Willy Russell

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Willy Russell
Willy Russell 2012.jpg
Born William Russell
(1947-08-23) 23 August 1947 (age 67)
Whiston, Lancashire, England, UK
Occupation Playwright, screenwriter, author, lyricist, composer
Spouse Annie Russell
Debut works John, Paul, George, Ringo … and Bert
Notable work(s) Educating Rita
Shirley Valentine
Blood Brothers

William "Willy" Russell (born 23 August 1947) is a British dramatist, lyricist and composer. His best-known works are Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine, Blood Brothers and Our Day Out.

Early life[edit]

Russell was born and brought up in Whiston, Lancashire. His parents worked in the book publishing trade, and often encouraged him to read. After leaving school with no qualifications, he initially became a ladies' hairdresser and ran his own salon. He then undertook a variety of jobs.


The first play Russell wrote was Keep Your Eyes Down on the Road (1971).[1] His first success as a playwright was a play about the Beatles called John, Paul, George, Ringo … and Bert. Originally commissioned for the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool it transferred to the West End in 1974. His next play, [1] Educating Rita (1980) concerned a female hairdresser and her Open University teacher. The semi-autobiographical Educating Rita was turned into a 1983 film with Michael Caine and Julie Walters. He then went on to write the musical musical Blood Brothers (1983), for which Russell also composed the music' It first opened in Liverpool and transferred to London's Phoenix Theatre. It won the best actress award at the Lawrence Olivier awards. Bill Kenwright produced a revival in 1988 which has run for twenty-six years. The show was produced on Broadway in 1993. Shirley Valentine first opened in Liverpool in 1986, before a new production opened in London in 1988, starring Pauline Collins. It was also made into a successful film, in 1989, again with Collins in the title role. Russell received BAFTA and Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay for both Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine.

Russell has written songs since the early 1960s, and has written the music to most of his plays and musicals.[2] He also co-wrote "The Show", the theme song to the 1985 ITV drama series Connie, which became a top 30 hit for vocalist Rebecca Storm. His first album, Hoovering the Moon, was released in 2003. Russell has also written television projects, including the one-off drama, Our Day Out, which aired in 1977. He penned another television drama, One Summer, which aired as a five-part series on Channel 4 in 1983, starring a young David Morrissey.[3]

In 2000, Russell published his first novel, The Wrong Boy. In epistolary form, main character Raymond Marks, a 19-year old from Manchester, tells the story of his life in letters to his hero Morrissey.[4]

The Willy Russell Centre for Children and Adults Who Stammer, was opened by Russell in Liverpool, 1990. The centre took Russell's name as his writing in many of his plays puts forward the philosophy that anyone is capable of change whatever obstacles may be in their path.[5]


Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 1980: Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy – Educating Rita
  • 1983: Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical – Blood Brothers
  • 1988: Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy – Shirley Valentine
  • 1990: Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Screenplay – Shirley Valentine
  • 1984: Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay – Educating Rita
  • 1984: Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Motion Picture Screenplay – Educating Rita
  • 1984: BAFTA nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay – Educating Rita
  • 1989 Tony Award for Best Play – Shirley Valentine
  • 1990: BAFTA nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay – Shirley Valentine
  • 1993: Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical – Blood Brothers


  1. ^ a b "Willy Russell". queens-theatre.co.uk. 2011. Retrieved 22 July 2011. 
  2. ^ "Willy Russell Biography (1947–)". filmreference.com. 2011. Retrieved 22 July 2011. 
  3. ^ One Summer 1983 BFI Screenonline. Retrieved January 15 2014.
  4. ^ Russell, Willy. The Wrong Boy, Black Swan, 2000 ISBN 978-0552996457.
  5. ^ Willy Russell Centre Liverpool Community Health NHS. Retrieved January 15 2014.

External links[edit]