More chips from the Miller’s tale

More chips from the Miller’s tale


norman lebrecht

November 28, 2019

I have written a few more memories of Jonathan Miller in today’s JC. Among them…

“You’re being very Jewish,” he’d chide when I taxed him about God, adding: “I never withdrew from identification with Jews because it mattered so much to antisemites that they committed the Holocaust. But I feel Jewish only in the presence of antisemitism. In addition to being Jew-ish, I suppose I’m chimpanzee-ish in terms of ancestry.”

With young singers he was gentle as can be, teasing out what they might bring to a role, waiting in silence as a therapist might until they found a suppressed memory….

Read on here.



  • SamUchida says:

    “Jonathan claimed to have discovered time-shift in opera. “Like Einstein?” I teased him. ”

    Geniuses, both of them, to notice ‘time shift’!

    I am genuinely bamboozled, not by ‘time shift’, but by the BBC website’s comparative neglect of Miller’s death with respect to those reported on the same day, of Clive James and Rhodes (sorry, but I can’t remember his first name).

    When I looked yesterday, the latter two (neither a Knight of the Realm, unlike Sir Jonathan) got front page treatment, but poor Jonathan could only be found on the Entertainment page.

    There must be an interesting explanation why, perhaps connected with the BBC’s leading political story on the same day. Or perhaps not?

    Anyway Miller was an intellectual mainstay, not only for the BBC but for the whole country more most of the last half century, and a very witty one at that!

    • V. Lind says:

      I have been an admirer of (Sir) Jonathan Miller since Beyond the Fringe. I have seen nothing of his work since, living as I do in Canada or, more importantly, not in London. Because of the life I spent in the theatre, I have of course often read of it, so mourned his death yesterday as another loss of a great figure.

      I have been reading Clive James since I was a student, and have many of his books. I have seen a lot of his television work. I was reading him weekly in the Guardian until late last year, with occasional additions this year. He was a constant and widespread presence, always rewarding to read, in particular, and enjoyable to watch — his interview with Roman Polanski is very disturbing and intelligent as he gently gets the director to open up on painful issues.

      I never saw much of Gary Rhodes, though his cooking show Rhodes Around Britain was at least for a time available here and I caught it once in passing. But it was available in the UK, as were many of his others, and apparently he was a delight to watch. It seems a good bet that a great many people watched him regularly.

      Your rather sniffy dismissal of an intellectual giant with a popular touch, and a very popular and apparently influential chef and entertainer (neither of whom is a Knight of the Realm) is very telling. Millions knew these people. Thousands knew Miller. In terms of newspapers, they are providing information to their readers proportionately to the newsworthiness, not the general worthiness, of the subjects. Gary Rhodes led many of the newscasts I saw on Sky and for a time the BBC website. James was next, Miller after that. Over the day, each got full coverage, with clips, interviewed admirers, summaries of careers. As a James fan I wanted more of him, but understood that Rhodes was more of a presence to today’s viewers and readers. Ill health has kept Miller from view for some years, and has somewhat — not much! — diminished James’ presence.

      There is a world outside the concert hall and the theatre, and it is just snobbery to pretend otherwise. I find it quite distasteful, especially when two of the deaths were long expected and the men had reached the 80s, while a young man of 59 died suddenly. They are all a great loss, but it is not the job of the newspapers to accommodate your pretensions.

      A propos of Mr. Lebrecht’s comments above, I remember from the original Beyond the Fringe Jonathan Miller’s witty comment that he did not call himself a Jew…”I am Jew-ISH. I don’t go the whole hog!”

      RIP all of them. They will all be remembered for their great and varied contributions to British, and international, cultural life.