Inspired by the fresh impetus given to debates about fidelity at the Cultures of Translation conference (June 2008, Cardiff), this essay looks at the BBC Oliver Twist in the wider context of adaptations of the novel, and of history on television. The essay suggests that there
is no true Nancy to which adaptations can be faithful or otherwise, but rather a series of overlapping and sometimes contradictory discourses which we, in our assumptions of realism in Dickens' early novels, try to read as a rounded individual. Exploring the ways in which adaptations since
the early years of cinema have tried to create Nancys with interiority, I consider the influence of Lionel Bart's Oliver! and argue that when adaptations such as the BBC's present a social-realist, historical Nancy, they are both reacting against, and drawing on, Bart's success as well
as on contemporary televisual notions of history.
Adaptation, or the conversion of oral, historical or fictional narratives into stage drama has been common practice for centuries. In our own time the processes of cross-generic transformation continue to be extremely important in theatre as well as in the film and other media industries. Adaptation and the related areas of translation and intertextuality continue to have a central place in our culture with a profound resonance across our civilisation.