How We Met: Sir Jonathan Miller & Barrie Rutter

'We agreed that Received Pronunciation is based on public schools, and it became them and us'

Sir Jonathan Miller CBE, 78

Despite training as a doctor in the late 1950s, Miller (left in picture) came to public prominence as part of the comedy revue Beyond the Fringe with fellow performers Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett. He is now one of our most renowned theatre and opera directors. He lives in north London with his wife.

I was directing The Taming of the Shrew, at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987, and Barrie was a very good young actor playing a minor part. We got on well and had easy gossips together.

I've been doing operas for 30 years now, and I don't follow anyone's career – I can scarcely follow my own – but I did hear a few things he got up to, such as when he cast Lenny Henry [ in his stage production of Othello, in 2009], which I thought was an interesting idea.

Then last year I got a call from him, asking me and my wife to come and see a Shakespeare production in Halifax being put on by his company, Northern Broadsides. I was pleased with what we saw: it was nice hearing it in local accents instead of in that awful Shakespearean tone. What I like about Barrie is that he's straightforward with no silly arty-crafty pretensions. I'm particularly pleased with how he's helped get rid of all that Received Pronunciation bullshit that people like Olivier and Gielgud created by putting on a special voice.

What's interesting, too, is that [Northern Broadsides] is not based in a glamorous theatre but a converted industrial mill, [a world away] from the gilded world of conventional theatre which I'm impatient with as well.

He asked me to direct him in a production of [Githa Sowerby's] Rutherford & Son, for his company, with him playing the title role. It's a wonderful, unpretentious play about an industrial family suffering during a recession, and has some qualities of the best of Chekhov, and I agreed. He came down with the rest of the cast and they all sat in our kitchen and did read-throughs. While he formed the company, he's very humble; he doesn't lord it over the others.

The function of all art is that it draws attention to things the audience has seen all their lives but have simply not been smart enough to notice; you make the negligible considerable. And Barrie's a particularly great practitioner of it.

Barrie Rutter, 66

The Yorkshire-born actor and director founded touring theatre company Northern Broadsides in 1992, setting Shakespearean and classic texts to local accents. He lives in Yorkshire.

Way back in 1968 I was doing an apprenticeship at the National Youth Theatre and Jonathan was a guest there [for the performances]. He prompted a director he was working with, to go see this "dynamic young kid", and that director gave me my first job. So with that casual acknowledgment, my life was mapped out.

I didn't actually meet Jonathan, though, until 1987, when he cast me as Grumio in his production of The Taming of the Shrew. And although we got on well, I didn't see him again until two years ago!

I wanted him to come up and see the space we normally work in, with Northern Broadsides. So I wrote to him, saying it's rough and ready and you're entitled not to like it, but you must come and look at it. He was too busy with an opera at first but when the opportunity to stage Rutherford & Son came up, I thought it perfect for Jonathan, so I wrote to him again and he said yes.

Jonathan has 50 years' worth of skills in working in the theatre and opera and he's staged world-famous, staggeringly original productions such as his Rigoletto and I knew we could use those skills. As he says about directing, you need to remind actors what they already know, and get out of them what they shouldn't have forgotten in the first place.

So he came up to see [our production of] Love's Labour's Lost in the spring with his wife, and he loved the production. With Shakespearean performances we both agree that the birth of Received Pronunciation was based on stubborn public schools, and it became them and us, and I'm a believer in the nobility of my own voice and pricking that bubble.

I've read every word of his biography by Kate Bassett – it's a terrific read. How would I describe him? Passionate is a good word. He's every adjective you want to put on him. He has this incredibly imaginative approach to life without being prissy and he can't bare the fripperies of his profession. I, on the other hand, quite like the bling.

But he's sensitive to criticism, too. I know his children used to watch him being caricatured on Spitting Image and take the piss out of him. It was a good show for puncturing the ego, but his kids were puncturing [it] every day!

'Rutherford & Son' is at Northern Broadsides' theatre in Halifax (northern-broadsides.co.uk) until 8 February then tours until 1 June

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick