lobbying in the hope of being asked to wear their latest threads. There is also usually a cat-fight over who will do whose hair.

One celebrity crimper who won't be getting involved this year is Frédéric Fekkai, the suave Frenchmen whose salon on Rodeo Drive has long been a mecca for Hollywood A-Listers.

"I used to be extremely busy during the awards season," he tells me. "Fortunately, I have a lot of people who can help with all that these days." In Oscars past, Fekkai has himself seen to the tresses of Gwyneth Paltrow, Kirsten Dunst and Renée Zellweger – at a cost, apparently, of the best part of £1,000.

Fish diet keeps Ferguson on the ball

Sir Alex Ferguson's longevity in the top flight continually baffles both sports pundits and footballing colleagues alike.

Perhaps it's all in his diet. Andy Jones, the head chef at The Slab House Inn near Somerset, who has regularly cooked for the Manchester United manager on his travels, claims he lives on fish.

"Sir Alex will only eat sea bass wherever he travels in the world," Jones says. "He certainly can't get enough of mine."

Tudors prove too much for Lammy

David Lammy's lamentable performance on Celebrity Mastermind (he came last) continues to provide much amusement for his parliamentary colleagues. Tory MP Greg Hands has cheekily tabled a question to Lammy's department, asking "Whether the Higher Education Minister received briefing from departmental officials" before his TV appearance . Asked who took the throne on the death of his father, King Henry VIII, the Harvard graduate replied: "King Henry VII?"

The blessed Tony

Bumf for the World Economic Forum shindig in Davos hits Pandora's desk. One event, on 30 January, is earmarked: "Meet the Peacemakers: In times of strife and conflict, we look for beacons of stability, wisdom and inspiration." Who better, then, to head up the discussion than one Tony Blair, currently a peace envoy to the Middle East and so far not enjoying a great deal of success.