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Sir Jonathan Wolfe Miller, CBE (born 21 July 1934) is a Britishmarker 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 Broadwaymarker. Despite having seen only a few operas and not knowing how to read music, he began stage directing operas in the 1970s and has since become one of the world's leading opera directors with several classic productions to his credit. (Probably best known is his 1982 "Mafia" Rigoletto, set in Little Italy.) Along the way he has also become a well known and engaging television personality and familiar public intellectual in both the UK and the US.


Early life

Miller grew up in St John's Woodmarker, Londonmarker 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. His sister Sarah (d. 2006) worked in television for many years and retained an involvement with Judaism that her brother, an atheist, has always eschewed.

Miller married Helen Rachel Collet in 1956; they have two sons and a daughter.

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

1960s: Beyond the Fringe

He was, however, also involved in the university drama society and the Cambridge Footlights and in 1960 he helped write and produce a musical revue, Beyond the Fringe, at the Edinburgh Festival which launched the careers of Alan Bennett, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Miller quit the show shortly after its move to Broadwaymarker in 1962 and took over as editor and presenter of the BBC's flagship arts programme Monitor. All of 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, and in 1968 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 the British theatre world was such that he mounted a West Endmarker 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, Londonmarker from 1970 to 1973. In 1974, he also started directing and producing operas for Kent Opera and Glyndebournemarker, with 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, he has become one of the world's leading opera directors with classic productions being Rigoletto and (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.

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 Universitymarker in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada before becoming a neuropsychology research fellow at Sussex Universitymarker 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 series on atheism, Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief (on-screen title; but more commonly referred to as Jonathan Miller's Brief History of Disbelief) for BBC Four TV, 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 individually 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, Sheffieldmarker, 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 Tokyomarker 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 Museummarker. 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, he returned to the English National Opera after a break of twelve years to direct his own production of La Bohème, notable for its 1930s setting.

Miller lives in Camdenmarker, North London.


  • During the later 1960s, Miller had a major falling-out with the magazine Private Eyemarker 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".

Honours and accolades

Parodies and representations

  • Private Eyemarker (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.


  • (1994 Jonathan Cape [pop-up book])
  • (pop-up book intended for children)
  • (The Applause Acting Series)
  • (University Research Lecture Series No. 5)
  • [collection of his photographs]



Introductions and forewords
  • (directors note)
  • (introduction)






  • 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
  • Miller appears in this one-hour program on the painter

Stage productions

Musical revue




Further reading

Miller is the subject of a forthcoming biography, In Two Minds by The Independent on Sunday's theatre critic Kate Bassett, 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

On Miller and the satire boom


  1. Who's Who 2009
  2. Jonathan Miller (in) The Sunday Express[1], Foreign News (America), 5th May 1996
  3. 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

Other BBC shows

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