Michael Billington (critic)
Michael Billington, 22 April 2010
|Born||Michael Keith Billington
16 November 1939
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England
|Notable work(s)||Harold Pinter (The Life and Work of Harold Pinter)
State of the Nation: British Theatre Since 1945
|Notable award(s)||Theatre Book Prize|
|Spouse(s)||Jeanine Bradlaugh (1978– )|
Michael Keith Billington OBE (born 16 November 1939) is a British author and arts critic. Drama critic of The Guardian since October 1971, he is "Britain's longest-serving theatre critic" and the author of biographical and critical studies relating to British theatre and the arts; most notably, he is the authorised biographer of the playwright Harold Pinter (1930–2008).
Early life and education
Billington was born on 16 November 1939, in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England, and attended Warwick School, an independent boys' school in Warwick. He attended St Catherine's College, Oxford from 1958 to 1961, graduating with a BA degree.
As a member of Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS), in 1959, Billington 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. Although 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.
After leaving Oxford, in 1961, Billington began working as an arts critic in Liverpool, 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 was a presenter (and participant) in Critics Forum (Radio 3), which ended in 1990, and the Kaleidoscope arts programme (Radio 4), and has contributed to other British arts and drama radio and television programmes.
Academic work and conferences
Billington has taught in the University of Pennsylvania's Penn-in-London program since at least as early as 1997, 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 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.
Biographical and critical studies
The author of several biographical and critical studies of subjects relating to British theatre and the arts, including books about Peggy Ashcroft (1907–1991), Tom Stoppard (born 1937), and Alan Ayckbourn (born 1939), Billington is also the official authorised biographer of 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature Harold Pinter (1930–2008) which first appeared in 1996.
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 1 April 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.
Following Pinter's death on 24 December 2008, The Bookseller reported that Faber and Faber plans "to rush out an updated version" of Harold Pinter, "which will take account of the international response to Pinter's death, ... at the end of January " and that it "will be released first as an e-book."
As a director his work also includes The Will by Marivaux at the Barbican Conservatory, London, with an ensemble from the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987; Pinter's The Lover and Strindberg's The Stronger at the Battersea Arts Centre in 1997, and in 2008 at the MacOwan Theatre, Kensington, Pinter's Party Time and Celebration with students from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
In popular culture
In fiction, Billington's name was introduced in Death of a Hollow Man by Caroline Graham, later adapted as for the Midsomer Murders television mystery series, in which DCI John Barnaby coaxes deluded local director, and double murderer, Harold Winstanly into accompanying him to the police station by suggesting Michael Billington and journalists from various respectable publications would be waiting to discuss his work.
- Honorary Fellow of St Catherine's College, Oxford, 2005.
- Awarded an Honorary Doctorate by The University of Warwick in July 2009.
- "Featured Alumni: Michael Billington: Author and Arts Critic, St Catherine's College". University of Oxford. alumni.ox.ac.uk. 2007-10-29. Archived from the original on 2008-05-14. Retrieved 2008-06-08.
- Michael Billington (2007-10-03). "Profile". Theatre & Performing Arts: The Blog (London: blogs.guardian.co.uk). Retrieved 2008-06-06.
- Elizabeth Sleeman. "Billington, Michael". International Who's Who of Authors and Writers 2004. London: Routledge, 2003. p. 55. ISBN 1-85743-179-0.
- "Events: Michael Billington: 'State of the Nation'". Archived from the original on 2008-02-07. Retrieved 2008-06-08.
- Paul Allen (2008-06-04). "Michael Billington, Stage Left". Times Literary Supplement (London: timesonline.co.uk, Arts and Entertainment). Retrieved 2008-06-06. "A new history of British theatre explores the relationship between theatre and politics." [Book rev.]
- "Michael Billington". Contemporary Writers in the UK. British Council (Searchable database, © Copyright, 2007). Retrieved 2008-06-06.
- "Michael Billington". Who's Who. A & C Black. December 2010.
- Andrew Haydon (2007-08-01). "Critical Thinking". The Times (London: timesonline.co.uk). Retrieved 2008-06-06. "'In my second year at Oxford, I couldn't decide what career to pursue: I wasn't sure whether I wanted to be a director or a critic.' By the end of the festival Billington had decided to follow in Hobson’s footsteps; in 1965 he started working at the Times as a theatre, film and television reviewer. In 1971 he became drama critic for the Guardian, where he has remained ever since. Of Hobson, Billington says simply, 'he changed my life'."
- Michael Billington (2002-01-24). "Obituary: John McGrath". The Guardian (London: guardian.co.uk). Retrieved 2008-06-06.
- Ian Senior (2004-08-06). "Strictly for The Birds: Michael Billington and Others". R Cubed News: A Review of Rotten Reviewers (95). Retrieved 2008-06-06.
- Michael Billington (2006-06-05). "Where Professionals Fear to Tread". Michael Billington Blog (London: guardian.co.uk, Culture Vulture). Retrieved 2008-06-08. "When I worked at Lincoln Theatre Royal in the early 1960s...."
- Michael Billington (1984-04-15). "'Voyage Round My Father' sails On". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-06.
- "Penn English Program in London". Department of English London Program. english.upenn.edu. Retrieved 2008-06-09. "The centerpiece of the program is the Penn Theatre course (ENGL068). Participants study with the renowned Guardian theater critic, Michael Billington, and visit the theater weekly as part of this course."
- "Theatre Schedule: Spring 2008: With Critic Michael Billington". Department of English London Program. english.upenn.edu. Archived from the original on 2008-06-03. Retrieved 2008-06-09. "Fall 2006" [Schedules of past academic semesters listed in reverse chronological order].
- Michael Billington (2007-04-16). "The Importance of Being Pinter". Michael Billington Blog (London: guardian.co.uk). Retrieved 2008-06-08.
- Michael Billington (2008-04-15). "Belarus Free Theatre Will Not Be Silenced". Michael Billington Blog (London: guardian.co.uk). Retrieved 2008-06-08.
- Staff (2008-04-01). "Guardian's Theatre Critic Scoops Book Prize". The Guardian (London: guardian.co.uk). Retrieved 2008-04-01.
- "Michael Billington Wins STR Theatre Book Prize with The State of the Nation". The Society for Theatre Research (str.org.uk (official website)). 2008-04-01. Retrieved 2008-06-06.
- Benedicte Page (2007-09-20). "Books: Michael Billington: Taking Centre Stage". The Bookseller (thebookseller.com). Retrieved 2008-06-08.
- Michael Billington (2007-11-06). "The Reviewer Reviewed". Comment Is Free (London: guardian.co.uk (Blog)). Retrieved 2008-06-08. "We all love seeing our work praised, but I most relish the well-aimed critical arrows. Honest." (7 moderated comments, with "comments now closed.")
- Felicity Wood (2009-01-07). "Faber Rushes Out Billington Ebook" (Web). thebookseller.com (The Bookseller). Retrieved 2009-01-13. "[Correction by Peter Scott:] Pinter was born in 1930, not 1939."
- Julian Oddy. "Marivaux (1688 - 1763) Adaptations/translations by Modern Playwrights" (Web). The Playwrights' Database. doolee.com. Retrieved 2008-10-22.
- Sheridan Morley (1997-04-19). "The Critics - Up For Review (Battersea Arts Centre)" (Web). The Spectator. Findarticles.com.
- Staff (n.d.). "Party Time & Celebration" (Web). lamda.org.uk. London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). Retrieved 2008-10-22.
- Graham, Caroline (2007). Death of a Hollow Man. London: Hodder. p. 325. ISBN 0-7553-4216-X.
- Dunn, Peter; Abbott, Tom (2009). "Honorary Degrees for Pensions Campaigner, World Trade Director and Theatre Critic". Warwick News and Events. University of Warwick. Retrieved 2009-08-30.
- The London Gazette: . 29 December 2012.
- Books by Billington
- The Modern Actor. London: Hamilton, 1973. ISBN 0-241-02094-8 (10). ISBN 978-0-241-02094-4 (13).
- How Tickled I Am: A Celebration of Ken Dodd. London: Elm Tree Books, 1977. ISBN 0-241-89345-3 (10). ISBN 978-0-241-89345-6 (13).
- Alan Ayckbourn. London: Macmillan, 1984. ISBN 0-394-53856-0 (10). ISBN 978-0-394-53856-3 (13). Rev. ed. 1990. ISBN 0-394-62051-8 (10). ISBN 978-0-394-62051-0 (13).
- Stoppard: The Playwright. London: Methuen, 1987. ISBN 0-413-45850-4 (13). ISBN 978-0-413-45850-6 (13). ISBN 0-413-45860-1 (10). ISBN 978-0-413-45860-5 (13).
- Peggy Ashcroft. London: John Murray, 1988. ISBN 0-7195-4436-X (10). ISBN 978-0-7195-4436-1 (13).
- Approaches to Twelfth Night. London: Nick Hern Books, 1990. ISBN 1-85459-007-3 (10). ISBN 978-1-85459-007-7 (13). (Editor.)
- One Night Stands: A Critic's View of British Theatre 1971–1991. London: Nick Hern Books, 1993. ISBN 1-85459-185-1 (10). ISBN 978-1-85459-185-2 (13). (Collection of reprinted revs.)
- The Life and Work of Harold Pinter. London: Faber and Faber, 1996. ISBN 0-571-17103-6 (10). ISBN 978-0-571-17103-3 (13). 1997 [paperback] ed. ISBN 0-571-19065-0 (10). ISBN 978-0-571-19065-2 (13). (Rev. as Harold Pinter in 2007.)
- Stage and Screen Lives. London: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-19-860407-6 (10). ISBN 978-0-19-860407-5 (13). (Editor.)
- Harold Pinter. London: Faber and Faber, 2007. ISBN 0-571-17103-6 (10). ISBN 978-0-571-17103-3 (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 0-571-21034-1 (10). ISBN 978-0-571-21034-3 (13).
- Book reviews
- "The Life and Work of Harold Pinter (Magill Book Reviews)". Salem on Literature: Magill Book Reviews. eNotes.com. Web. (Book review of the 1996 ed.; later rev. & enl. as Harold Pinter .)
- Biographical profiles
- "Billington, Michael". Who's Who 2007: An Annual Biographical Dictionary. London: A & C Black (Bloomsbury Publishing), 2007. ISBN 0-7136-7527-6 (10). ISBN 978-0-7136-7527-6 (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 1-85743-179-0 (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. 6 November 2002. Accessed June 8, 2008. ("Harold Pinter's biographer Michael Billington answered your questions about the playwright on Wednesday 6 November 2002.")
- Michael Billington – Billington's own blog hosted by and featured in Theatre & the Performing Arts: The Blog, blogs.guardian.co.uk, including his hyperlinked "Profile" and articles (Web feed). Accessed June 8, 2008.
- Michael Billington – Critical Comment – Billington's own blog hosted by and featured in What's On Stage: Special Event Blogs, whatsonstage.com. Accessed June 8, 2008.
- Profile of Michael Billington at Contemporarywriters.com