Obituary: Jonathan Miller, stage director, filmmaker and comedian who co-created the influential Beyond the Fringe

Sir Jonathan Miller, the polymath British stage director, filmmaker and comedian who ­co-created groundbreaking comedy revue Beyond the Fringe, has died at the age of 85.
(Picture: Peter Kramer/Getty Images)(Picture: Peter Kramer/Getty Images)
(Picture: Peter Kramer/Getty Images)

Miller’s family said on Wednesday that he had “died this morning peacefully at home with his family around him following a long battle with Alzheimer’s”.

“His death is a great loss to our family and to his friends and will leave a huge hole in our lives,” the family said.

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One of the country’s most important and wide-ranging arts figures, Miller had a ­decades-long career that encompassed theatre, television and opera.

Some of Britain’s largest and most respected arts institutions, including the National Theatre, the British Film ­Institute and the Royal Opera, paid tribute to his long career.

Born in London in 1934, ­Miller studied medicine and qualified as a doctor before turning to the arts, spurred by the success of Beyond the Fringe, a satirical revue he ­created in 1960 with fellow Cambridge University ­students Dudley Moore, Peter Cook and Alan Bennett.

The show went from ­London’s West End to Broadway, and helped launch a wave of irreverent, satirical comedy that included Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

It diverted Miller from a planned career in neurology into the arts.

“It was kind of an accident, really,” he told The Associated Press in 1981 – and a decision he sometimes said that he regretted.

From the early 1960s, Miller directed plays for both stage and television, including a 1970 production of The ­Merchant of Venice starring Laurence Olivier. His TV directing work included a psychedelic 1960s adaptation of Alice in Wonderland for the BBC and, later, six Shakespeare plays for the same broadcaster. In the 1970s – and despite his inability to read music – he moved into opera, working with major companies including Glyndebourne, the Royal Opera and the ­English National Opera. His production of Cosi Fan Tutte for the Royal Opera was a staple of the company’s ­repertoire for nearly 20 years, and at the ENO he directed 15 productions including The Marriage of Figaro and The Mikado.

The company said that “his 40-year contribution to the success of ENO was immense, and his productions are loved by audiences of all ages”.

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Talkative, witty, sometimes acerbic, Miller also presented television series including The Body in Question –a ­vivid ­journey through medical ­history and the human body – and Atheism: A Rough ­History of Disbelief, wrote books on subjects ranging from ­Sigmund Freud to ­acting and took up sculpting and ­photography.

In 2002 he was knighted for services to music and the arts.

Miller is survived by his wife Rachel, children Tom, ­William and Kate and several grandchildren.