Jonathan Miller: he may be multi-talented but call him a Renaissance man at your peril

Jonathan Miller: Photograph by Hattie Miles
Jonathan Miller: Photograph by Hattie Miles

The multi-faceted career of Jonathan Miller has long been a source of fascination to the media. Doctor, satirist, author, sculptor, TV producer, populariser of science and director of theatre, film and opera – there seems no end to his talents but call him a Renaissance man at your peril.

Miller hates glib labels and points out with evident satisfaction that most people who call him a Renaissance man have little or no knowledge of the Renaissance. This is not a pronouncement that actually means a great deal neither is it one that anybody is likely to argue with. Jonathan Miller can be famously grumpy and he never seems to mind being known as someone who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

This, I suspect, is simply a form of protection. It keeps quite a lot of people at bay. In fact if you have something sensible to say Jonathan Miller is utterly straight forward. I believe it genuinely baffles him that there are those who want to meet him just because he’s famous. Jonathan of course initially found his way into the limelight back in the early 1960s when, alongside fellow Oxbridge alumni Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett, he helped create the groundbreaking satirical revue Beyond the Fringe. He thoroughly enjoyed himself for a while but soon found that the cult of celebrity, which even half-a-century ago was becoming a thorough nuisance, would attract idiots and worse still, idiotic questions.

Miller soon tired of such fripperies and moved on to other things. Most importantly there was his medical training to consider. So it is that, at 78, Jonathan Miller enjoys a reputation as a polymath who is both a leading theatre director and an eminent neuropsychologist. Quite a rare combination! He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and a Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He’s also a delightful wit and an impressive mimic.

Jonathan Miller is currently directing a highly acclaimed revival of Githa Sowerbury’s ‘lost’ 1912 play Rutherford and Son which is touring the UK until 1st June. Based loosely on the Sowerbury  family’s own glassworks on Tyneside, the play was originally staged at The Royal Court. Highly critical of the exploitative system of capitalism that drove industry and striking an early blow for feminism, it was controversial stuff.  Almost inevitably it was soon forgotten – airbrushed from theatre history for decades. Thanks partly to Jonathan Miller, it is now back.

Tomorrow evening An Audience With Jonathan Miller will find him at The Gulbenkian Theatre at the  University of Kent in Canterbury. A chance to hear the good Dr Miller talk about his fascinating life and career and ask him questions during a Q&A session.

Further info  about the Gulbenkian at



Author: Jeremy Miles

Writer, journalist, photographer, arts and theatre critic and occasional art historian.

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