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Miller began directing operas in the 1970s. His 1982 production of a "Mafia"-styled Rigoletto was set in 1950s Little Italy, Manhattan. In its early days, he was an associate director at the National Theatre. He later ran the Old Vic Theatre. As a writer and presenter of more than a dozen BBC documentaries, Miller became a television personality and public intellectual in Britain and the United States.
Life and career
Miller grew up in St John's Wood, London, in a well-connected Jewish family. His father Emanuel (1892-1970), who was of Lithuanian descent and suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis, was a military psychiatrist and subsequently a paediatric psychiatrist at Harley House. His mother, Betty Miller (née Spiro), was a novelist and biographer who was originally from County Cork, Ireland. Miller's older sister Sarah (died 2006) worked in television for many years and retained an involvement with Judaism that Miller, as an atheist, always eschewed.
Miller helped to write and produce the musical revueBeyond 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".
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 United States premiere of the Gioachino Rossini's 1819 opera Ermione, directed by Miller.
2000s: Atheism and return to directing
In 2004, Miller wrote and presented a television 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 aired on public television in the United States in 2007.
In January 2009, after a break of 12 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. In April and May 2011, Miller directed Verdi's La Traviata in Vancouver, Canada, and in February and March 2012, Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in Washington, DC.
On 25 November 2015 the University of London awarded Miller an honorary degree in Literature.
Stevie Smith, a friend of his mother Betty Miller, "rather disloyally" included a thinly-disguised and uncomplimentary version of the nine-year-old Miller, "precocious and brattish... constantly demanding attention", 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 BBC Radio Four series The Burkiss Way edition 35, broadcast on 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
In the 1980s a puppet of Miller appeared frequently in Spitting Image sketches, most notably "Bernard Levin and Jonathan Miller Talk Bollocks".
In series 4, episode 6 of Peep Show, Jez is explaining that a "Mellon-Off" involves a competition between men stood with melons on their erections, with the first man whos melon falls off declared the loser. Mark replies, "Right, and who won - Gore Vidal or Dr Jonathan Miller?"
Honours and awards
Special Tony Award (1963), with co-stars Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, "for their brilliance which has shattered all the old concepts of comedy" in the musical revue Beyond the Fringe.
Miller, Jonathan; Alan Bennett; Peter Cook; Dudley Moore (1987). The Complete Beyond the Fringe. Methuen. ISBN0-413-14670-7.
Sokol, B.J. (ed.) (1993). The undiscover'd country: New Essays on Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare. Free Association Books. ISBN1-85343-197-4.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link) - Jonathan Miller: 'King Lear in Rehearsal: A Talk' and seven other essays
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.