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Willy Russell
Born William Russell
23 August 1947 (1947-08-23) (age 74)
Whiston, Lancashire, England
Occupation Playwright, screenwriter, author, lyricist, composer
Notable works Educating Rita
Shirley Valentine
Blood Brothers
Our Day Out
Spouse Annie Seagroatt (m. 1969)
Children 3

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.

Early life

Russell was born in Whiston in Lancashire. On leaving school, aged 15, he became a ladies' hairdresser. He ran his own salon until the age of 20. He then decided to go back to college. He qualified as a teacher. Russell also worked as a semi-professional singer. He wrote and performed his own folk songs.

He began writing drama while at college. In 1972, he took a programme of three one-act plays to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. They were seen by writer John McGrath. McGrath recommended Russell to the Liverpool Everyman. They commissioned the adaptation, When The Reds…. This was Russell's first professional work for theatre.


The first play Russell wrote was Keep Your Eyes Down (1971). He wrote it while he attended Saint Katharine's College of Higher Education in Liverpool. It was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1971.

In 1974, Russell wrote John, Paul, George, Ringo ... and Bert. This was a musical about The Beatles. It was commissioned by the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool. It ran there for eight weeks before transferring to the Lyric Theatre, West End. There it ran for over a year. It won the Evening Standard and London Theatre Critics awards for the best musical of 1974.

He wrote further stage works, One for the Road (1976) and Stags and Hens (1978). Russell was a screenwriter on television films, Death of A Young Young Man (1975, BBC1), Daughters of Albion (1979), Our Day Out (1977) and One Summer (1983, 1985).

The Royal Shakespeare Company commisioned the play Educating Rita. In 1980, it premiered at the Warehouse, London. In August 1980 it transferred to the West End Piccadilly Theatre, London. It starred Julie Walters and Mark Kingston. The play ran to "at least" June 1982. The play has been translated and produced in almost every part the globe. It has recieved awards.In 1986, the play returned to the Liverpool Everyman.

In 1986, Russell wrote Shirley Valentine. This went on to an acclaimed West End run. It received an Olivier Award, Comedy of the Year. Its star Pauline Collins received the Actress of the Year in a New Play award. In February 1989, the play transferred to New York. It had a highly successful Broadway run to November 1989. Collins received a Tony Award for Best Actress.

Both Shirley Valentine (1989) and Educating Rita (1983) became feature films. Michael Caine, Julie Walters and Pauline Collins all receiving Oscar nominations for their respective roles. Russell received an Oscar nomination for his Educating Rita screenplay.

Russell has had success with his play Blood Brothers. This is 'a Liverpudlian folk opera' about a pair of twins. The twins are separated at birth and brought up in different environments. In 1983, Blood Brothers won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical. It has had over 10,000 consecutive performances during its 24-year West End run, which ended in November 2012. At the same time, there were UK touring and international productions. In 1993, the play had a two-year run on Broadway. The Broadway production was nominated for the 1993 Tony Award for Best Musical.

Russell with musical collaborator Bob Eaton wanted to develop Our Day Out. After extensive rewriting and recomposing, they created Our Day Out – The Musical. It retains all the characters and plot of the original. The action is brought forward to today. It has a new score and lyrics to reflect the twenty first century setting. The musical was produced in 2010 at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool.

In 2000, Russell's first novel, The Wrong Boy, was published. The book was well received. It had wide readership in the UK. Translations were published in many countries. In 2004, Russell returned to his singer/songwriter roots. He released 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. It contains 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. It is a comprehensive representation of his work to date. It also illustrates Willy Russell's collaborative works, both written and musical.

Personal life

In 1969, Russell married Annie Seagroatt. The couple have one son, Rob, and two daughters, Rachel and Ruth.


  • Keep Your Eyes Down (play 1971)
  • Sam O'Shanker (play 1972, musical 1973)
  • John, Paul, George, Ringo ... and Bert (musical 1974)
  • Death of a Young Man (play 1974)
  • Breezeblock Park (play 1975)
  • Our Day Out (made-for-TV film 1976, musical stage version, 2010)
  • Our Day Out (play 1977, Later adapted for musical)
  • Blind Scouse
  • One for the Road (play 1976)
  • I Read the News Today (BBC Schools Radio Play, 1976)
  • Stags and Hens (1978 play, filmed in 1990 as Dancin' thru the Dark)
  • Educating Rita (play 1980, film 1983)
  • The Boy with the Transistor Radio (1980)
  • One Summer (TV series 1983)
  • Blood Brothers (musical 1983)
  • Connie (TV series, co-wrote theme tune "The Show" 1985)
  • Shirley Valentine (play 1986, film 1989)
  • Terraces (BBC TV film 1993)
  • The Wrong Boy (first novel, 2000)
  • Hoovering the Moon (music album, 2003)
  • Our Day Out – The Musical (2009/10)

Awards and nominations

  • 1980: Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy – Educating Rita
  • 1983: Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical – Blood Brothers
  • 1988: Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy – Shirley Valentine
  • 1990: Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Screenplay – Shirley Valentine
  • 1984: Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay – Educating Rita
  • 1984: Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Motion Picture Screenplay – Educating Rita
  • 1984: BAFTA nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay – Educating Rita
  • 1989 Tony Award for Best Play – Shirley Valentine
  • 1990: BAFTA nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay – Shirley Valentine
  • 1993: Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical – Blood Brothers
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