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'The older you get, the more you know about life'


My grandchildren are not vehicles
Jonathan Miller Theatre director
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[Q] And about death, when it comes to death, does the idea of extinction trouble you?

Not at all, no, I mean, it’s perfectly inevitable and I don’t have any sense of posterity. I don’t think I'll be remembered long after I’ve died.  There’s nothing... there'll be nothing to see because all the things I do disappear. One or two films that I’ve made may well be looked at again, but none of the plays because they will never be revived, or there’s no way of reviving them.  I mean, if they’re revived, they’re revived by someone else, not by me.

I don’t... I’ve left one or two books behind which I think might be talked about in many years to come, because I think one or two of them are quite good.  My [The] Body in Question, for example, I think, has still got a lot of extremely interesting philosophical ideas about the nature of biological science. I mean, they’re not major works but I think that they’re quite significant. Again, disregarded and criticised when they first came out, as the programmes were themselves. People may look at those and say after many years, well, you know, they were better than they were thought at the time. But I have no feeling of posterity, and I don’t think of my children as carrying my name into a future that I will not attend. I’m not interested in posterity in that sense at all.

[Q] Are you just made that way or is that something to do with having studied medicine?

Oh, no, I’m made that way.  It never seemed to me to be particularly important. I remember meeting someone in the street, a writer, and I was talking about my grandchildren, and he said, 'Oh, you know, so they’re you’re future, they will carry your name into the future', and I said to him, 'That’s a ludicrous idea'. I’m interested in them as long as I’m alive because I love them, but I don’t think I love them because they are, as it were, vehicles with my name stamped on the side as if it was a car make labelled Miller. I’m not in the least bit interested in that.

And this twerp obviously thought of himself as being someone for whom posterity was important and that there might be two ways of actually having a posterity, either by the books that he bequeathed to posterity or the children that he never had. I mean, I think he's talked rather enviously about my having children as if, in fact, they were vehicles which would carry my name into the future. I’m not in the least bit interested in what they do in the future on my behalf, I’m only interested in what they do on their own behalf because I love them now.

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: The Body in Question

Duration: 3 minutes

Date story recorded: July 2008

Date story went live: 16 August 2011