Arena: Jonathan Miller


is still available to watch on iPlayer.

Well done to the BBC for their excellent Arena documentary on Jonathan Miller, dedicating an hour and a half to this fascinating man: someone gifted in both the sciences and the arts.

There’s a good piece about him by A.S.H. Smyth in The Arts Desk:-

A director who is “passionate about biology”; a humorist who “hardly ever mocks”; an artist who speaks fluently about the origin of species; a non-musician who has directed some of the best-received opera productions of the modern era; a doctor with his own profile on IMDB. In short, a man who puts the “poly” into “polymath” – and like as not does it in Greek. Don’t you just hate Jonathan Miller?

No, of course not. As last night’s Arena portrait could simply not fail to convince you, all laud and honour be to Jonathan Miller: there ought to be one of him in every home
It is testament to Miller’s exceptional modesty and nonetheless unflighty approach that he is comfortable, just about, referring to himself as “an intellectual”.

Smyth concludes:-

This was good telly. But it was also largely about good telly, and that was slightly wistful. Several times in the course of his documentaries, I’m sorry (or, rather, delighted) to say, Miller did things – the human autopsy, the prompting of a Parkinson’s victim with a bunch of keys – that probably wouldn’t make the edit now in our just-add-subject-matter easily offended culture. And forget offence: where did all that footage of televised opera come from?

Ultimately, Oliver Sacks concludes that Miller’s boundless energies simply couldn’t be contained by one career. For his part, somewhat astoundingly, Miller has regrets about not sticking to the one that was good enough for his father. But what can you do. “People like Jonathan should live till they’re 200,” wishes Sacks. Damn right.

For myself, I’m now desperate to watch Miller’s version of Alice in Wonderland again, and to revisit the ground breaking Body in Question TV series (where I first came across him).


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