Oliver! (1968) production shot
© BFI National Archive

In 1968 Columbia Pictures and Romulus Films began filming the Dickensian musical Oliver! at Shepperton Studios. Initially Lewis Gilbert, who was riding high after the success of You Only Live Twice (1967), was selected as director, but then Carol Reed stepped in, while John Box was hired as the production designer. This scene at Shepperton shows a crane developed for an overhead shot of the Welsh Guards, with a street scene designed to be Bloomsbury Square in London.

Two set photographers, Norman Hargood and Bob Penn, created these production photographs. The images were shot in black and white using SLR cameras, which were fast, reliable and popular throughout the film industry during the 1960s.

Oliver! (1968) production shot
© BFI National Archive

Continuity supervisor Pamela Davies sits with Mark Lester, who plays Oliver Twist. Davies was one of the most accomplished continuity supervisors working in the British film industry. Her credits include The Servant (1963), The Go-Between (1971) and The Romantic Englishwoman (1975) for Joseph Losey, as well as Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (1962) and Jack Clayton’s The Pumpkin Eater (1964).

Oliver! (1968) production shot
© BFI National Archive

The director with his young star on set. Best known for The Third Man (1949) and his cycle of atmospheric 1940s dramas, Reed had recently finished The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), his biopic of the Renaissance era artist Michelangelo. He followed it up with another big production – this time a musical. Film versions of stage musicals were hugely popular in the 1960s. Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! had run for seven years in London and for two years on Broadway.


Oliver! (1968) production shot
© BFI National Archive

This publicity still shows Ron Moody, who plays pickpocket ringleader Fagin, with the boys from the Victorian workhouse. It shows the costumes created by Phyllis Dalton, one of the most prominent British costume designers of the 1960s. Dalton was nominated for an Oscar for Oliver!, which involved her creating designs for a cast of 80 people.  

Oliver! (1968) production shot
© BFI National Archive

The director talks to Ron Moody. Having already appeared on stage in London and Broadway, Moody was a natural choice to play Fagin on screen. The make-up department was a team of three, and chief hairdresser was Bobbie Smith, who had a 30-year career in British film. Fagin’s hair and beard helped Moody define the famous character. Moody won the best actor award at the Moscow Film Festival in 1969.

Oliver! (1968) production shot
© BFI National Archive

Mark Lester was 10 years old when he appeared in Oliver! Although it was later revealed that his singing voice was dubbed by Kathe Green, he’ll always be associated with the hit song ‘Food, Glorious Food’, which the boys in the workhouse sing as they dream of food such as hot sausages with mustard and peaches and cream rather than their daily bowl of gruel. Lester’s subsequent major role was in the 1971 version of Black Beauty.


Oliver! (1968) production shot
© BFI National Archive

Harry Secombe (Mr Bubble) and Mark Lester (Oliver) are filmed by the camera unit at Shepperton Studios. Special effects were created by Allan Bryce and include the winter scenes at the workhouse, which emphasise the cruel and hard conditions of Oliver’s existence.

Oliver! (1968) production shot
© BFI National Archive

This is film producer Sir John Woolf, who, together with his brother James, formed Romulus Films, a very successful production company that had several international hits, also including Room at the Top (1959). The idea for Oliver! was developed by Woolf once he bought the rights to adapt the stage play. He worked with Columbia Pictures to set up world sales for the film.

Oliver! (1968) production shot
© BFI National Archive

Woolf with Lionel Bart. Bart wrote the music and lyrics for one of the most successful British musicals of its time, with 11 Oscar nominations and six Academy Awards, including best film for the producers and best original music for Bart. Bart’s songs include the hit classic ‘You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two’.

Oliver! (1968) production shot
© BFI National Archive

James Mason (right) star of two earlier Reed films, Odd Man Out (1947) and The Man Between (1953), is reunited with the director at Shepperton Studios. Mason had continued his film career working with Michael Powell, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick in the 1950s and 1960s.


Oliver! (1968) production shot
© BFI National Archive

Shooting the funeral procession scene at Shepperton. Shepperton’s sound studio is one of the largest facilities in the UK. Today the site has 15 stages, ranging in size from 280 square metres to 2,800 square metres. Five of them are equipped with interior tanks for filming on and under water.