Figure 1.--Mark is pictured here in a sewing magazine cover. Sweaters have for long been popular boys' wear.

Mark Lester (England, 1958- )

Mark Lester is another of the major child stars that was English, but became a major Hollywood star. Mark began his acting career on British television as quite a young boy. He became the leading boy film star in the 1970s. He appeared in quite a number of films as both a boy ad teenager. He stared in the marvelous musical, Oliver, giving a particularly effective performance and making his name as an important child star. Mark never made the transition to adult roles. The two early images of Mark Lester show him in clothes other than movie costumes.


Mark was born in Oxford, England on July 11, 1958, the offspring of two acting parents.


Mark appaered in quite a number of film. His big success of course was "Oliver!".

British television

Mark's parents began entering Mark in auditions at an early age and by 7 years he was a season performer on British television. He appeared in small roles in "Allez France!" (1964) and "Spaceflight IC-1" (1965).

Early films

His first important role was in "Fahrenheit 451" (1966) where he played an angelic-looking English school boy, appropriately dressed in shorts and knee socks. His next role was the stuttering Jiminy in "Our Mother's House" (1967). Jack Clayton directed the offbeat film and Mark made a big impression on the film maker that was to play big dividends.
Fahrenheit 451 (1966): This film was a sci-fi futuristic movie in which books are being stamped out as they make people think too much. Mark wore typical school shorts and kneesocks. In fact for a futuristic film, school children were dressed just as they were when the film was made.

Our Mother's House (1967)

The film "Our Mother's House" is about the five children of an invalid mother. When the mother dies, the eldest girl tries to keep them together as a family unit. They kill people who try to investigate. Eventually the no-good dad returns. There are three boys, Jiminy, Louis, and ????. The boys wear a variety of outfits, including shorts and sandals. The oldest is about 13. Mark Lester played the stuttering Jiminy and stood out in the film. One reader reports that Louis had a good singing voive. Jack Clayton directed this offbeat film and Mark made a big impression on the film maker that was to play big dividends. The result was, of course "Oliver!".

Oliver! (1969)

Sir Carol Reed was at the time preparing for the film "Oliver!" (1969), a musical version of the Dickens' classic. The book had been done several times before: Jackie Kagan played Oliver in 1922, Dickie Moore played the part touchingly in 1933, and John Howard Davis appeared in the 1948 production that featured Alec Guinness' marvelous interpretation of the sly Fagin. Sir Carol needed to find a child that could sing and dance as well as act. About 2,000 boys applied and 250 actually auditioned. Clayton recommended Mark to Sir Carol and he was offered the role soon after his audition. "Oliver" emerged as one of the colossal productions of the 1960s. It was that film which first caught my eye, I was most taken with Mark's lovely performance. Some believe that Mark's performance was lost in the competition with the strong cast. One reviewer wrote "The focus of the movie is so wide, and the logistics of the production is so heavy, that Oliver himself, dutifully played by 9-year old Mark Lester, gets flattened out and almost lost, as if he had been run over by a studio bulldozer." I think, however, that Mark's performance was superb. He played a boy completely adrift, totally incapable of controlling his situation and swept along by events and the people he comes into contact with. The feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability were critical to the part and perfectly executed by Mark. I rather agree with a New York Times reviewer who wrote "Young Mark Lester as Oliver has a kind of golden innocence, untainted by self-conscious adorability of the typical child actor, and a marvelous pure boy soprano voice. He is shy, yet game and a perfect foil for Jack Wild's Artful Dogger." Gene Shalit noted "Mark is an ideal Oliver; angelic and sweet voice..." The film was a huge financial success, grossing over $16.8 million in the U.S. and Canada alone and won the 1969 Oscar as the Best Picture.

Later films

Mark's parents said at the time that they would not force him to continue in films, but Mark decided to do so. I don't think, however, that any thing else he did ever approached "Oliver!" His next film was "Run Wild, Run Free" (1969). Some reviewers were impressed. One reported "Mark Lester, the endearing Oliver of "Oliver!", is charming and affecting as the blond, inhibited boy desperate to communicate who finally finds his voice and the communication he yearns for through his and patient friends." Mark joined Jack Wild again in "Melody" (1971), the story of two rebellious boys of opposing backgrounds who study at a depressed London elementary school. The boys all wear long pants. Next he played in "Eyewitness" ("Sudden Terror") (1970) and he and his family traveled to Malta. "Eyewitness" was a remake of the Cornell Woolrich story, "The Boy Who Called Wolf" which Bobby Driscoll so effectively played in "The Window" (1949). Next Mark came to the United States for a multi-part Disney special, "The Boy Who Stole the Elephant." While in California he appeared on several TV series as a guest star. He returned to England for the rather absurd gothic thriller "Whoever Slew Aunty Roo?" (1972). He was the older brother in a "Hansel and Grettle" type story. He was costumed in short, but rather long shorts, apparently to make him look like a little boy even, even though he was 14 years old.

Classic Scenes

Movies had the poptential to touch and move us more than any other medium. HBC has noted some scenes that boys have played in films that are particularly powerful. Certainly the "Plese Sir, I want more" scene in "Oliver!" is one of those all time important scenes. Oliver Twist takes his empty bowl of gruel to the director of the orphanage and pitifully asks, "Please, sir. I want more." He is dressed in rags like the other orphans. There have been many productions of Oliver Twist, and almost all have this scene. It was in the Mark Lester musical version and he did it beautifully. The book had been done several times before.

Figure 2.--Mark is pictured here in a classic British school uniform. It looks like this was for a pre-prep school. I'm not sure though if this is an advertisement or his actual school uniform.

Boyhood Clothes

We have some information on the clothes Mark wore as a boy. In addition, available mages provide additional information.


The first photograph here is the cover of a knitting magazine modeling a sweater. This was probably a costume for the magazine to illustrate a pattern, rather than his own clothes. Thus we are not positive if this image illustrates how Mark normally dressed as a younger boy. He probably did wear sweatrs. Sweaters have long been one of the most popular British boys' garments as the weather is often chilly, but not cold. British Cubs, for example, traditionally wore green sweaters.

School Uniform

We were not sure if the photograph here shows mark in a school uniform advertisement or the uniform he wore as a school boy. One HBC contributor tells us that the school uniform worn my Mark looks like that of one of the London drama schools for youngsters: a full time school with other lessons besides drama, but specialising in coaching budding young actors. It may be called the Sylvia Clayton Academy or School. The uniform is a classic one. It has a green cap with destinctive yellow cross. The green blazer has matching yellow trim. The boys wear grey shorts and like many younger boys wear ankle socks, rather than kneesocks, and sandals. This looks like the uniform for a pre-prep school. Many pre-prep schools had ankle socks rather than kneesocks and almost always school sandals. The white socks the boy with Mark wears especially look like a pre prep uniform. As an older boy, Mark went to Tower House Preparatory School for boys in Richmond, Surrey, and wore a traditional English prep school uniform. [Kidd]


A HBC reader reports, "I read a quote from Mark's father in 1970, Mark would have been about 12 years old at the time, in which he stated that Mark wore short trousers in England, but wore long ones in America because if he wore shorts "kids would laugh at him". How times have changed."

Favorite clothes

Mark in an interview when he was 14 years old said that his favourite play clothes were T-shirts and jeans. He also had a pair of cowboy-style boots. [Kidd] An image of Mark at about this age shows him riding a motorbike with a leather jacket jeans, and cowboy boots, not exactly in keeping with his screen image or his prep school uniform.

Younger Roles

Some of Mark's film roles a young teenager had him still wearing short pants to project a youthful image. We wonde if he objected to that. A HBC reader reports, "No, I don't think so. He enjoyed acting so much and got right into the parts he played that it did not bother him. Mark says that he was able to 'fit in' to a role and 'become' the person he played for the duration of the act." One HBC reader suggests, " I think that one of the reasons he played younger parts for so long was that he kept that angelic look for a long time and his voice didn't change until around 15 or so."

Teenage Films

Mark's career declined after that and he found it difficult making the transition to teenage roles. His performance in "Scalawag" (1973) starring Kirk Douglas was disappointing. In reviewing the inept pirate story set in Mexico during 1840, but filmed in Yugoslavia, one journalist reported that Douglas "so mishandles Mark Lester that his 'Englishness' looks like embarrassingly bad acting." Plans for Mark to play Jim Hawkins in a remake of Treasure Island fell apart and "The Dream Time" closed production in 1973 after filming part of the story. One reviewer reported that Mark looked "uncomfortable" in his role as the intellectual son of a university professor "All 'Aperto" ("Dance Under the Elms") (1975) set during a Tyrolean vacation. We note another film, perhaps made in Japan, The Little Adventurer (1975), but cannot find any information on it. One of Mark's last films was Crossed Swords (1978). He was 19 years old. In these later versions of The Prince and the Pauper, producers used film or video trickery to create the illusion of two identical boys. Modern technology made it unneccessary to find twin boys of the right age, look and acting competence.

Adult Life

Mark never successfully made the transition to adult roles. He now works as a osteopath. Mark is reportedly in 2002 going to be doing a partial comeback with some part-time acting. A reader wrirs, "It's great to read that he is a happily married family man with a good career. He certainly deserves it."

Reader Comments

HBC had received some reader comment about Mark's film career. Some mention his singing in the film. As explained on the "Oliver!" page, however, Mark did not do the actual singing.

"Mark was a favorite child actor of mine. He had a tremendous ability to convey different emotions, some difficult for a child actor to convincingly portray. Mark had some interesting roles and I think his best were: Oliver!: His singing of "Where is Love" with the tears running down is especially memorable."

"Yes, I quite agree. His lovely singing of "Where is love" was for me the most touching point in "Oliver!"

"Oliver!" is one of my favorite musicals. Mark Lester was brilliant in the film and one of the reasons the film was so sccessful."


Kidd, Paul. Mark Lester: The Boy, His Life and His Films.


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main movie star]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Satellite sites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: March 12, 2000
Last updated: 7:57 PM 6/20/2004