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

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

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home