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The person from Porlock


Exposure to -isms
Jonathan Miller Theatre director
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[Q] When you were at Cambridge, were you… I mean apart from being a humourist and a cartoonist, I mean were you ever any kind of an -ist, I mean like an existentialist?  Did you think of yourself as…

No, I had absolutely no -isms at all. I suppose I was a… I was Secretary of the Humanist Society, without very much enthusiasm for it.  It didn’t seem to me… I was just invited to do it.  But it was a rather nice form of social life, that’s all. I wasn’t there, as it were, as an ardent upholder of [unclear] belief. I don’t think I was an exponent of any particular ‘-ism’.

I suppose I was what you would call left in inclination. I was a creature of the Labour landslide of ‘45 and felt that they’d introduced more fairness.  But I was certainly not a communist.  Not that I'd objected to it, and I didn’t really know an enormous amount about it, and of course I was really pretty well unacquainted with the appalling and atrocious tyrannies that had been implemented in its name. It wasn’t until the mid-50s that we really… the outsiders like myself became acquainted with what was done in the name of this millennial theory of social improvement.

Jonathan Miller (1934-2019) was a British theatre and opera director. Initially studying medicine at Cambridge, Sir Jonathan Miller came to prominence with the production of the British comedy revue, Beyond the Fringe. Following on from this success he embarked on a career in the theatre, directing a 1970 West End production of The Merchant of Venice starring Laurence Olivier. He also started directing opera, famously producing a modern, Mafia-themed version of Rigoletto.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Cambridge University, Humanist Society, mid 1950s

Duration: 1 minute, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008