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NEXT STORY

I don't feel old

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Friends and solitude
Jonathan Miller Theatre director
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Well, we’ve had a long relationship, that was slightly strained in some ways because I think that he felt at the beginning that perhaps more attention had been given to me than was given to him, and now it’s gone the other way around.  But, you know, we’ve seen each other on and off for nearly, well, for more than 40 years.  And he once lived downstairs when we first came back from the United States and he used to eat regularly in the house. So we see him on and off, less now, now that he's got a partner, but, no, we see each other on and off.  It’s a sort of slightly tense relationship, but it’s okay.

[Q] What about other friends?

Well, I’ve got friends that I knew from school.  My old friend Oliver Sacks, who was at St Paul's with me.  And then there are people I knew at Cambridge like my brother-in-law, Karl Miller, who accidently has the same name, he's married to Rachel, my wife's sister, and occasionally people like Neil Ascherson, with whom I was at Cambridge. But I don’t have a lot of friends anyway, now, many of them are dead.  People I knew from The New York Review of Books, Barbara Epstein has died, but I see the editor of The New York Review of Books from time to time.  But on the whole I’ve sort of withdrawn and don’t see many people. I don’t give dinner parties. I occasionally go out with people but mainly just down the road to have dinner with them, or lunch, but I have fewer friends than I used to. I’ve sort of withdrawn into a somewhat misanthropic solitude, really. I mean, I see a lot of my wife, and some of her friends, but otherwise I don’t have a number of very close friends.

[Q] It’s very difficult to believe in the idea of you being misanthropic.

Well, I mean, as time's gone on and as... I  go on about this... if you live in a world where in fact you get people attacking you, and then there are people who resent and think that one is, sort of, over-talked about, you get people who withdraw from you, and I withdraw from them so that I... as life has gone on and I’m, you know, approaching my 80s, or I will be, you know, in five… five years or so, I don’t actually see friendship as a particularly important part of my life now.

I mean, I’m much more interested in my children and my grandchildren. I mean, there are relatives I see, but I don’t go out and have lunch as often as my brother-in-law does, for example.  But I think he’s withdrawn much more than some of his friends. I mean, I don’t feel particularly sad about it, it just is the way it’s turned out.

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, New York Revue Books, Alan Bennett, Oliver Sacks, Carl Miller, Neal Ascherson, Barbara Epstein

Duration: 3 minutes, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2008

Date story went live: 16 August 2011