Jonathan Miller: Wikis


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Jonathan Miller
Born Jonathan Wolfe Miller
21 July 1934 (1934-07-21) (age 75)
London, England
Spouse(s) Helen Rachel Collet

Sir Jonathan Wolfe Miller CBE (born 21 July 1934) is a British theatre and opera director, author, television presenter, humorist and sculptor. Trained as a physician in the late 1950s, he first came to prominence in 1962 when the British comedy stage revue Beyond the Fringe (written and performed by Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett, and Miller himself) came to Broadway. Despite having seen few operas and not knowing how to read music, he began stage-directing them 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. He has also become a well-known television personality and familiar public intellectual in the UK and US.



Early life

Miller grew up in St John's Wood, London in a well-connected Jewish family. His father Emanuel (1892–1970) was a psychiatrist specialising in child development and his mother Betty (née Spiro; 1910–1965) was a novelist and biographer. Miller's sister Sarah (died 2006) worked in television for many years and retained an involvement with Judaism that he, an atheist, has always eschewed.

Miller married Helen Rachel Collet in 1956. They have two sons and a daughter.[1]

Miller studied natural sciences and medicine at St John's College, Cambridge (MB BCh, 1959), where he was a member of the Cambridge Apostles, before going on to University College London. He qualified as a medical doctor in 1959 and then worked as a hospital house officer for two years.

1960s: Beyond the Fringe

While studying medicine, Miller was involved in the Cambridge Footlights. In 1960, he helped to write and produce a musical revue, Beyond the Fringe, at the Edinburgh Festival. 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 to Broadway in 1962 and took over as editor and presenter of the BBC's flagship arts programme Monitor. All these appointments were unsolicited invitations in which Miller was assured that he would "pick it up as he went along". In 1966, he wrote, produced and directed a film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland for the BBC, followed in 1968 by Whistle and I'll Come to You, an adaptation of M. R. James' 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 West End production of The Merchant of Venice starring Laurence Olivier.

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. Despite only having seen a few operas and not knowing how to read music, Miller has become one of the world's leading opera directors with classic productions being Rigoletto and the operetta The Mikado.

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.[2]

1980s: Shakespeare and neuropsychology

Jonathan Miller at the 1986 Miami Book Fair International.

Miller was persuaded to join the troubled BBC Television Shakespeare project (1978–85) in 1980. 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 States of Mind in 1983. In 1984, he studied neuropsychology with Dr. Sandra Witelson at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada before becoming a neuropsychology research fellow at Sussex University the following year.


In the 1990s, Miller 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. Music for the series was composed by Duncan Browne.

2000s: Atheism

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 May 4, 2007, cosponsored by the American Ethical Union, American Humanist Association, Centre for Inquiry, the HKH Foundation, and the Institute for Humanist Studies.

Return to directing

Miller directed The Cherry Orchard (2007) 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. His 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.

Miller lives in Camden, North London.


  • During the later 1960s, Miller had a major falling-out with the magazine Private Eye that he attributes to implicit anti-semitism.
  • In 1996, The UK Sunday Express newspaper published under the headline "Chronic Bandwagon Disease", Miller's claim that chronic fatigue syndrome, was "the absolutely most fashionable disease", dismissing the illness as a "Chronic Fictitious Sickness".[3]

Honours and accolades

Parodies and representations

  • Private Eye (which had a falling-out with Miller) occasionally lampooned him under the name 'Dr Jonathan', depicting him as a Dr Johnson-like self-important man of learning.
  • The satirical television puppet show Spitting Image portrayed Miller as an anteater (lampooning his large nose), as well as featuring a segment entitled "Talking Bollocks" (the 'A' in 'Talking' combining with the 'ollo' in "Bollocks" below to create a penis), in which he discussed, with Bernard Levin, various cultural matters in a ridiculously pretentious way.
  • In the film for television Not Only But Always about the careers of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Jonathan Aris played Jonathan Miller as a young man; Aris reprised the role in the BBC Radio 4 play Good Evening (2008) by Roy Smiles.


  • Miller, Jonathan (1970). McLuhan. Fontana Modern Masters series.  
  • Miller, Jonathan (1971). Censorship and the Limits of Personal Freedom. Oxford University Press.  
  • Miller, Jonathan (1972). Freud: The Man, His World and His Influence. Weidenfeld and Nicolson.  
  • Miller, Jonathan (1974). The Uses of Pain (Conway memorial lecture). South Place Ethical Society.  
  • Miller, Jonathan (1978). The Body in Question. Jonathan Cape.  
  • Miller, Jonathan (1982). Darwin for Beginners. Writers and Readers Comic Book/2003 Pantheon Books (USA). ISBN 0375714588.  
  • Miller, Jonathan (1983). The Human Body. Viking Press.   (1994 Jonathan Cape [pop-up book])
  • Miller, Jonathan (1983). States of Mind. Conversations with Psychological Investigators. BBC/Random House.  
  • Miller, Jonathan (1984). The Facts of Life. Jonathan Cape.   (pop-up book intended for children)
  • Miller, Jonathan (1986). Subsequent Performances. Faber.  
  • Miller, Jonathan & John Durrant (1989). Laughing Matters: A Serious Look at Humour. Longman.  
  • Miller, Jonathan (1990). Acting in Opera. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books.   (The Applause Acting Series)
  • Miller, Jonathan (1992). The Afterlife of Plays. San Diego State Univ Press.   (University Research Lecture Series No. 5)
  • Miller, Jonathan (1998). Dimensional Man. Jonathan Cape.  
  • Miller, Jonathan (1998). On Reflection. National Gallery Publications/Yale University Press (USA). ISBN 0300077130.  
  • Miller, Jonathan (1999). Nowhere in Particular. Mitchell Beazley. ISBN 184000150X.   [collection of his photographs]
  • Miller, Jonathan (1968). Harvey and the Circulation of Blood: A Collection of Contemporary Documents. Jackdaw Publications.  
  • Miller, Jonathan (1990). Don Giovanni Book. Myths of Seduction and Betrayal. Faber.  
  • Miller, Jonathan; Alan Bennett; Peter Cook; Dudley Moore (1987). The Complete Beyond the Fringe. Methuen. ISBN 0413146707.  
  • Sokol, B.J. (ed.) (1993). The undiscover'd country: New Essays on Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare. Free Association Books. ISBN 185343 1974.   — Jonathan Miller: 'King Lear in Rehearsal: A Talk' and seven other essays
  • Silvers, Robert B. (ed.); Jonathan Miller; Stephen Jay Gould; Daniel J Kevles; RC Lewontin; Oliver Sacks (1997). Hidden Histories of Science. Granta Books.  
  • Silvers, Robert B. (ed.) (2000). Doing It : Five Performing Arts. New York Review of Books (USA). ISBN 0940322757.   Essays by Jonathan Miller Geoffrey O'Brien, Charles Rosen, Tom Stoppard and Garry Wills
Introductions and forewords
  • Lowell, Robert (1966). Old Glory, The: Endecott and the Red Cross; My Kinsman, Major Molineux; and Benito Cereno.   (directors note)
  • Biz, Jim; et al. (1999). More Viz Crap Jokes. John Brown Publishing. ISBN 1902212169.   (introduction)
  • Rothenstein, Julian (2000). The Paradox Box: Optical Illusions, Puzzling Pictures, Verbal Diversions. Redstons Press / Shambhala Publications (USA).  
  • Scotson, Linda (2000). Doran: Child of Courage. Macmillan.  



  • Monitor (1962; also editor).
  • The Body in Question (1978).
  • Madness (1991).
  • Jonathan Miller on Reflection (1998).
  • Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief (2004).




  • BBC. Great Composers of the World.   Miller appears on the Puccini and Bach DVDs of this BBC series. In the Bach episode, he discusses his affection for the famous "Erbarme Dich" aria of the St Matthew Passion.
  • PBS. Vermeer: Master of Light.   Miller appears in this one-hour program on the painter.

Stage productions

Musical revue


  • St. Matthew's Passion (Director; St. George's Theatre, London, February 1994) with Paul Goodwin. A dramatized production of J.S. Bach's masterpiece, recorded for BBC Television.



Further reading

Miller is the subject of a forthcoming biography, In Two Minds by The Independent on Sunday's theatre critic Kate Bassett, due to be published in November 2010. The title refers to Miller's career which has embraced both medicine and the arts, and to his riven feelings and deep regrets about having given up working as a doctor to become an internationally renowned drama and opera director.

Books about Miller

  • Kate Bassett (November 2010 forthcoming). In Two Minds. Methuen.  
  • Ronald Bergan (1990). Beyond the Fringe...and Beyond: A Critical Biography of Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Dudley Moore. Virgin Books. ISBN 1-85227-175-2.  
  • Michael Romain (Ed) (1992). A Profile of Jonathan Miller. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-40953-5.  

On Miller and the satire boom

  • Humphrey Carpenter (2000). That Was Satire, That Was: Beyond the Fringe, the Establishment Club, "Private Eye" and "That Was the Week That Was". Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-575-06588-5.  
  • Robert Hewison (1983). Footlights! - A Hundred Years of Cambridge Comedy. Methuen. ISBN 0-413-51150-2.  
  • Roger Wilmut (1980). From Fringe to Flying Circus - Celebrating a Unique Generation of Comedy 1960-1980. Eyre Methuen. ISBN 0-413-46950-6.  


  1. ^ Who's Who 2009
  2. ^ Allan Horsfall and Ray Gosling (14 March, 2006). "History of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality". Gay Monitor. Retrieved 2008-09-02.  
  3. ^ Jonathan Miller (in) The Sunday Express[1], Foreign News (America), 5th May 1996
  4. ^ Editors (5 September 2006). "Viva el Presidente". New Humanist Newsletter (Issue #72). Retrieved 2008-09-02.  
  5. ^ Title changed to Beyond The Fringe 1964 on 8 January 1964 (a "new edition" of the show). By then Miller had long since left the production.

See also

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Jonathan Miller (born 1934-07-31) is a British theatre director, author and television presenter.


Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief (2004)

The conspicuous absence of the Twin Towers – involving, as it does, the inherent conflicts between Christianity, Islam and Judaism – is, I think, one of the most powerful expressions of religious fanaticism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
  • Perhaps I was too dumb, or just too interested in cricket or in girls, to ask myself any questions about religion. If I had not been, I might have, inevitably, asked myself questions that have troubled skeptics and unbelievers for as long as men and women have been skeptical or have lacked belief. "Is there really no God? And if there really is no supernatural dimension to the universe, why have so many people throughout history and in so many different cultures thought there was?"
    • Episode one: "Shadows of Doubt"
  • Paradoxically, some of the sources of disbelief are to be found amongst the arguments of believers. … Theologians often formulated the most dangerously skeptical arguments in their efforts to test the impregnability of their own faith, and in doing so, they unknowingly furnished atheists with ready-made weapons.
    • Episode one: "Shadows of Doubt"
  • The reason why I feel relatively indifferent to [the Anglican Church of England] is it's lost its power, and it's so desperately keen to solicit support that they're willing to throw God out of the window in order to retain it. God for the many of the Anglicans is nothing more than a sort of awkward geriatric relative, kept upstairs, who might be embarrassingly coming downstairs, incontinently, and cause trouble.
    • Episode one: "Shadows of Doubt"
  • While the early deists were busy reconstructing Christianity, at the same time being very careful to avoid the accusation of atheism, the world of science had been steadily progressing.
    • Episode two: "Noughts and Crosses"
  • Ever since the Reformation, there's a sense in which the road to atheism was paved not with science, but with religious intentions.
    • Episode two: "Noughts and Crosses"
  • Although he never admitted himself to be an atheist as such, he was clearly and unarguably the most vividly elegant and eloquent skeptic of them all. I'm referring, of course, to the great Scottish philosopher David Hume.
    • Episode two: "Noughts and Crosses"
  • There were academics and theologians who spent hours calculating what they thought was the precise age of the Earth, on the basis of the Biblical account of it. And as early as 1650, James Ussher had come to the startlingly precise conclusion that the Earth was created in 4004 B.C. on October the 22nd – in the evening, apparently. What God had been doing that morning is still open to conjecture.
    • Episode three: "The Final Hour"
  • There is one aspect of our own mentality for which it's difficult as yet to foresee what type of explanation would even be relevant. I'm referring, of course, to consciousness. The point is that although I have no reason to believe that my consciousness is implemented by anything other than my brain, I remain convinced that there's something impenetrably mysterious about the relationship between brains and thoughts. And you can understand, therefore, why it's so hard to imagine, let alone tolerate, the idea that the death of the brain necessarily leads to the end of the personal self – and this, of course, is the "trump card" with which religion has consistently played.
    • Episode three: "The Final Hour"

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