Cameron Mackintosh has announced that award-winning actor Griff Rhys Jones will be the next star after Omid Djalili to play ‘Fagin’ in the triumphant new production of Lionel Bart’s smash hit musical OLIVER! at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane from Monday 14 December 2009 until June 2010.
Jodie Prenger has extended her run in the role of Nancy through March 2010 and Steve Hartley comes to the role of Bill Sikes on 15th September after having enjoyed a huge success in the original London run of OLIVER! at the Palladium.
Giff Rhys Jones’ Biography:
Griff Rhys Jones was born in 1953 in Cardiff. Educated at Brentwood School in Essex, he won an exhibition to Emmanuel College, Cambridge to read History, transferring later to English. After a varied gap year including a job looking after a plethora of Canadian schoolgirls on the P&O ship Uganda he took up his place at Cambridge. He joined the Footlights Club (becoming its vice president in 1976), and was president of the Mummers and the ADC, appearing in and directing various productions.
After University (and after a short stint as a bodyguard to visiting Arabs) he joined the BBC as a trainee radio producer. Having played a selection of minor roles in the first series of Not The Nine O’Clock News, he was brought in as a regular member of the cast alongside Rowan Atkinson, Pamela Stephenson and Mel Smith after Chris Langham’s departure.
When Not The Nine O’Clock News finished he continued working with Mel Smith, and in a bid to stave off unemployment they founded Talkback Productions to produce their own shows and those of other performers. The company has gone on to produce and manage some of the major British comedy performers of the last twenty years. His writing and performing partnership with Mel Smith took off in 1984 with Alas Smith and Jones, one of the most successful and long running double acts on TV, running until the late 90s. He and Mel Smith sold the company in 2000 and it has continued to produce major hits for both BBC and commercial television.
Griff also continued working in the theatre, primarily in comedy and farce, winning Olivier awards for best comedy performance in Charley’s Aunt (1984) and An Absolute Turkey (1994), and appearing at the National Theatre as Toad in The Wind in the Willows. He also undertook some more serious acting roles for television, including A View of Harry Clarke in which he starred alongside Elaine Paige.
Recently he has become best known as a presenter, firstly of Bookworm and latterly of Restoration, which ran for three series. He was the driving force behind the restoration of Hackney Empire theatre in London, and has undertaken several projects of his own, notably the restoration of a Pembrokeshire farm, which was filmed for the BBC and was inspired by his own interest in architecture and conservation. He has also written and presented documentaries on Arthur Ransome, Rudyard Kipling and John Betjeman, and one on Thomas Hardy for broadcast later this year, as well as three Three Men in a Boat films with Dara O’Briain and Rory McGrath, and Mountain, which won a Scottish BAFTA in 2007. His latest outdoor series, River Journeys with Griff Rhys Jones, is due to be screened in 2009. Griff also took over as presenter of It’ll Be Alright on the Night in 2008. He has continued to work as a television actor, starring in Russell T Davies’s Mine All Mine, as well as roles in Riot at the Rite, Marple, Casualty and Jonathan Creek, and providing the voices for the children’s cartoon Funnybones.
Griff holds honorary degrees from University of East Anglia, APU and University of Glamorgan and is a Fellow of Welsh College of Music and Drama, Emmanuel College, Cambridge and the Royal Society of Arts. He gives a lot of time to charitable causes, from Comic Relief to the Lucie Blackman Trust, and in 2004 led the demonstration at Senate House, Cambridge to prevent the closure of the Architecture degree course at Cambridge. In 2007 he became Vice-President of the River Stour Trust, and in 2008 President of the Civic Trust; since its demise in 2009 he has been instrumental in setting up the Civic Society Initiative to replace it. An enthusiastic sailor, he owns the classic yacht Undina, which took the starring role in Three Men in Another Boat in 2007.
He has written and co-written many of the shows in which he appears, together with a number of books associated with them, and in 2002 began writing his first “proper” book To the Baltic With Bob, an account of a haphazard journey to St Petersburg. In 2006 his early autobiography Semi-Detached was featured as one of the recommended reads on Richard and Judy’s Book Club, and Mountain, the book accompanying his television series, was published in 2007.
Griff has been married for near on 30 years to designer Jo, whom he met when she had to throw water over him in a state of semi-nakedness for a Not The Nine O’Clock News sketch. They have a son and daughter (and a dog) and divide their time between homes in central London and Suffolk.