Michael Frayn

Michael Frayn
Michael Frayn
Born 8 September 1933 (1933-09-08) (age 78)
London, United Kingdom
Occupation Reporter, columnist, novelist, playwright, screenwriter
Nationality England
Period 1962 -
Genres Farce, Historical fiction, Philosophy

Michael J. Frayn (born 8 September 1933) is an English playwright and novelist. He is best known as the author of the farce Noises Off and the dramas Copenhagen and Democracy. His novels, such as Towards the End of the Morning, Headlong and Spies, have also been critical and commercial successes, making him one of the handful of writers in the English language to succeed in both drama and prose fiction. His works often raise philosophical questions in a humorous context. Frayn's wife is Claire Tomalin, the biographer and literary journalist.


Early life

Frayn was born to a deaf asbestos salesman [1] in Mill Hill,[2] a suburb of London, grew up in Ewell, Surrey and was educated at Kingston Grammar School. Following two years of National Service, during which he learned Russian at the Joint Services School for Linguists, Frayn read Moral Sciences (Philosophy) at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, graduating in 1957. He then worked as a reporter and columnist for The Guardian and The Observer, where he established a reputation as a satirist and comic writer, and began publishing his plays and novels.


The play Copenhagen deals with a historical event, a 1941 meeting between the Danish physicist Niels Bohr and his protege, the German Werner Heisenberg, when Denmark is under German occupation, and Heisenberg is - maybe? - working on the development of an atomic bomb. Frayn was attracted to the topic because it seemed to 'encapsulate something about the difficulty of knowing why people do what they do and there is a parallel between that and the impossibility that Heisenberg established in physics, about ever knowing everything about the behaviour of physical objects'.[3] The play explores various possibilities.

Frayn's more recent play Democracy ran successfully in London (the National Theatre, 2003-4 and West End transfer), Copenhagen and on Broadway (Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 2004-5); it dramatised the story of the German chancellor Willy Brandt and his personal assistant, the East German spy Günter Guillaume. Five years later, again at the National Theatre, it was followed by Afterlife, a biographical drama of the life of the great Austrian impresario Max Reinhardt, director of the Salzburg Festival, which opened at the Lyttelton Theatre in June 2008, starring Roger Allam as Reinhardt.[4]

His other original plays include two evenings of short plays, The Two of Us and Alarms and Excursions, the philosophical comedies Alphabetical Order, Benefactors, Clouds, Make and Break and Here, and the farces Donkeys' Years, Balmoral (also known as Liberty Hall), and Noises Off, which critic Frank Rich in his book The Hot Seat claimed "is, was, and probably always will be the funniest play written in my lifetime."

Spies book cover

He has written a number of novels, including, Headlong (shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize), The Tin Men (won the 1966 Somerset Maugham Award), The Russian Interpreter (1967, Hawthornden Prize) Towards the End of the Morning, Sweet Dreams, A Landing on the Sun, A Very Private Life and Now You Know. The most recent, Spies, won the Whitbread Prize for Fiction in 2002. He has also written a book about philosophy, Constructions, and a book of his own philosophy, The Human Touch.

His columns for The Guardian and The Observer (collected in The Day of the Dog, The Book of Fub and On the Outskirts) are models of the comic essay; in the 1980s a number of them were adapted and performed for BBC Radio 4 by Martin Jarvis.

He has also written screenplays for the film Clockwise, starring John Cleese, and the TV series Making Faces, starring Eleanor Bron.

He is now considered to be Britain's finest translator of Anton Chekhov - adapting the four major plays (The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard) as well as an early untitled work, which he titled Wild Honey (other translations of the work have called it Platonov or Don Juan in the Russian Manner) and a number of Chekhov's smaller plays for an evening called The Sneeze (originally performed on the West End by Rowan Atkinson).

He also translated Yuri Trifonov's play Exchange, Leo Tolstoy's The Fruits of Enlightenment, and Jean Anouilh's Number One.

In 1980, he presented the Australian journey of Great Railway Journeys of the World for the BBC. His journey took him from Sydney to Perth on the Indian Pacific with side visits to the Lithgow Zig Zag and a journey on The Ghan's old route from Maree to Alice Springs shortly before the opening of the new line from Tarcoola to Alice Springs.


  • 1966: Somerset Maugham Award for The Tin Men
  • 1975: London Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy, for Alphabetical Order
  • 1976: Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy, for Donkeys' Years*
  • 1980: London Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy for Make and Break
  • 1982: London Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy, for Noises Off
  • 1982: Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy, for Noises Off
  • 1984: London Evening Standard Award for Best Play, for Benefactors
  • 1986: New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Foreign Play of the 1985-86 Season for Benefactors
  • 1990: International Emmy Award for First and Last
  • 1991: Sunday Express Book of the Year, for A Landing on the Sun
  • 1998: Critics' Circle Theatre Awards for Best New Play, for Copenhagen
  • 1998: London Evening Standard Award for Best Play, for Copenhagen
  • 2000: Tony Award for Best Play (USA) for Copenhagen
  • 2000: New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Foreign Play of the 1999-2000 Season for Copenhagen
  • 2002: Whitbread Best Novel Award for Spies (the overall Whitbread Prize went to his wife, Claire Tomalin)
  • 2003: Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Eurasia Region) for Spies
  • 2003: London Evening Standard Award for Best Play, for Democracy
  • 2006: St. Louis Literary Award




Black and Silver, Mr. Foot, Chinamen, and The new Quixote


  • The Day of the Dog, articles reprinted from The Guardian (1962).
  • The Book of Fub, articles reprinted from The Guardian (1963).
  • On the Outskirts, articles reprinted from The Observer (1964).
  • At Bay in Gear Street, articles reprinted from The Observer (1967).
  • The Original Michael Frayn, a collection of the above four, plus nineteen new Observer pieces.
  • Speak After the Beep: Studies in the Art of Communicating with Inanimate and Semi-animate Objects, articles reprinted from The Guardian (1995).
  • Constructions, a volume of philosophy (1974).
  • Celia's Secret: An Investigation (US title The Copenhagen Papers ), with David Burke (2000).
  • The Human Touch: Our part in the creation of the universe (2006).
  • Stage Directions: Writing on Theatre, 1970-2008 (2008), his path into theatre and a collection of the introductions to his plays.
  • Travels with a Typewriter (2009), a collection of Frayn's travel pieces from the 1960s and 70s from the Guardian and the Observer.
  • My Father's Fortune: A Life (2010), a memoir of Frayn's childhood.


External links

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