The character played by Betty Paul - "'Singer at 'Three Cripples'" was introduced as 'Lucy Willow'. At the time of the filming of "Oliver Twist", Betty Paul was appearing in London as "Suzanne Valdis" in "Bless The Bride" (a role she repeated in BBC Sunday-Night Theatre: Bless the Bride (1956)) - and in the same production, Elizabeth Webb took the leading female part of 'Lucy Willow'. This cannot be a coincidence but has apparently never been commented on.
The company that trained and supplied animals for film and television supplied the Staffordshire Bull Terrier for the role of 'Bullseye' and also the Bull Terrier who played the role of 'Bullseye' in the film adaptation of Lionel Bart's musical 'Oliver!'.
Even though Alec Guinness had worked for David Lean previously in Great Expectations (1946), the director couldn't picture him in the role until Guinness convinced him to conduct a screen test. "He came on looking not far removed from what he looks like in the film," Lean remarked. "Of course I was bowled over by it and he got the part without another word."
In his search to find the perfect Oliver, David Lean held an open audition at Victoria Palace in which he received some fifteen hundred applications and interviewed all but eighty of them. Not one matched the image he had in mind for Oliver but in a stroke of luck, agent Ted Lloyd spotted the ideal candidate - John Howard Davies - at the home of an associate.
When David Lean first viewed the opening sequence, designed by cinematographer Guy Green and art director John Bryan, he stated, "We're going to have to retake this. It's too romantic. I want more edginess and more storm."
Working with make-up artist Stuart Freeborn, Alec Guinness based Fagin's appearance on illustrations in the novel by George Cruikshank which accented the character's wrinkles, baggy eyes, loose hair, bushy eyebrows and beaked nose.
John Howard Davies was only eight at the time and child labor laws prohibited children under the age of thirteen from working in film studios but David Lean managed to get around the restriction. Davies recalled that Lean "was unfailingly nice, unfailingly courteous. He used various devices on me. When I felt inhibited about doing something, he wouldoften shoot the rehearsal. He wasn't silly enough not to do the take. But I pretty soon cottoned on to this because my hearing was even better than his, with his large ears, and I could detect the sound of a Mitchell turning over."
Cinematographer Guy Green also noted that the art direction presented some problems. "John Bryan made it bloody difficult, too, although his sets were wonderful to photograph. He had Francis L. Sullivan as the Beadle going along a tunnel, and it was impossible to light it. So I gave Sullivan a lamp to carry with a light inside it which shone out in to the tunnel, and that was it... Oliver was about grim, dirty interiors and I used a lot of diffused light, something which has become fashionable now with colour. I tried to get the effect of light coming through small dirty windows, and it had a kind of richness of its own."
In the original novel, Mr. Brownlow is not a blood relative of Oliver, but is an acquaintance of Oliver's father who gave him a portrait of Oliver's mother as a token of trust. Oliver, left for dead by Sikes after being wounded in a robbery, is rescued by members of his mother's family, who get in touch with Brownlow and put it all together. Filming this subplot would have required hiring more actors and taking up time with explanatory dialogue, so it is much more convenient to have Brownlow be Oliver's grandfather and reassign other characters' words and deeds to him.