JONATHAN MILLER:

The man of many tal­ents who first made his name in Be­yond The Fringe talks to Nick to di­rect a play for York­shire’s North­ern Broad­sides.

Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine - - The Big Inter View -

OME­TIMES you can do all the prep in the world and noth­ing really pre­pares you for an in­ter­view.

Es­pe­cially one with Sir Jonathan Miller.

For a start there’s the fact that it is be­yond the wit of most men to un­der­stand all the work he has ac­com­plished in so many fields.

He has di­rected op­eras on some of the world’s grand­est stages and won awards for do­ing so. His tele­vi­sion pre­sent­ing is recog­nised as some of the most in­tel­lec­tu­ally rig­or­ous ever com­mit­ted to film. He di­rects plays with foren­sic in­ten­sity and rev­o­lu­tionised satire in the 1960s with his univer­sity bud­dies in Be­yond the Fringe.

His books on phi­los­o­phy, art and the craft of the­atre re­quire a se­ri­ous de­gree of ef­fort to grasp. Then there’s the fact that he is a qual­i­fied physi­cian.

But the sheer breadth and depth of Sir Jonathan’s tal­ents is not the only rea­son prepa­ra­tion goes out the win­dow when we meet on the steps of his sprawl­ing house a stone’s throw from an out­door mar­ket in Cam­den. As I round the cor­ner, he’s on the top step, his long legs crossed to­gether, lit cig­a­rette in hand.

“Are you the chap who’s here to in­ter­view me?” he wants to know. Yes. “Tell me, where are you from? You don’t look English.”

I’ve been bowled straighter open­ing de­liv­er­ies.

He also wants to know if I’m Mus­lim and be­gins to ex­plain how re­li­gious ex­trem­ism is the great and dan­ger­ous evil of our age (oh, he’s also pres­i­dent of the Ra­tio­nal­ist As­so­ci­a­tion). All the prep in the world isn’t go­ing to help.

In­side, his front room is lined floor to ceil­ing, wall to wall, with books. You get the feel­ing that there’s not a sin­gle vol­ume that hasn’t been leafed through, thor­oughly. It feels a lit­tle like be­ing on a set for Bernard Shaw’s Pyg­malion, with Pro­fes­sor Miller there to ed­u­cate.

While I’m there to talk largely about the­atre (he’s di­rect­ing a new pro­duc­tion for North­ern Broad­sides that opens in Fe­bru­ary), the “in­ter­view” is es­sen­tially an hour-and-a-half-long per­sonal lec­ture.

Back to that open­ing ques­tion on the doorstep. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked where I’m from, but it’s the first time I’ve been asked it in the man­ner that he asks it. Sir Jonathan doesn’t pause for a moment to con­sider if there is any in­sult or in­jury in the ques­tion. He’s cu­ri­ous about some­thing and wants an­swers in the most ex­pe­di­ent man­ner pos­si­ble.

He’s 78 now and has had the same in­quis­i­tive na­ture ever since he was a boy. “When peo­ple look, as it were, racially ‘dif­fer­ent’, peo­ple are em­bar­rassed to ask the ques­tion ‘where do you come from?’ Well okay, peo­ple look dif­fer­ent but we are all the same species and can in­ter-breed and the more we in­ter-breed the bet­ter it is,” he says in a more mat­ter-of-fact man­ner than you can imag­ine.

IN­TENSE: Miller has brought in­tel­lec­tual rigour to ev­ery­thing he tries his hand at, from broad­cast­ing to di­rect­ing opera.

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