Willy Russell

For other people with the same name, see William Russell (disambiguation).
Willy Russell
Born William Russell
(1947-08-23) 23 August 1947.
Whiston, Liverpool, England
Occupation Playwright, screenwriter, author, lyricist, composer
Debut works John, Paul, George, Ringo ... and Bert
Notable work(s) Educating Rita
Shirley Valentine
Blood Brothers
Our Day Out

William "Willy" Russell (born 23 August 1947) is an English dramatist, lyricist and composer. His best known works are Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine, Blood Brothers and Our Day Out.

Early life

Russell was born in Whiston, Lancashire, near Liverpool. On leaving school, aged 15, until he became a ladies hairdresser eventually running his own salon until the age of 21 when he decided to try to go back to college, eventually qualifying as a teacher. During these years Russell also worked as a semi-professional singer, writing and performing his own songs on the then flourishing and vibrant folk scene. Whilst at St Katharine’s College, he began writing drama and, in 1972, took a programme of three one-act plays to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe where they were seen by writer John McGrath. McGrath recommended Russell to the Liverpool Everyman who commissioned the adaptation, When The Reds… Russell’s first professional work for theatre.[1]


The first play Russell wrote was Keep Your Eyes Down (1971) written while he attended St. Katherine's College of Higher Education in Liverpool.[2][3]

In 1974 Russell wrote John, Paul, George, Ringo ... and Bert, a musical about the Beatles. Commissioned by the Liverpool Everyman, it ran for a (then) unprecedented eight weeks before transferring to the West End where it ran for over a year, winning the Evening Standard and London Theatre Critics awards for the best musical of 1974. It premiered at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, and then transferred to the Lyric Theatre in the West End in 1974.

Alongside further stage works, One For the Road (1976) and Stags and Hens (1978) Russell proved himself a gifted and accomplished screenwriter with television films, Death of A Young Young Man, Daughters of Albion, Our Day Out and One Summer, all consolidating his reputation as a writer whose work could reach a wide audience without ever compromising the seriousness that lies at the heart of all his work.

Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Educating Rita is now a modern classic. Since its premiere and long West End run, the play has been translated and produced in almost every part the globe garnering awards both for its author and for many of the actors who have played the roles of Rita and Frank.

Returning to the Liverpool Everyman in 1986, Willy Russell created the iconic Shirley Valentine which went on to an acclaimed West End run, earning Olivier awards for both its author and star, Pauline Collins, before transferring to New York for a highly successful Broadway run and a Tony Best Actress award for Collins. Like the earlier Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine became an international hit with successful productions being mounted throughout the world.

Both Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita became highly successful feature films with Michael Caine, Julie Walters and Pauline Collins all winning Oscar nominations for their respective roles, as did Russell for his Educating Rita screenplay.

Willy Russell's other worldwide theatrical success has been Blood Brothers, 'a Liverpudlian folk opera' about a pair of twins separated at birth and brought up in completely different environments. Blood Brothers won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1983 and its 1987 revival saw over 10,000 consecutive performances during its 24-year West End run. Simultaneously, UK touring and international productions (including a two-year run on Broadway) brought further critical and public acclaim.

Russell (with musical collaborator Bob Eaton) realised a long held ambition to develop Our Day Out further and after extensive rewriting, and recomposing created Our Day Out – The Musical. This modern musical retelling retains all the characters and plot of the original but with the action brought forward to today with a new score and lyrics to reflect this twenty first century setting. The musical was produced in 2010 at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool.[4][5]

The Wrong Boy, Willy Russell's first novel, was published in 2000. The book was well received and attracted a wide and appreciative readership in the UK and the many countries where it was published in translation. There are plans to film The Wrong Boy as a major TV series.

In 2004 Willy Russell returned to his original singer/songwriter roots, releasing his album, Hoovering the Moon on Pure Records. Willy also co-produced the Tim Firth album Harmless Flirting, before both writers traded in their pens and word processors for keyboards and guitars and with their band went on the road, touring the UK and Ireland before playing a season at the Edinburgh Fringe with a unique mix of music and spoken word that became known as The Singing Playwrights.

In 2013, the Archive and Special Collections department of Liverpool John Moores University established the Willy Russell Archive containing manuscripts, programmes, publicity and media material including newspaper cuttings and press releases, correspondence, legal, financial and administrative documents, records relating to the casting and audition process, audio and film material, and promotional ephemera. The material was produced throughout the course of Willy Russell’s career and is a comprehensive representation of his work to date. It also illustrates Willy Russell’s collaborative works, both written and musical. [6][7]

Willy Russell continues to be one of the most celebrated and widely produced writers of his generation with works regularly being produced throughout the world as well as in the UK.

Personal life

In 1969, he married Annie Seagroatt and the couple had a son Rob, and two daughters, Rachel and Ruth.[8]


Awards and nominations



  1. "Playwright" willyrussell.com, accessed September 20, 2016
  2. "Willy Russell". queens-theatre.co.uk. 2011. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 22 July 2011.
  3. Stade, George and Karbiener, Karen. "Russell, William Martin (1947-)", Encyclopedia of British Writers, 1800 to the Present, Volume 2, Infobase Publishing, 2010, ISBN 1438116896, p. 426
  4. Roberts, John. " 'Our Day Out' – Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool" thereviewshub.com, 5 September 2010
  5. "Brief Encounter With … Willy Russell" whatsonstage.com, 9 August 2010
  6. "Willy Russell: Behind the Scenes" ljmu.ac.uk, 4 November 2015
  7. Jones, Catherine. "Willy Russell archive launched at Liverpool John Moores University" liverpoolecho.co.uk, 28 November 2013
  8. Levin, Angela. "Willy Russell: 'I want to talk about things that matter'", Daily Telegraph, 15 October 2012, accessed 15 October 2014
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