Jonathan Miller is DirectorDoc, TVDoc, ACtorDoc, WriterDoc, JokeDoc and more
Sir Jonathan Wolfe Miller, CBE (born 21 July 1934) is an English theatre and opera director, actor, author, television presenter, humourist, and medical doctor. While training in medicine, and specializing in neurology, in the late 1950s, he first came to prominence in the early 1960s with his role in the comedy revue Beyond the Fringe with fellow writers and performers Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett.
Miller began directing operas in the 1970s and has since become one of the world’s leading opera directors with several classic productions to his credit. His best-known production is probably his 1982 “Mafia“-styled Rigoletto set in 1950s Little Italy, Manhattan. In its early days he was an associate director at the National Theatre and later ran the Old Vic Theatre. As a writer/presenter of more than a dozen BBC documentaries, he has become a well-known television personality and familiar public intellectual in both Britain and the United States.
1960s: Beyond the Fringe
Miller helped to write and produce the musical revue Beyond the Fringe, which premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in August 1960. This launched, in addition to his own, the careers of Alan Bennett, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Miller quit the show shortly after its move from London to Broadway in 1962, and took over as editor and presenter of the BBC‘s flagship arts programme Monitor in 1965. All these appointments were unsolicited invitations, the Monitor appointment arose because Miller had approached Huw Wheldon about taking up a place on the BBC’s director training course. Wheldon assured him that he would “pick it up as he went along”.
Miller’s first experience of directing a stage-play was for John Osborne, whose Under Plain Cover he directed in 1962. In 1964, he directed the play The Old Glory by the American poet Robert Lowell in New York City. It was the first play produced at the American Place Theatre and starred Frank Langella, Roscoe Lee Brown, and Lester Rawlins. The play won five Obie Awards in 1965 including an award for “Best American Play” as well as awards for Langella, Brown and Rawlins.
He wrote, produced, and directed an adaptation for television of Alice in Wonderland (1966) for the BBC. He followed this with Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968) starring Michael Hordern, a television adaptation of M. R. James‘s 1904 ghost story “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”. By 1970, his reputation in British theatre was such that he mounted a National Theatre Company production of The Merchant of Venice starring Sir Laurence Olivier. He later resigned as associate director.
1970s: Medical history and opera
Miller held a research fellowship in the history of medicine at University College, London from 1970 to 1973. In 1974, he also started directing and producing operas for Kent Opera and Glyndebourne, followed by a new production of The Marriage of Figaro for English National Opera in 1978. Miller has become one of the world’s leading opera directors with classic productions being Rigoletto (in 1975 and 1982) and the operetta The Mikado (in 1987).
Miller drew upon his own experiences as a physician as writer and presenter of the BBC television series The Body in Question (1978), which caused some controversy for showing the dissection of a cadaver. For a time, he was a vice president of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.
1980s: Shakespeare and neuropsychology
In 1980, Miller was persuaded to join the troubled BBC Television Shakespeare project (1978–85). He became producer (1980–82) and directed six of the plays himself, beginning with a well received Taming of the Shrew starring John Cleese. In the early 1980s, Miller was a popular and frequent guest on PBS‘ Dick Cavett Show.
Miller wrote and presented the BBC television series, and accompanying book, States of Mind in 1983 and the same year directed Roger Daltrey as Macheath, the outlaw hero of the BBC’s production of John Gay‘s 1728 ballad opera, The Beggar’s Opera. He also became chair of Edinburgh Festival Fringe board of directors. In 1984, he studied neuropsychology with Dr. Sandra Witelson at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, before becoming a neuropsychology research fellow at the University of Sussex the following year.
In 1990, Miller wrote and presented a joint BBC/Canadian production entitled, Born Talking: A Personal Inquiry into Language. The four-part series looked into the acquisition and complexities surrounding language production. Miller then wrote and presented the television series Madness (1991) and Jonathan Miller on Reflection (1998). The five-part Madness series ran on PBS in 1991. It featured a brief history of madness and interviews with psychiatric researchers, clinical psychiatrists, and patients in therapy sessions. In 1992, Opera Omaha staged the U.S. premiere of the Gioachino Rossini‘s 1819 opera Ermione, directed by Miller.
2000s: Atheism and return to directing
In 2004, Miller wrote and presented a TV series on atheism entitled Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief (more commonly referred to as Jonathan Miller’s Brief History of Disbelief) for BBC Four, exploring the roots of his own atheism and investigating the history of atheism in the world. Individual conversations, debates and discussions for the series that could not be included due to time constraints were aired in a six-part series entitled The Atheism Tapes. He also appeared on a BBC Two programme in February 2004, called What the World Thinks of God appearing from New York. The original three-part series was slated to air on Public Television in the United States, starting 4 May 2007, cosponsored by the American Ethical Union, American Humanist Association, Center for Inquiry, the HKH Foundation, and the Institute for Humanist Studies.
In 2007, Miller directed The Cherry Orchard at The Crucible, Sheffield, his first work on the British stage for ten years. He also directed Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo in Manchester and Bristol, and Der Rosenkavalier in Tokyo and gave talks throughout Britain during 2007 called An Audience with Jonathan Miller in which he spoke about his life for an hour and then fielded questions from the audience. He also curated an exhibition on camouflage at the Imperial War Museum. He has appeared at the Royal Society of the Arts in London discussing humour (4 July 2007) and at the British Library on religion (3 September 2007).
In January 2009, after a break of twelve years, Miller returned to the English National Opera to direct his own production of La Bohème, notable for its 1930s setting. This same production ran at the Cincinnati Opera in July 2010, also directed by Miller.
On 15 September 2010 Miller, along with 54 other public figures, signed an open letter published in The Guardian, stating their opposition to Pope Benedict XVI‘s state visit to the UK. In April and May 2011, Miller directed Verdi’s La Traviata in Vancouver, Canada, and in February and March 2012, Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte in Washington DC, USA.
On 25 November 2015 the University of London awarded Miller an honorary degree in Literature