23 August 1946
Whiston, Lancashire, England
|Occupation||Playwright, screenwriter, author, lyricist, composer|
|Notable works||Educating Rita|
Our Day Out
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.
Russell was born in Whiston, Lancashire (which is now Merseyside). On leaving school, aged 15, he became a ladies' hairdresser, eventually running his own salon, until the age of 20 when he decided to go back to college. This led to his qualifying as a teacher. During these years, Russell also worked as a semi-professional singer, writing and performing his own songs in folk clubs.
At college, he began writing drama and, in 1972, took a programme of three one-act plays to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where they were seen by writer John McGrath, who recommended Russell to the Liverpool Everyman, which commissioned the adaptation, When The Reds…, Russell's first professional work for theatre.
The first play Russell wrote was Keep Your Eyes Down (1971) written while he attended Saint Katherine's College of Higher Education in Liverpool and performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1971.
In 1974 Russell wrote John, Paul, George, Ringo ... and Bert, a musical about The Beatles. Commissioned by the Liverpool Everyman, it ran for a (then) unprecedented eight weeks before transferring to the West End where it ran for over a year, winning the Evening Standard and London Theatre Critics awards for the best musical of 1974. It premiered at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, and then transferred to the Lyric Theatre in the West End in 1974.
Alongside further stage works, One for the Road (1976) and Stags and Hens (1978), Russell was a screenwriter with television films, Death of A Young Young Man (1975, BBC1), Daughters of Albion (1979), Our Day Out (1977) and One Summer (1983, 1985).
Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Educating Rita premiered at the Warehouse, London in 1980 and transferred to the West End Piccadilly Theatre, London in August 1980, and starred Julie Walters and Mark Kingston. Since its premiere and long West End run (the play ran to "at least" June 1982), the play has been translated and produced in almost every part the globe garnering awards both for its author and for many of the actors who have played the roles of Rita and Frank.
Returning to the Liverpool Everyman in 1986, Russell wrote Shirley Valentine which went on to an acclaimed West End run, earning Olivier Awards for both its author (Comedy of the Year) and star Pauline Collins (Actress of the Year in a New Play). The play transferred to New York for a highly successful Broadway run in February 1989 to November 1989, and a Tony Award as Best Actress for Collins.
Both Shirley Valentine (1989) and Educating Rita (1983) became feature films with Michael Caine, Julie Walters and Pauline Collins all receiving Oscar nominations for their respective roles, as did Russell for his Educating Rita screenplay.
Russell's other worldwide theatrical success has been Blood Brothers, "a Liverpudlian folk opera" about a pair of twins separated at birth and brought up in completely different environments. Blood Brothers won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1983. Its 1988 revival had over 10,000 consecutive performances during its 24-year West End run, which ended in November 2012. Simultaneously, there were UK touring and international productions, including a two-year run on Broadway starting in 1993. The Broadway production was nominated for the 1993 Tony Award, Best Musical.
Russell (with musical collaborator Bob Eaton) realised a long-held ambition to develop Our Day Out further and after extensive rewriting, and recomposing created Our Day Out – The Musical. This modern musical retelling retains all the characters and plot of the original but with the action brought forward to today with a new score and lyrics to reflect this twenty first century setting. The musical was produced in 2010 at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool.
The Wrong Boy, Willy Russell's first novel, was published in 2000. In 2004, Russell returned to his original singer/songwriter roots, releasing his album, Hoovering the Moon on Pure Records. Russell also co-produced the Tim Firth album Harmless Flirting.
In 2013, the Archive and Special Collections department of Liverpool John Moores University established the Willy Russell Archive containing 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 and is a comprehensive representation of his work to date. It also illustrates Willy Russell's collaborative works, both written and musical.
In 1969, Russell married Annie Seagroatt; the couple have one son, Rob, and two daughters, Rachel and Ruth.