Michael Keith Billington
(born November 16
) is a British author
and arts critic
. He lives in London
, has been drama
critic of The Guardian
since October 1971, and is "Britain's longest-serving theatre critic."
Author of several biographical and critical studies of subjects relating to British theatre and the arts, including books about Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Sir Tom Stoppard, and Sir Alan Ayckbourn, he is the official biographer of 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature Harold Pinter. In 2007 Faber and Faber published both Harold Pinter, the revised and updated edition of Billington's 1996 critical biography The Life and Work of Harold Pinter, and his award-winning State of the Nation: British Theatre Since 1945.
Billington blogs for both guardian.co.uk and Whatsonstage.com.
Personal life and education
Billington was born on November 16
, in Leamington Spa
, Warwickshire, England
, and attended Warwick School
, an independent boys' school in Warwick
. He earned a BA
from St Catherine's College, Oxford
(1958–1961), which later conferred upon him the honorary degrees
(1967) and Honorary Fellow
. As a member of Oxford University Dramatic Society
, in 1959, he played "The Priest" in The Birds
, by Aristophanes
, his only appearance as an actor, and, in 1960, he directed a production of Eugène Ionesco
's The Bald Prima Donna
, a performance of which was attended by Harold Hobson
, the drama critic for The Sunday Times
. Though it won "an Oxford drama competition" and was an entry in that year's National Student Drama Festival
("NSDF 1960"), which Hobson had co-founded in 1956, Billington's directorial debut was not well received at the Festival, yet Billington credits Hobson with having "changed my life." After the Festival, he decided to forego pursuing a career as a theatre practitioner to "follow" Hobson's "footsteps" and become a critic of theatre too; five years later, they would become colleagues at The Times
Billington married Jeanine Bradlaugh in 1978; they have one daughter.
After graduation from Oxford, in 1961, Billington began working as an arts critic
, for the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo
. From 1962 to 1964, he served as public liaison officer and director for the Lincoln Theatre Company
, in Lincolnshire
. From 1965 to 1971, he reviewed television, movies, and plays as an arts critic for The Times
; from 1968 to 1978, he was also film reviewer for the Birmingham Post
, and from 1968 to 1981, for The Illustrated London News
. In October 1971, he left The Times
to become theatre critic for The Guardian
. Beginning in the 1980s, he was a London arts correspondent for The New York Times
, and, since 1988, he has also served as drama critic for Country Life
Billington has been a presenter on Critics Forum and Kaleidoscope (now Front Row), both broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and contributed regularly to other British arts and drama radio and television programmes.
Billington has taught in the University of Pennsylvania's Penn English Program in London since 2006, and he teaches courses in theatre at King's College London, where he has been a visiting professor since 2002.
After attending the December 2005 Nobel Banquet, in Stockholm, on the occasion of Harold Pinter's being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, Billington attended the international symposium "Pinter: Passion, Poetry, Politics", which he had organised, in part celebrating Pinter's being awarded the Europe Theatre Prize, in Turin, Italy, in March 2006.
In March 2007 Faber and Faber published Billington's book State of the Nation: British Theatre Since 1945, which won the 2007 annual Theatre Book Prize from The Society for Theatre Research, presented to Billington by Sir Donald Sinden on April 1, 2008. Billington has spoken about the book at various venues, including the Warwick Arts Centre, at the University of Warwick, and has reviewed his reviews.
In April 2007, Billington presented an invited paper on "Is British Theatre As Good As It Claims?" to the Elizabethan Club, at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut, prior to moderating a panel discussion at the conference "Artist and Citizen: 50 Years of Performing Pinter", at the University of Leeds, where he attended and later reviewed the production Being Harold Pinter, by the Belarus Free Theatre.
Books by Billington
- The Modern Actor. London: Hamilton, 1973. ISBN 0241020948 (10). ISBN 9780241020944 (13).
- How Tickled I Am: A Celebration of Ken Dodd. London: Elm Tree Books, 1977. ISBN 0241893453 (10). ISBN 9780241893456 (13).
- Alan Ayckbourn. London: Macmillan, 1984. ISBN 0394538560 (10). ISBN 9780394538563 (13). Rev. ed. 1990. ISBN 0394620518 (10). ISBN 9780394620510 (13).
- Stoppard: The Playwright. London: Methuen, 1987. ISBN 0413458504 (13). ISBN 9780413458506 (13). ISBN 0413458601 (10). ISBN 9780413458605 (13).
- Peggy Ashcroft. London: John Murray, 1988. ISBN 071954436X (10). ISBN 9780719544361 (13).
- Approaches to Twelfth Night. London: Nick Hern Books, 1990. ISBN 1854590073 (10). ISBN 9781854590077 (13). (Editor.)
- One Night Stands: A Critic's View of British Theatre 1971–1991. London: Nick Hern Books, 1993. ISBN 1854591851 (10). ISBN 9781854591852 (13). (Collection of reprinted revs.)
- The Life and Work of Harold Pinter. London: Faber and Faber, 1996. ISBN 0571171036 (10). ISBN 9780571171033 (13). 1997 [paperback] ed. ISBN 0571190650 (10). ISBN 978057119065 (13). (Rev. as Harold Pinter in 2007.)
- Stage and Screen Lives. London: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0198604076 (10). ISBN 9780198604075 (13). (Editor.)
- Harold Pinter. London: Faber and Faber, 2007. ISBN 0571171036 (10). ISBN 978-0571171033 (13). (Rev. & updated [paperback] ed. of The Life and Work of Harold Pinter .)
- State of the Nation: British Theatre since 1945. London: Faber and Faber, 2007. ISBN 0571210341 (10). ISBN 9780571210343 (13).Biographical profiles
- "Billington, Michael". Who's Who 2007: An Annual Biographical Dictionary. London: A & C Black (Bloomsbury Publishing), 2007. ISBN 0713675276 (10). ISBN 9780713675276 (13). (159th ed.) Online site: Who's Who 2008. Accessed June 6, 2008.
- "Featured Alumni: Michael Billington: Author and Arts Critic, St Catherine's College" University of Oxford. alumni.ox.ac.uk. Last updated October 29, 2007. Accessed June 8, 2008.
- "Michael Billington". Contemporary Writers in the UK. British Council, © Copyright, 2007. Accessed June 6, 2008. (Searchable database.)
- Sleeman, Elizabeth. "Billington, Michael". International Who's Who of Authors and Writers 2004. London:Routledge, 2003. 55. ISBN 1857431790 (10).Media participation and clips
- "Michael Billington" – On the BBC, including "Results from BBC Audio & Video" (RealMedia audio clips). Accessed June 8, 2008.
- "Michael Billington: Q&A" Pinter at the BBC. BBC Four. November 6, 2002. Accessed June 8, 2008. ("Harold Pinter's biographer Michael Billington answered your questions about the playwright on Wednesday 6 November 2002.")