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Michael Keith Billington (born 16 November 1939) is a Britishmarker author and arts critic. Drama critic of The Guardian since October 1971, he is "Britain's longest-serving theatre critic" and the author of biographical and critical studies relating to British theatre and the arts; most notably, he is the authorised biographer of playwright Harold Pinter (1930–2008).

Billington blogs for and formerly also for

Personal history and education

Billington was born on 16 November 1939, in Leamington Spamarker, Warwickshiremarker, England, and attended Warwick Schoolmarker, an independent boys' school in Warwickmarker. He earned a BA from St Catherine's College, Oxfordmarker (1958–1961), which later conferred upon him the honorary degrees of MA (1967) and Honorary Fellow.

Billington married Jeanine Bradlaugh in 1978; they have one daughter and live in Londonmarker.


After graduation from Oxford, in 1961, Billington began working as an arts critic in Liverpoolmarker, for the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo. From 1962 to 1964, he served as public liaison officer and director for the Lincoln Theatre Company, in Lincolnshiremarker. From 1965 to 1971, he reviewed television, movies, and plays as an arts critic for The Times; from 1968 to 1978, he was also film reviewer for the Birmingham Post, and from 1968 to 1981, for The Illustrated London News. In October 1971, he left The Times to become theatre critic for The Guardian. Beginning in the 1980s, he was a London arts correspondent for The New York Times, and, since 1988, he has also served as drama critic for Country Life.

Theatre work

As a member of Oxford University Dramatic Society, in 1959, Billington played "The Priest" in The Birds, by Aristophanes, his only appearance as an actor, and, in 1960, he directed a production of Eugène Ionesco's The Bald Prima Donna, a performance of which was attended by Harold Hobson, the drama critic for The Sunday Times. Though it won "an Oxford drama competition" and was an entry in that year's National Student Drama Festival ("NSDF 1960"), which Hobson had co-founded in 1956, Billington's directorial debut was not well received at the Festival, yet Billington credits Hobson with having "changed my life." After the Festival, he decided to forego pursuing a career as a theatre practitioner to "follow" Hobson's "footsteps" and become a critic of theatre too; five years later, they would become colleagues at The Times.

As a director his work also includes The Will by Marivaux at the Barbican Conservatorymarker, London, with an ensemble from the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987; Pinter's The Lover and Strindberg's The Stronger at the Battersea Arts Centremarker in 1997, and in 2008 at the MacOwan Theatre, Kensington, Pinter's Party Time and Celebration with students from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Artmarker.

Media work

Billington has been a presenter on Critics Forum and Kaleidoscope (now Front Row), both broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and contributed regularly to other Britishmarker arts and drama radio and television programmes.

Academic work and conferences

Billington has taught in the University of Pennsylvaniamarker's Penn English Program in London since 2006, and he teaches courses in theatre at King's College Londonmarker, where he has been a visiting professor since 2002.

After attending the December 2005 Nobel Banquet, in Stockholmmarker, on the occasion of Harold Pinter's being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, Billington attended the international symposium Pinter: Passion, Poetry, Politics, which he had organised, in part celebrating Pinter's being awarded the Europe Theatre Prize, in Turinmarker, Italy, in March 2006.

In April 2007, Billington presented an invited paper on "Is British Theatre As Good As It Claims?" to the Elizabethan Club, at Yale Universitymarker, in New Haven, Connecticutmarker, prior to moderating a panel discussion at the conference Artist and Citizen: 50 Years of Performing Pinter", at the University of Leedsmarker, where he attended and later reviewed the production Being Harold Pinter, by the Belarus Free Theatre.

Biographical and critical studies

The author of several biographical and critical studies of subjects relating to British theatre and the arts, including books about Peggy Ashcroft (1907–1991), Tom Stoppard (1937– ), and Alan Ayckbourn (1939– ), Billington is also the official authorised biographer of 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature Harold Pinter (1930–2008).

In March 2007 Faber and Faber published Billington's book State of the Nation: British Theatre Since 1945, which won the 2007 annual Theatre Book Prize from The Society for Theatre Research, presented to Billington by Sir Donald Sinden on 1 April 2008. Billington has spoken about the book at various venues, including the Warwick Arts Centremarker, at the University of Warwickmarker, and has reviewed his reviews.

In 2007 Faber and Faber published both Harold Pinter, the revised and updated edition of Billington's 1996 critical biography The Life and Work of Harold Pinter, and his award-winning State of the Nation: British Theatre Since 1945.

Following Pinter's death on 24 December 2008, The Bookseller reported that Faber and Faber plans "to rush out an updated version" of Harold Pinter, "which will take account of the international response to Pinter's death, ... at the end of January [2009]" and that it "will be released first as an e-book."



  1. Online site: Who's Who 2008. Accessed June 6, 2008.
  2. [Schedules of past academic semesters listed in reverse chronological order].
  3. (7 moderated comments, with "comments now closed.")
  4. [Book rev.]


Books by Billington
  • The Modern Actor. London: Hamilton, 1973. ISBN 0241020948 (10). ISBN 9780241020944 (13).
  • How Tickled I Am: A Celebration of Ken Dodd. London: Elm Tree Books, 1977. ISBN 0241893453 (10). ISBN 9780241893456 (13).
  • Alan Ayckbourn. London: Macmillan, 1984. ISBN 0394538560 (10). ISBN 9780394538563 (13). Rev. ed. 1990. ISBN 0394620518 (10). ISBN 9780394620510 (13).
  • Stoppard: The Playwright. London: Methuen, 1987. ISBN 0413458504 (13). ISBN 9780413458506 (13). ISBN 0413458601 (10). ISBN 9780413458605 (13).
  • Peggy Ashcroft. London: John Murray, 1988. ISBN 071954436X (10). ISBN 9780719544361 (13).
  • Approaches to Twelfth Night. London: Nick Hern Books, 1990. ISBN 1854590073 (10). ISBN 9781854590077 (13). (Editor.)
  • One Night Stands: A Critic's View of British Theatre 1971–1991. London: Nick Hern Books, 1993. ISBN 1854591851 (10). ISBN 9781854591852 (13). (Collection of reprinted revs.)
  • The Life and Work of Harold Pinter. London: Faber and Faber, 1996. ISBN 0571171036 (10). ISBN 9780571171033 (13). 1997 [paperback] ed. ISBN 0571190650 (10). ISBN 978057119065 (13). (Rev. as Harold Pinter in 2007.)
  • Stage and Screen Lives. London: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0198604076 (10). ISBN 9780198604075 (13). (Editor.)
  • Harold Pinter. London: Faber and Faber, 2007. ISBN 0571171036 (10). ISBN 978-0571171033 (13). (Rev. & updated [paperback] ed. of The Life and Work of Harold Pinter [1997].)
  • State of the Nation: British Theatre since 1945. London: Faber and Faber, 2007. ISBN 0571210341 (10). ISBN 9780571210343 (13).

Book reviews

Biographical profiles

Media participation and clips

External links

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