Michael Billington (critic)
Michael Billington – Photo by Daniel Farmer
|Born||Michael Keith Billington|
16 November 1939
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England
|Education||University of Oxford|
|Notable works||Harold Pinter (biography); State of the Nation: British Theatre Since 1945; The 101 Greatest Plays: From Antiquity to the Present|
|Notable awards||Theatre Book Prize|
Michael Keith Billington OBE (born 16 November 1939) is a British author and arts critic. He was drama critic for The Guardian from 1971 until his retirement in 2019. Billington is "Britain's longest-serving theatre critic" and the author of biographical and critical studies relating to British theatre and the arts. 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, films, 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's broadcasting career had begun by 1965. Philip French, then a BBC radio producer, asked him to review two short radio plays by the then virtually unknown Tom Stoppard which were being broadcast on the BBC Third Programme. Later, he was a presenter (and participant) in Critics Forum (Radio 3), which ended in 1990, and the Kaleidoscope arts programme (Radio 4). He has contributed to other British arts and drama radio and television programmes.
Billington blogs for guardian.co.uk and previously also blogged for Whatsonstage.com. Billington left his role as The Guardian's chief theatre critic at the end of 2019, although he continues to write for the newspaper.
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 Leeds University, where he attended and later reviewed the production Being Harold Pinter, by the Belarus Free Theatre.
Biographical and critical studies
Billington is 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). He alsoi wrote the official authorised biography of 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature prizewinner 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 planned "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 Tom 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.
Notes and references
- "Featured Alumni: Michael Billington: Author and Arts Critic, St Catherine's College". University of Oxford. alumni.ox.ac.uk. 29 October 2007. Archived from the original on 14 May 2008. Retrieved 8 June 2008.
- Wiegand, Chris (5 November 2019). "Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington to step down". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
- Billington, Michael (3 October 2007). "Profile". Theatre & Performing Arts: The Blog. London: blogs.guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Sleeman, Elizabeth. "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 7 February 2008. Retrieved 8 June 2008.
- Allen, Paul (4 June 2008). "Michael Billington, Stage Left". Times Literary Supplement. London: timesonline.co.uk, Arts and Entertainment. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
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). Archived from the original on 4 July 2007. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- "Michael Billington". Who's Who. A & C Black. December 2010.
- Haydon, Andrew (1 August 2007). "Critical Thinking". The Times. London. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
'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'.
- Billington, Michael (24 January 2002). "Obituary: John McGrath". The Guardian. London: guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Senior, Ian (6 August 2004). "Strictly for The Birds: Michael Billington and Others". R Cubed News: A Review of Rotten Reviewers (95). Archived from the original on 30 May 2005. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Billington, Michael (5 June 2006). "Where Professionals Fear to Tread". Michael Billington Blog. London: guardian.co.uk, Culture Vulture. Retrieved 8 June 2008.
When I worked at Lincoln Theatre Royal in the early 1960s....
- Billington, Michael (15 April 1984). "'Voyage Round My Father' sails On". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Billington, Michael (28 October 2015). "Michael Billington on Philip French: A kind man with an encyclopedic memory". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
- "Penn English Program in London". Department of English London Program. english.upenn.edu. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
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 3 June 2008. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
Fall 2006[Schedules of past academic semesters listed in reverse chronological order].
- Billington, Michael (16 April 2007). "The Importance of Being Pinter". Michael Billington Blog. London: guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 8 June 2008.
- Billington, Michael (15 April 2008). "Belarus Free Theatre Will Not Be Silenced". Michael Billington Blog. London: guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 8 June 2008.
- "Guardian's Theatre Critic Scoops Book Prize". The Guardian. London. 1 April 2008. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
- "Michael Billington Wins STR Theatre Book Prize with The State of the Nation". The Society for Theatre Research. str.org.uk (official website). 1 April 2008. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Page, Benedicte (20 September 2007). "Books: Michael Billington: Taking Centre Stage". The Bookseller. thebookseller.com. Archived from the original on 14 October 2007. Retrieved 8 June 2008.
- Billington, Michael (6 November 2007). "The Reviewer Reviewed". Comment Is Free. London: guardian.co.uk (Blog). Retrieved 8 June 2008.
We all love seeing our work praised, but I most relish the well-aimed critical arrows. Honest.(7 moderated comments, with "comments now closed.")
- Wood, Felicity (7 January 2009). "Faber Rushes Out Billington Ebook". thebookseller.com. The Bookseller. Archived from the original (Web) on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2009.
[Correction by Peter Scott:] Pinter was born in 1930, not 1939.
- Oddy, Julian. "Marivaux (1688–1763) Adaptations/translations by Modern Playwrights" (Web). The Playwrights' Database. doolee.com. Retrieved 22 October 2008.
- Morley, Sheridan (19 April 1997). "The Critics – Up For Review (Battersea Arts Centre)" (Web). The Spectator. Findarticles.com.
- "Party Time & Celebration". lamda.org.uk. Student Productions at LAMDA's MacOwan Theatre. London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). Archived from the original on 26 October 2008. Retrieved 22 October 2008.
- "The Big Interview: Michael Billington – Interviews – The Stage". 3 May 2015. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
- 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 30 August 2009.
- "No. 60367". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 2012. p. 9.
- Books by Billington
- The Modern Actor. London: Hamilton, 1973. ISBN 978-0-241-02094-4.
- How Tickled I Am: A Celebration of Ken Dodd. London: Elm Tree Books, 1977. ISBN 978-0-241-89345-6.
- Alan Ayckbourn. London: Macmillan, 1984. ISBN 978-0-394-53856-3. Rev. ed. 1990. ISBN 978-0-394-62051-0.
- Stoppard: The Playwright. London: Methuen, 1987. ISBN 978-0-413-45850-6. ISBN 978-0-413-45860-5.
- Peggy Ashcroft. London: John Murray, 1988. ISBN 978-0-7195-4436-1.
- Approaches to Twelfth Night. London: Nick Hern Books, 1990. ISBN 978-1-85459-007-7. (Editor.)
- One Night Stands: A Critic's View of British Theatre 1971–1991. London: Nick Hern Books, 1993. ISBN 978-1-85459-185-2. (Collection of reprinted revs.)
- The Life and Work of Harold Pinter. London: Faber and Faber, 1996. ISBN 978-0-571-17103-3. 1997 [paperback] ed. ISBN 978-0-571-19065-2. (Rev. as Harold Pinter in 2007.)
- Stage and Screen Lives. London: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0-19-860407-5. (Editor.)
- Harold Pinter. London: Faber and Faber, 2007. ISBN 978-0-571-17103-3. (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 978-0-571-21034-3.
- 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 978-0-7136-7527-6. (159th ed.) Online site: Who's Who 2008. Accessed 6 June 2008.
- "Featured Alumni: Michael Billington: Author and Arts Critic, St Catherine's College". University of Oxford. alumni.ox.ac.uk. Last updated 29 October 2007. Accessed 8 June 2008.
- "Michael Billington". Contemporary Writers in the UK. British Council, Copyright, 2007. Accessed 6 June 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
- Media participation and clips
- "Michael Billington" – On the BBC, including "Results from BBC Audio & Video" (RealMedia audio clips). Accessed 8 June 2008.
- "Michael Billington: Q&A". Pinter at the BBC. BBC Four. 6 November 2002. Accessed 8 June 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 8 June 2008.
- Michael Billington – Critical Comment – Billington's own blog hosted by and featured in What's On Stage: Special Event Blogs, whatsonstage.com. Accessed 8 June 2008.
- Profile of Michael Billington at Contemporarywriters.com