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Willy Russell

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Willy Russell
BornWilliam Russell
(1947-08-23) 23 August 1947 (age 76)
Whiston, Lancashire, England
OccupationPlaywright, screenwriter, author, lyricist, composer
Notable worksEducating Rita
Shirley Valentine
Blood Brothers
Our Day Out
SpouseAnnie Seagroatt (m. 1969)

William 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[change | change source]

Russell was born in Whiston in Lancashire. On leaving school, aged 15, he became a ladies' hairdresser. He ran his own salon until the age of 20. He then decided to go back to college. He qualified as a teacher. Russell also worked as a semi-professional singer. He wrote and performed his own folk songs.[source?]

He began writing drama while at college. In 1972, he took a programme of three one-act plays to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. They were seen by writer John McGrath. McGrath recommended Russell to the Liverpool Everyman. They commissioned the adaptation, When The Reds…. This was Russell's first professional work for theatre.[1]

Career[change | change source]

The first play Russell wrote was Keep Your Eyes Down (1971). He wrote it while he attended Saint Katharine's College of Higher Education in Liverpool. It was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1971.[2][3]

In 1974, Russell wrote John, Paul, George, Ringo ... and Bert. This was a musical about The Beatles. It was commissioned by the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool. It ran there for eight weeks before transferring to the Lyric Theatre, West End. There it ran for over a year. It won the Evening Standard and London Theatre Critics awards for the best musical of 1974.[4][5][6][source?]

He wrote further stage works, One for the Road (1976)[7] and Stags and Hens (1978). Russell was a screenwriter on television films, Death of A Young Young Man (1975, BBC1),[8] Daughters of Albion (1979),[9] Our Day Out (1977)[10] and One Summer (1983, 1985).[11]

The Royal Shakespeare Company commisioned the play Educating Rita. In 1980, it premiered at the Warehouse, London. In August 1980 it transferred to the West End Piccadilly Theatre, London. It starred Julie Walters and Mark Kingston.[12] The play ran to "at least" June 1982. The play has been translated and produced in almost every part the globe. It has received awards.[source?]In 1986, the play returned to the Liverpool Everyman.

In 1986, Russell wrote Shirley Valentine. This went on to an acclaimed West End run.[13] It received an Olivier Award, Comedy of the Year. Its star Pauline Collins received the Actress of the Year in a New Play award.[14] In February 1989, the play transferred to New York. It had a highly successful Broadway run to November 1989. Collins received a Tony Award for Best Actress.[15]

Both Shirley Valentine (1989)[16] and Educating Rita (1983) became feature films. Michael Caine, Julie Walters and Pauline Collins all receiving Oscar nominations for their respective roles. Russell received an Oscar nomination for his Educating Rita screenplay.[17][18]

Russell has had success with his play Blood Brothers. This is 'a Liverpudlian folk opera' about a pair of twins. The twins are separated at birth and brought up in different environments. In 1983, Blood Brothers won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical. It has had over 10,000 consecutive performances during its 24-year West End run, which ended in November 2012. At the same time, there were UK touring and international productions. In 1993, the play had a two-year run on Broadway. The Broadway production was nominated for the 1993 Tony Award for Best Musical.[19][20][21]

Russell with musical collaborator Bob Eaton wanted to develop Our Day Out. After extensive rewriting and recomposing, they created Our Day Out – The Musical. It retains all the characters and plot of the original. The action is brought forward to today. It has a new score and lyrics to reflect the twenty first century setting. The musical was produced in 2010 at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool.[22][23]

In 2000, Russell's first novel, The Wrong Boy, was published. The book was well received. It had wide readership in the UK. Translations were published in many countries.[source?] In 2004, Russell returned to his singer/songwriter roots. He released his album, Hoovering the Moon, on Pure Records. Russell also co-produced the Tim Firth album Harmless Flirting.[source?]

In 2013, the Archive and Special Collections department of Liverpool John Moores University established the Willy Russell Archive. It contains 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 Russell's career. It is a comprehensive representation of his work to date. It also illustrates Willy Russell's collaborative works, both written and musical.[24][25]

Personal life[change | change source]

In 1969, Russell married Annie Seagroatt. The couple have one son, Rob, and two daughters, Rachel and Ruth.[26]

Works[change | change source]

Awards and nominations[change | change source]

  • 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

References[change | change source]

  1. "Playwright" willyrussell.com, accessed 20 September 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, pg. 426, Infobase Publishing, 2010; ISBN 1438116896
  4. "Willy Russell Plays: 2" bloomsbury.com, retrieved 23 April 2019
  5. "REVIEW: 'John, Paul, George, Ringo... and Bert' - Original London Cast" castalbums.org, 31 May 2016
  6. " 'John, Paul, George, Ringo...and Bert' Production History" broadwayworld.com, retrieved 23 April 2019
  7. One for the Road willyrussell.com, retrieved 23 April 2019
  8. Death of A Young Young Man tvcream.co.uk, retrieved 23 April 2019
  9. Daughters of Albion www.bfi.org.uk, retrieved 23 April 2019
  10. Our Day Out bfi.org.uk, retrieved 23 April 2019
  11. One Summer bfi.org.uk, retrieved 23 April 2019
  12. Educating Rita collections.shakespeare.org.uk, retrieved 23 April 2019
  13. Russell, Willy. "Shirley Valentine Script" Shirley Valentine: A Play, Samuel French, Inc., 1989, ISBN 0-573691207
  14. "Olivier Awards, 1988" officiallondontheatre.com, retrieved 23 April 2019
  15. " 'Shirley Valentine' Broadway" ibdb, retrieved 23 April 2019
  16. Shirley Valentine bfi.org.uk, retrieved 23 April 2019
  17. Shirley Valentine tcm.com, retrieved 23 April 2019
  18. Educating-Rita tcm.com, retrieved 23 April 2019
  19. "Musicals, Blood Brothers" Archived 2016-08-05 at the Wayback Machine overthefootlights.co.uk, retrieved 24 April 2019
  20. " Blood Brothers Broadway" Playbill, retrieved 24, 2019
  21. Blood Brothers ibdb.com, retrieved 24 April 2019
  22. Roberts, John. "'Our Day Out' – Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool"[permanent dead link], thereviewshub.com, 5 September 2010.
  23. "Brief Encounter With … Willy Russell", whatsonstage.com, 9 August 2010
  24. "Willy Russell: Behind the Scenes", ljmu.ac.uk, 4 November 2015.
  25. Jones, Catherine. "Willy Russell archive launched at Liverpool John Moores University" liverpoolecho.co.uk, 28 November 2013.
  26. Levin, Angela. "Willy Russell: 'I want to talk about things that matter'", Daily Telegraph, 15 October 2012; accessed 15 October 2014.

Other websites[change | change source]