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23 August 1947
Whiston, Liverpool, England
|Occupation||Playwright, screenwriter, author, lyricist, composer|
|Spouse||Annie Seagroatt (m. 1969)|
|Debut works||John, Paul, George, Ringo ... and Bert|
|Notable work(s)||Educating Rita
Our Day Out
Russell was born in Whiston, 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 try to go back to college, eventually qualifying as a teacher. During these years Russell also worked as a semi-professional singer, writing and performing his own songs on the then flourishing and vibrant folk scene.
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 who commissioned the adaptation, When The Reds… Russell’s first professional work for theatre.
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 proved himself a gifted and accomplished screenwriter with television films, Death of A Young Young Man, Daughters of Albion, Our Day Out and One Summer, all consolidating his reputation as a writer whose work could reach a wide audience without ever compromising the seriousness that lies at the heart of all his work.
Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Educating Rita is now a modern classic. Since its premiere and long West End run, 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 created Shirley Valentine which went on to an acclaimed West End run, earning Olivier awards for both its author and star, Pauline Collins, before transferring to New York for a highly successful Broadway run and a Tony Best Actress award for Collins. Like the earlier Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine became an international hit with successful productions being mounted throughout the world.
Both Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita became successful feature films with Michael Caine, Julie Walters and Pauline Collins all winning 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 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1983 and its 1987 revival saw over 10,000 consecutive performances during its 24-year West End run. Simultaneously, UK touring and international productions (including a two-year run on Broadway) also garnered critical and public acclaim.
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. The book was well received and attracted a wide readership in the UK and the many countries where it was published in translation. In 2004, Russell returned to his original singer/songwriter roots, releasing his album, Hoovering the Moon on Pure Records. Willy 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 a son, Rob, and two daughters, Rachel and Ruth.
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