Jonathan Miller, writer and director, dies aged 85

Polymath was also a doctor and a member of the Beyond the Fringe comedy team

Jonathan Miller: ‘one of the most important figures in British theatre and opera of the past half-century’. Photograph: Graham Stark/Hulton/Getty

Jonathan Miller: ‘one of the most important figures in British theatre and opera of the past half-century’. Photograph: Graham Stark/Hulton/Getty

 

Jonathan Miller, the English writer, theatre and opera director, and member of the Beyond the Fringe comedy team, has died at the age of 85.

The Cambridge-educated polymath, who first found fame in the early 1960s in the revue Beyond the Fringe with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett after giving up a career as a doctor, made his directing debut in 1962 with John Osborne’s Under Plain Cover.

He went on to direct theatre and television plays, including The Merchant of Venice at the British National Theatre and six of the BBC Television Shakespeare plays, and had a four-decade relationship with the English National Opera.

His Royal Opera production of Così Fan Tutte was a staple of the repertory for nearly 20 years, and he was also acclaimed as an author, artist, photographer, sculptor and television presenter, as well as artistic director of the Old Vic theatre.

His family said in a statement: “Our father died this morning, peacefully at home, with his family around him, following a long battle with Alzheimer’s. He was 85 and leaves his wife, Rachel, and children, Tom, William and Kate. His death is a great loss to our family and to his friends and will leave a huge hole in our lives.”

Oliver Mears, director of opera at the Royal Opera House, said: “Jonathan Miller was one of the most important figures in British theatre and opera of the past half-century. Combining a supreme intellect with a consistently irreverent perspective, formed from his experiences in both comedy and medicine, Miller shone a unique light on our art form.

“His intolerance of inauthenticity and laziness on stage was matched by the urgency and rigour of his search for the composer’s vision, historical accuracy and psychological truth – resulting in so many productions which have stood the test of time.

“As artistic director of the Old Vic, he also gave some of our most brilliant practitioners their first chance – a legacy that lives on today. He will be sorely missed.”

The BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, said: “Jonathan Miller was a creative genius whose imagination knew no bounds... He brought arts and culture to millions on the BBC.” – PA