23 August 1947.
Whiston, Liverpool, England
|Occupation||Playwright, screenwriter, author, lyricist, composer|
|Debut works||John, Paul, George, Ringo ... and Bert|
Our Day Out
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Keep Your Eyes Down (play 1972)
- Sam O'Shanker (play 1972, musical 1973)
- John, Paul, George, Ringo ... and Bert (musical 1974)
- Death of a Young Man (play 1974)
- Breezeblock Park (play 1975)
- Our Day Out (made-for-TV film 1976, musical stage version, 2010)
- Our Day Out (play 1977, Later adapted for musical)
- Blind Scouse
- One For the Road (play 1976)
- I Read the News Today (BBC Schools Radio Play, 1976)
- Stags and Hens (1978 play, filmed in 1990 as Dancin' thru the Dark)
- Educating Rita (play 1980, film 1983)
- The Boy with the Transistor Radio (1980)
- One Summer (TV series 1983)
- Blood Brothers (musical 1983)
- Connie (TV series, co-wrote theme tune "The Show" 1985)
- Shirley Valentine (play 1986, film 1989)
- Terraces (BBC TV film 1993)
- The Wrong Boy (first novel, 2000)
- Hoovering the Moon (music album, 2003)
- Our Day Out – The Musical (2009/10)
Awards and nominations
- 1980: Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy – Educating Rita
- 1983: Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical – Blood Brothers
- 1988: Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy – Shirley Valentine
- 1990: Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Screenplay – Shirley Valentine
- 1984: Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay – Educating Rita
- 1984: Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Motion Picture Screenplay – Educating Rita
- 1984: BAFTA nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay – Educating Rita
- 1989 Tony Award for Best Play – Shirley Valentine
- 1990: BAFTA nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay – Shirley Valentine
- 1993: Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical – Blood Brothers
- "Playwright" willyrussell.com, accessed September 20, 2016
- "Willy Russell". queens-theatre.co.uk. 2011. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 22 July 2011.
- 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
- Roberts, John. " 'Our Day Out' – Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool" thereviewshub.com, 5 September 2010
- "Brief Encounter With … Willy Russell" whatsonstage.com, 9 August 2010
- "Willy Russell: Behind the Scenes" ljmu.ac.uk, 4 November 2015
- Jones, Catherine. "Willy Russell archive launched at Liverpool John Moores University" liverpoolecho.co.uk, 28 November 2013
- Levin, Angela. "Willy Russell: 'I want to talk about things that matter'", Daily Telegraph, 15 October 2012, accessed 15 October 2014
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Willy Russell|
- Willy Russell Homepage
- Audio interview with Willy Russell on the Sodajerker On Songwriting podcast
- Willy Russell at the Internet Broadway Database
- Willy Russell at the Internet Movie Database
- Willy Russell at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- TV and film credits, screenonline.org.uk
- Comprehenseive Q&A with Willy Russell on theartsdesk.com (3 July 2010)
- Willy Russell in the National Portrait Gallery
- BBC Your Paintings, in partnership with the Public Catalogue Foundation