The whole of Bloomsbury Square in London was recreated on the Shepperton Studios backlot for the "Who Will Buy" sequence. In fact, the entire Shepperton Studios was given over to the production of Oliver! (1968).
While filming the scene where Oliver gets a peek at Fagin's treasure, director Carol Reed was not satisfied with the reaction on Mark Lester's face. Later, while re-shooting the scene, he hid a small white rabbit in his pocket and stood behind the camera. As Ron Moody opened the box of treasures, Reed pulled the rabbit out of his pocket. Lester's reaction to the sight of the rabbit was then used in the final film.
Oliver Reed's only song "My Name" was cut from the finished film, officially because the producers decided that Bill Sikes should not sing, but also allegedly because there was concern over the quality of Reed's singing voice. However, the instrumental version is played in the background when the audience is first introduced to Bill Sikes.
Mark Lester did not do his own singing in Oliver! It was dubbed by Kathe Green, daughter of Johnny Green, the music arranger/supervisor on the film. Johnny revealed this for the first time publicly in 1988 during an interview on the 20th anniversary of the film. He says that Mark Lester was "tone deaf and arrhythmic." He originally had two boys set to dub his singing but during post production they realized their voices didn't match Mark's look, so they used Johnny's daughter instead.
Ron Moody toned down his East London Yiddish accent for the film as compared to the original 1960 London stage version, partly for intelligibility to American audiences and partly to avoid accusations of anti-semitism (although Moody was himself "100% Jewish"). In his autobiography Moody admitted he also changed his accent for the film because a Jew in England in 1837 would not have had his accent. What came to be regarded as Jewish accents was actually the result of immigration of Jews to the UK from Germany and Poland later in the 19th century.
Amazingly, the composer of this highly respected score, Lionel Bart, could not read music himself. From his earliest days in theater, he would sing his melodies to a trained pianist, who would then set the tunes down on sheet music and orchestrate them.
Early rumors regarding casting included Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as Bill and Nancy, and either Laurence Harvey or Peter Sellers as Fagin; though eventually Ron Moody was asked to reprise his stage role. Jack Wild had played one of Fagin's boys in the London production, but was now old enough to play the Artful Dodger. Shani Wallis finally won the role of Nancy nearly a year after first auditioning when she demonstrated an acceptable Cockney accent - the one she grew up with.
Despite complaints of nepotism, Oliver Reed said he had to persuade his uncle Sir Carol Reed to consider him for the role of Bill Sikes and that he also had to audition and screen test for the part at Carol Reed's insistence.
Although Ron Moody had played Fagin to great acclaim on the London stage, he was only allowed to repeat his performance in the film after Peter Sellers and Peter O'Toole had reportedly turned down the role.
Mark Lester was not allowed to run around playing with the other children on set as he would invariably get rosy cheeked from his exertions. It would then take up to 10 or 15 minutes for his complexion to return to normal.
"Boy For Sale" was shot in July 1967 despite the required snow setting; exterior shots depended on adequate cloud cover due to the erratic weather in London. The snowballs were made of polystyrene, salt, crazy foam and mashed potatoes.
Ron Moody noted that several members of the original West End stage cast (1960) did not get along, saying: "It was not a happy company". He personally had a poor relationship with Georgia Brown, who was the original Nancy. When the film came to be made, Brown blamed Moody for her not being cast as Nancy. However, Moody categorically denied this, saying he had no say or influence whatsoever over the casting of the film and he himself was far from first choice to play Fagin despite his success on stage.
The London sets covered six sound stages and a huge studio backlot - with rich and poor sections. The sets were adaptable overnight in spite of their sturdy look, due to the fact that single dance numbers sometimes required changing sets up to a dozen times.
Although it has oft been written that the story takes place during the reign of Queen Victoria, it was, in fact set just a tiny bit earlier - during the reign of King William IV. The book was originally published in Bentley's Miscellany as a serial, in monthly installments which began appearing in February 1837, 4 months before William IV died.
In conjunction with the release of this film, Random House published a hardcover novelization of the film's screenplay for younger audiences, illustrated with stills from the film. Among the stills featured were scenes showing the arrival at the workhouse and the death of Oliver's mother, who never appears in the film as was shown. Studio records list Veronica Page as the mother and Henry Kay as the Doctor attending to Oliver's birth.
When Carol Reed went to the Academy Award presentation in 1969, Charlton Heston, whom Reed had directed in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) several years earlier, gave the director a copy of the book accompanied by a hand-written Dickens letter. According to Reed, "He's a very considerate man."
The cast included 84 boys between 8 and 15 years of age, and one member of Parliament suggested they were being exploited just as the depicted orphans had been. The filmmakers replied that they needed protection more than the boys did, due to the rowdy nature of the production during the summer.
Like many filmed/televised versions of the same novel, the musical eliminates Mr. Monks, an evil blackmailer who stalks Oliver throughout the book for a mysterious purpose. Although he is important in the book and provides its "twist ending" (no pun intended), he doesn't film very well because his book chapters are very talkative and have little action. All villainy necessary to the story is easily reassigned to Bill Sikes or Fagin so there is no reason left for Monks to be in the movie.
In the song "Food, Glorious Food" among the foods the boys want are pease pudding and saveloys. Pease pudding is made from split peas, water, salt, and spices which are boiled and then mashed becoming almost like hummus. Saveloys are small spicy red pork sausages that taste much like a hot dog.
The Magistrate which Hugh Griffith plays in the film did not appear in the original stage production of "Oliver!". He does appear in Dickens's original novel, "Oliver Twist", on which the musical is based. In the novel the Magistrate's named Mr. Fang, and although Dickens wrote him satirically, he did not intend him to be comical.
Was the first British film to use a very early version of video-assist (a live picture from the film camera to a television monitor), designed by acclaimed and award-winning British camera technician and engineer Joe Dunton. As there was no way, at that time, to take a direct live feed from a movie camera to a TV monitor, Dunton placed a small rudimentary video camera above the lens, to give an approximation of what the film camera had in the frame, and then fed the signal to a monitor.
The original Broadway production of "Oliver!" opened at the Imperial Theater on 6 January, 1963, ran for 774 performances and was nominated for the 1963 Tony Award for the Best Musical and received nominations for Best Book and Best Score.
During "Consider Yourself", there's a shot where some chimney sweeps run and cool their bottoms in a water trough. In the very next shot, Helen Worth, later to find fame as Gail in Coronation Street, can be seen on the pavement on the right, holding a basket.
The remaining exterior sets for Oliver! at Shepperton were still standing nearly 10 years later, in the mid-late 1970s, when Terry Gilliam was shooting his version of Jabberwocky, and needed period street scenes. In fact, its rumoured that when part of the Shepperton studios backlot was later sold off to become a housing estate, surrounded by the studio buildings, that the new residents were finding debris from the old demolished Oliver exterior sets, in their gardens.
The film is always listed as running 153 minutes, but this is because of the Overture heard before the film, the Intermission Music, and the Exit Music. The actual film, including the opening credits, runs about 145 minutes.
Carol Reed and the producers deliberately kept composer Lionel Bart at arm's length from the film to prevent any unwanted interference from the volatile Bart, who was only invited to visit the set once during the entire production and otherwise was allowed no creative involvement with the production.
The only film based on Oliver Twist where Oliver is not seen being sent to the workhouse. (This was apparently filmed but deleted.) Instead it begins in medias res, as he is first seen helping other orphans grind flour at the start of the film.
Studio Records list Veronica Page as Oliver's Mother and Henry Kay as the Doctor attending to Oliver's birth. but these performers were not seen in the movie. It is not known if they were not filmed or filmed and not used.
The nominees for Best Director at the 1969 Academy Awards were announced by Ingrid Bergman, Natalie Wood, Diahann Carroll, Rosalind Russell and Jane Fonda. In a scripted introduction, they mocked the secondary nature of each of the female leads in the nominated films. Bergman stated they were there "somewhat reluctantly"; Fonda and Russell stated that the directors "had done their best/ to make female stars obsolete". Carroll said the only woman in 'Oliver!' "sang two songs and got choked for her trouble". Receiving the award from Fonda, Reed made no reference to this introduction in his brief, self-effacing acceptance speech.
As a thank-you, Moody presented Carol Reed with a Victorian silver box inscribed "Carol, Part of my little property, Fagin '67", in reference to the treasure Fagin loses. Inside is a card which reads "Dear Carol, to the Master from a grateful pupil". It now belongs to Reed's granddaughter, Lucy Fox.
Other actors considered for the role of Fagin were Laurence Olivier, Peter O'Toole, and Bruce Forsyth. Forsyth later said "Fagin would have been wonderful for me. It would have changed my whole career".
According to Reed's granddaughter, Lucy Fox, Bill Sikes' bull terrier spent a long time in make-up to make him look downtrodden and neglected. They also taped his tail underneath him to curb his enthusiastic wagging.
Bill Sikes's dog Bullseye was played by a bull terrier called Butch who was a pet in Cindy Sharville's family. She now runs the company Animals Galore, training animals for film, television and theatre.
In a March 2019 episode of the BBC's Antiques Roadshow, Jack Wild's widow, brought along a special on-set high chair, (which had "Dodger Jack" written on it) that the carpenters had made especially for the diminutive Wild. She also presented Wild's personal original shooting script and an album of production photographs, all of which were valued at between £4000-£6000 at auction.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The film ends with Fagin and the Artful Dodger considering whether to continue a life of crime. The original novel ends much less happily for the two of them - the Artful Dodger is transported to prison overseas and Fagin is... hanged.
The idea of Sikes using Oliver as a hostage to help him escape was taken directly from Sir David Lean's film Oliver Twist (1948). It does not occur that way in the novel. Apparently Lean was not pleased about his friend Sir Carol Reed borrowing from his film without acknowledging him in the opening credits.
In the book Brownlow is not a blood relative of Oliver, but is an acquaintance of Oliver's father, who gave him the mother's portrait as a token of trust. Only after Oliver has chance encounters with many more people in a "degrees of separation" chain, a treasure hunt eventually uncovers the truth. Charles Dickens' stories are full of this kind of 'coincidental' subplot where characters from many different walks of life and hometowns all show up in London and discover that they are secretly connected to each other. To show this all in a film would have been time consuming and required more actors to be hired for pivotal but small roles, so it was easier to conflate all these characters' words and deeds with Brownlow's role. Many film/television adaptations of the same novel do this including Oliver Twist (1948) which heavily influenced this version.
The end scene with Fagin and the Artful Dodger is something of a spoof of the stage show's ending. On stage, Fagin sings a reprise of 'Reviewing the Situation' (as in the film) and then walks boldly off into the sunset facing an uncertain future. The film initially appears to be ending this way, until Dodger interrupts Fagin's walk-off and offers him a stolen wallet. This leads to a newly written verse of the reprise of the song where both decide that 'once you're a villain, you're always a villain' and dance off together to continue their life of crime.