The Blagger's Guide To: Michael Frayn

'Scholars have yet to discover a subject he cannot write about'

Monday 21 May 2012 12:07

Michael Frayn's latest novel, Skios, will be launched on Thursday. It will be his eleventh novel. He has also written or translated 31 plays, and published 12 works of non-fiction, including a collection of his journalism, Travels With a Typewriter (2009) and a biography of his father, My Father's Fortune: A Life in 2010.

Frayn was born in 1933 in Mill Hill, north London. He was educated at Kingston Grammar School and studied Moral Philosophy at Cambridge before learning Russian during two years of national service in the early 1950s. His debut novel, The Tin Men, was published in 1965. He later became known as one of the finest translators of Chekhov, having adapted The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard and other minor works.

As a young reporter on the Manchester Guardian, Frayn was an occasional theatre critic. "I could scribble my review during the third act," he later confessed, "holding up my notebook to catch the stage lights."

Frayn is married to the biographer Claire Tomalin. In 2002 they were pitted against each other as category winners of the Whitbread Prize: he for the Best Novel prize for Spies, and she for the Best Biography prize for Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self. Tomalin won, while Frayn nobly applauded: "It's a terrific book. It deserves to win." Two weeks later, he confessed: "She's banked the [£25,000] cheque, but hasn't spent anything. We're moving to a house in Richmond that has a big garden, because that's what my wife has always wanted. Personally, I don't garden at all."

His daughter is the successful novelist, filmmaker and screenwriter Rebecca Frayn, author of Deceptions and One Life. On her publisher's website, she names her favourite writers as Richard Yates, Ian McEwan, Tim Winton, John McGahern and Helen Garner.

When Frayn and Tomalin moved into their most recent house, they measured their joint book collections and ordered 120 metres of shelving.

Frayn has won an Emmy (First and Last, 1990), a Tony (Copenhagen, 2000) and a Whitbread Novel Award.

Frayn's 1967 novel Towards The End of the Morning is cherished by journalists as one of the finest satires ever written about life in a newspaper office. It was inspired by Frayn's time at The Guardian and The Observer in the 1960s. Meanwhile, his Booker-shortlisted Headlong (1999) proves him to be an expert on the Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and his 1998 play Copenhagen, about a meeting between the physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, shows a detailed understanding of theoretical physics. Scholars have yet to discover a subject about which Michael Frayn cannot write an award-winning novel, biography or play.

Frayn wrote the screenplay for the 1986 movie Clockwise, starring John Cleese.

The latest incarnation of his hit play Noises Off, starring Celia Imrie and Robert Glenister, is at the Novello Theatre in London until 30 June. Democracy is at the Old Vic from 15 June to 14 July. Frayn will be talking about Skios on 27 June in The Primrose Hill lectures at St Mary's Church (

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