Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller
Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller at the 1986 Miami Book Fair International.
Born Jonathan Wolfe Miller
21 July 1934 (1934-07-21) (age 77)
London, U.K.
Spouse Helen Rachel Collet

Sir Jonathan Wolfe Miller CBE (born 21 July 1934) is a British theatre and opera director, author, physician, television presenter, humorist and sculptor. Trained as a physician in the late 1950s, he first came to prominence in the 1960s with his role in the comedy revue Beyond the Fringe with fellow writers and performers Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett. 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 Britain and the United States of America.



Early life

Miller grew up in St John's Wood, London, in a well-connected Jewish family. His father Emanuel,(1892–1970), who suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis, was a paediatric psychiatrist in Harley House. His mother Betty Miller (née Spiro, a Jewish family, 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. (Secondary School not listed). While studying medicine, Miller was involved in the Cambridge Footlights, appearing in the revues Out of the Blue (1954) and Between the Lines (1955). Good reviews for these shows, and for Miller's performances in particular, led to him performing on a number of radio and TV shows while continuing his studies; these included appearances on Saturday Night on the Light, Tonight and Sunday Night at the London Palladium. He qualified as a medical doctor in 1959 and then worked as a hospital house officer for two years; including the Central Middlesex Hospital as HP for Gastroenterologist Dr.(later Sir) Frances Avery Jones.

1960s: Beyond the Fringe

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 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, in which Miller was assured that he would "pick it up as he went along".[citation needed] In 1966, he wrote, produced, and directed a film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland for the BBC. In 1968 he directed Whistle and I'll Come to You starring Michael Hordern, a television adaptation of M. R. James's 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

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 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.

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.

Miller lives in Camden, North London.[citation needed]

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.[3]

In April/May 2011, Miller directed Verdi's La Traviata in Vancouver, Canada,[4]

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 Beatles film Yellow Submarine features a parody of polymath intellectuals in general and Miller in particular: Jeremy Hilary Boob, who describes himself as an "eminent physicist, polyglot classicist, prize-winning botanist, hard-biting satirist, talented pianist, good dentist too."[6]
  • 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.
  • Along with the other members of Beyond the Fringe, he is portrayed in the play Pete and Dud: Come Again, by Chris Bartlett and Nick Awde.


  • Miller, Jonathan (1971). McLuhan. Fontana Modern Masters. 
  • 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). The 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. 



  • One Way Pendulum (1964)


  • Monitor (1962; also editor).
  • The Body in Question (1978).
  • Equinox - Prisoner of Consciousness (1986)
  • Born Talking: A Personal Inquiry into Language (1990).
  • Madness (1991).
  • Equinox - Moving Pictures (1991)
  • Jonathan Miller's Opera Works (1997), 6 episodes.
  • Jonathan Miller on Reflection (1998).
  • Absolute Rubbish with Jonathan Miller (2004)
  • Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief (2004).
  • The Atheism Tapes (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 Passion (Director; St. George's Theatre, London, February 1994) with Paul Goodwin. A dramatised production of J.S. Bach's masterpiece, recorded for BBC Television.This production was also revived at London's National Theatre in September/October 2011 with Southbank Sinfonia, conducted by Paul Goodwin.



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 2011. 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.[citation needed]

Books about Miller

  • Kate Bassett (2011 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. 

See also


  1. ^ Who's Who 2009
  2. ^ Allan Horsfall and Ray Gosling (14 March 2006). "History of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality". Gay Monitor. Retrieved 2 September 2008. 
  3. ^ "Letters: Harsh judgments on the pope and religion". The Guardian (London). 15 September 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  4. ^ "Jonathan Miller's version of La Traviata is Verdi without the vulgarity". Vancouver, Canada. 28 April 2011. Retrieved 30 April 2011. 
  5. ^ Editors (5 September 2006). "Viva el Presidente". New Humanist Newsletter (#72). Retrieved 2 September 2008. 
  6. ^ Hieronimus, Robert (2001). Inside the Yellow Submarine. ISBN 0-87349-360-5. 
  7. ^ 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.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Jonathan Miller — en 1986, Miami Book Fair International. Sir Jonathan Wolfe Miller (Londres, 21 de julio de 1934) es un director de teatro y ópera, escritor, ensayista, presentador, escultor, humorista, médico y psiquiatra inglés. Uno de los intelectuales y… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Jonathan Miller — Données clés Nationalité  États Unis Né le 14 mars 1993, East Palestine (États Unis) Taille …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Jonathan Miller — ➡ Miller (IV) * * * …   Universalium

  • Jonathan Miller (politician) — Jonathan Miller (b July 24, 1967) is a politician from the Commonwealth of Kentucky currently serving as Secretary for the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet, assuming that post in December, 2007. Prior to this appointment, Miller served …   Wikipedia

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  • Jonathan Miller (disambiguation) — Jon or Jonathan Miller may refer to:* Jonathan Miller (born 1934), English physician, theatre opera director and television presenter * Jonathan Miller (America Online), the former chairman and CEO of AOL * Jonathan Miller (journalist), formerly… …   Wikipedia

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  • Miller (Familienname) — Miller ist ein Familienname, der im englischsprachigen Raum selten auch als Vorname vorkommt. Herkunft und Bedeutung Miller ist die englische Variante des deutschen Familiennamens „Müller“ oder „Müllner“ und eine häufige regionale (bayrischer und …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • MILLER, EMANUEL — (1893–1970), English psychiatrist. Born in London, Miller studied medicine at Cambridge University and the London Hospital and lectured in psychology at Cambridge for a brief period after 1924. He became a psychiatric specialist in 1940 and in… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism