Michael Frayn’s family lived in Mill Hill in northwest London but moved to Holloway soon after his birth and then to Ewell, a southwest suburb, where he was reared. His father was an asbestos salesperson who occasionally took Michael and his sister to the nearby Kingston Empire, a music hall, as a special treat. Frayn remembers borrowing music-hall routines for the home entertainments—puppet shows and conjuring acts—that he devised for an audience of three—father, mother, and sister. At Christmastime, the elder Frayn became the star performer in comic sketches that he himself wrote. Michael and his sister were relegated to supporting roles, and Mrs. Frayn formed an audience of one. Michael Frayn’s mother, who had earlier worked as a shop assistant and occasional model in Harrods, London’s grandest department store, died when he was twelve, a disorienting experience for the boy. At that time, his father removed him from private day school, which the boy hated, and enrolled him in the state-run Kingston Grammar School, where he was far more comfortable.
Frayn got along with his chums by playing the fool and cleverly mimicking his teachers while doing a minimum of schoolwork. That changed when an English master, aware of the boy’s incipient talent for writing, challenged him to produce even better work. These were the years in which Frayn discovered poetry, music, religion, and politics. He and his friends declared themselves atheists and formed a model communist cell in the school. Although his interest in communism soon waned, it led him to study the Russian language. He subsequently traveled to the Soviet Union, employing it as the setting of his spy novel The Russian Interpreter (1966). In addition, he has become Great Britain’s foremost translator of Russian drama, specifically the plays of Chekhov, which are peopled with characters as bewildered, troubled, and comic as Frayn’s own.
Frayn perfected his Russian when he was...
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Michael Frayn is one of the leading satirists among contemporary playwrights and novelists. He was the son of Thomas Allen and Violet Alice Lawson Frayn. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Ewell, Surrey. Frayn’s mother died when he was twelve, and his father, a sales representative for an asbestos manufacturer, was unable to pay both a housekeeper and private school fees and enrolled the boy in Kingston Grammar School. A poor student, Frayn made up for his insecurities by becoming the class clown.
After leaving school in 1952, Frayn completed two years of mandatory national service as a corpsman in the Royal Artillery and as a Russian interpreter in the Intelligence Corps. Following his discharge, he studied philosophy at Cambridge University, becoming strongly influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s views on the nature of language and reality. At Cambridge, Frayn also wrote a column for the university newspaper and collaborated on a student musical comedy.
After receiving his degree in 1957, Frayn was a reporter for The Manchester Guardian until 1959, when he began writing a column of social satire, collections of which were later published. He began working for The Observer in London in 1962, writing a humorous column until 1968. In 1960, he married Gillian Palmer; they had three daughters and were divorced in 1989. Frayn later married biographer Claire Tomalin.
While with The Observer, Frayn wrote two television plays and four novels. In 1970, an American producer asked him to write a comic sketch for a London revue. When Frayn’s effort was rejected because it called for a baby’s diapers to be changed onstage, he wrote three more short plays and combined them under the title The Two of Us. His ensuing plays gained increasing recognition from critics and the public, culminating in the enormously successful farce Noises Off, which had the longest run in the illustrious history of the Savoy Theatre.
Frayn’s novels and plays share the same concerns as his satirical columns: middle-class human conventions, class snobbery, hypocrisy, trendiness, conflict with technology, and the absurdity of Cold War tensions....
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