Open main menu

Sir Jonathan Wolfe Miller, CBE (born 21 July 1934) is an English theatre and opera director, actor, author, television presenter, humourist, and medical doctor. After training in medicine, and specialising in neurology, in the late 1950s, he came to prominence in the early 1960s in the comedy revue Beyond the Fringe with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett.

Sir Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller appearing on "After Dark", 3 September 1988.jpg
Appearing on TV discussion After Dark in 1988
Jonathan Wolfe Miller

(1934-07-21) 21 July 1934 (age 85)
St John's Wood, London, England
Alma materSt John's College, Cambridge (MB BChir, 1959)
OccupationHumorist, medical doctor, theatre and opera director, actor, television presenter, author
Spouse(s)Rachel Collet (1956–present)
Parent(s)Betty Miller (née Spiro)
Emanuel Miller

Miller began directing operas in the 1970s. A production is his 1982 "Mafia"-styled Rigoletto set in 1950s Little Italy, Manhattan. In its early days he was an associate director at the National Theatre and later ran the Old Vic Theatre. As a writer/presenter of more than a dozen BBC documentaries, he has become a television personality and public intellectual in Britain and the United States.


Early lifeEdit

Miller grew up in St John's Wood, London, in a well-connected Jewish family of Lithuanian descent. His father Emanuel (1892–1970), who suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis, was a military psychiatrist, and subsequently a paediatric psychiatrist in Harley House. His mother Betty Miller (née Spiro) 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.

He was educated at Taunton School[1] and St Paul's School, London[2] where he developed an early (and ultimately lifelong) interest in the biological sciences. While at St Paul's School, at the age of 12, Miller met and became close friends with Oliver Sacks and Oliver's best friend Eric Korn, friendships which remained crucial throughout the rest of their lives, as long as life and mind endured. Miller studied natural sciences and medicine at St John's College, Cambridge (MB BChir, 1959), where he was a member of the Cambridge Apostles, before going on to train at University College Hospital in London.[citation needed]

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 at the Central Middlesex Hospital as house physician for gastroenterologist Dr.(later Sir) Francis Avery Jones.

1960s: Beyond the FringeEdit

Miller (far right) in Beyond the Fringe on Broadway

Miller helped to write and produce the musical revue Beyond the Fringe, which premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in August 1960. 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 from London to Broadway in 1962, and took over as editor and presenter of the BBC's arts programme Monitor in 1965. The Monitor appointment arose because Miller had approached Huw Wheldon about taking up a place on the BBC's director training course. Wheldon assured him that he would "pick it up as he went along".[citation needed]

Miller's first experience of directing a stage-play was for John Osborne, whose Under Plain Cover he directed in 1962.[3] In 1964, he directed the play The Old Glory by the American poet Robert Lowell in New York City. It was the first play produced at the American Place Theatre and starred Frank Langella, Roscoe Lee Brown, and Lester Rawlins. The play won five Obie Awards in 1965 including an award for "Best American Play" as well as awards for Langella, Brown and Rawlins.[4][5][6][7]

He wrote, produced, and directed an adaptation for television of Alice in Wonderland (1966) for the BBC. He followed this with Whistle and I'll Come to You (1968) starring Michael Hordern, a television adaptation of M. R. James's 1904 ghost story "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad". He produced a National Theatre Company production of The Merchant of Venice starring Sir Laurence Olivier. He later resigned as associate director.

1970s: Medical history and operaEdit

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. Miller is an opera director with productions being Rigoletto (in 1975 and 1982) and the operetta The Mikado (in 1987).

Miller drew upon his own experiences as a physician as writer and presenter of the BBC television series The Body in Question (1978),[8] 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.[9]

1980s: Shakespeare and neuropsychologyEdit

In 1980, Miller was persuaded to join the troubled BBC Television Shakespeare project (1978–85). 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, and accompanying book, States of Mind in 1983 and the same year directed Roger Daltrey as Macheath, the outlaw hero of the BBC's production of John Gay's 1728 ballad opera, The Beggar's Opera. He also became chair of Edinburgh Festival Fringe board of directors.[citation needed] In 1984, he studied neuropsychology with Dr. Sandra Witelson at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, before becoming a neuropsychology research fellow at the University of Sussex 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 of language, and complexities surrounding language production, with special focus on sign language used by deaf people. This interest was contemporaneous with his friend Oliver Sacks' immersion in, and writing/publishing a book about Deaf Culture and deaf people entitled Seeing Voices. 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. In 1992, Opera Omaha staged the US premiere of the Gioachino Rossini's 1819 opera Ermione, directed by Miller.

2000s: Atheism and return to directingEdit

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.


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.[10] In April and May 2011, Miller directed Verdi's La Traviata in Vancouver, Canada,[11] and in February and March 2012, Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in Washington, DC.[12]

On 25 November 2015 the University of London awarded Miller an honorary degree in Literature.[13]

Personal lifeEdit

Miller married Rachel Collet in 1956. They have two sons and a daughter.[14] He lives in Camden, north London.[15]

Parodies and representationsEdit

  • Stevie Smith included a thinly-disguised and uncomplimentary version of Miller, aged nine, in her short story 'Beside the Seaside: A Holiday with Children' (1949).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In the BBC Radio Four series The Burkiss Way edition 35, broadcast 2 April 1979, he was impersonated by Nigel Rees in a fairly lengthy parody "The Blood Gushing All over the Screen in Question", in which the history of nasty diseases was traced and the style of Miller's presentation was sent up. It was written by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick.

Honours and awardsEdit



  • 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 0-375-71458-8.
  • 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 0-300-07713-0.
  • Miller, Jonathan (1999). Nowhere in Particular. Mitchell Beazley. ISBN 1-84000-150-X. [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.


Introductions and forewordsEdit

  • Lowell, Robert (1966). Old Glory, The: Endecott and the Red Cross; My Kinsman, Major Molineux; and Benito Cereno. (directors note)
  • 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.



  • "Bridge on the River Wye" (1962 Parlophone LP; as American Announcer, American G.I., American Lieutenant, British Sergeant)






  • In 1988 Miller made an extended appearance on the discussion programme After Dark, described here.
  • 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.

Selected stage productionsEdit

Musical revueEdit




Over four decades, Miller has directed more than 50 operas in cities including London, New York, Florence, Milan, Berlin, Munich, Zurich, Valencia and Tokyo.

Museum and gallery exhibitionsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Bassett, Kate (2012). In Two Minds: a Biography of Jonathan Miller. Oberon Books. p. 336.
  2. ^ "BBC NEWS – Entertainment – Miller: Master of all trades". BBC.
  3. ^ Heilpern, John, John Osborne: A Patriot for Us, 2007, Random House, pp.287.
  4. ^ "Robert Lowell's Benito Cereno Begins Off-Broadway at the Flea Sept. 22". Playbill.
  5. ^ Macmillan. "The Old Glory". Macmillan.
  6. ^ "New York News, Food, Culture and Events". The Village Voice.
  7. ^ "History in Brief // The American Place Theatre".
  8. ^ Closing Credits
  9. ^ Allan Horsfall and Ray Gosling (14 March 2006). "History of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality". Gay Monitor. Archived from the original on 7 December 2008. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
  10. ^ "Letters: Harsh judgments on the pope and religion". The Guardian. London. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  11. ^ "Jonathan Miller's version of La Traviata is Verdi without the vulgarity". Vancouver, Canada. 28 April 2011. Retrieved 30 April 2011.
  12. ^ . Washington DC, USA. 23 February 2012 Retrieved 23 February 2012. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ "University of London conferred highest honours to exceptional individuals". University of London. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  14. ^ PROFILE : JONATHAN MILLER : What's eating the doc? Published by The Independent on 29 January 1995, retrieved on 20 April 2019
  15. ^ "Jonathan Miller's life of happy accidents". New Statesman.
  16. ^ "Honorary Associates". Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  17. ^ Editors (5 September 2006). "Viva el Presidente". New Humanist Newsletter (#72). Archived from the original on 7 December 2008. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
  18. ^ Additionally, Miller was considered for the movie roles of Jim Dixon in Lucky Jim (1957) and Fagin in Oliver! (1968).
  19. ^ Produced 12 plays, directed 6.
  20. ^ 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.

Further readingEdit

  • Kate Bassett (2012). In Two Minds: A Biography of Jonathan Miller. ISBN 978-1-84943-451-5.
  • 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.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • 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.

External linksEdit