William Martin Russell (born 23 August 1947 in Whiston, Merseyside) is a British playwright, lyricist and composer.
Russell comes from a working class background. As an adolescent he was a hairdresser's apprentice and later ran his own salon. Only as an adult did his interest in learning grow, and he attended night classes specialising in drama. This is when he began writing plays.
His first success was a play about The Beatles called John, Paul, George, Ringo ...and Bert. However, two of his plays became outstanding successes. One was Educating Rita, about a working-class female hairdresser and her Open University teacher (semi-autobiographical; filmed); and a musical, Blood Brothers, for which Russell also composed the music.
Other plays by Russell include Breezeblock Park, Stags and Hens (review), "Our Day Out" (which was originally a BBC television play and is studied in schools), One for the Road and Shirley Valentine, which was also turned into a successful film.
Willy Russell was born just outside Liverpool in Whiston, 1947. After leaving school with one English O-level, he then went on became a ladies hairdresser. In his spare time he would write comical songs but would never sing them in public until one night at his local pub, his friend put him up to sing, and for the first time sang a song he wrote about the 'Kirkby Estate' where he had his audience in 'gales of laughter'.
From then on this became frequent. In the back of his mind he had always had the thought of writing a play. In 1972 'Blind Scouse' was premiered at the Edinburgh Festival and later on he wrote many more which have become widely known such as 'Educating Rita' which was made into a film in 1981 starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters, 'Shirley Valentine' the screenplay written in 1990 starring Pauline Collins. 'Stags and Hens' which first premiered at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool in 1978 and then was transferred to a film 'Dancin' Thru the Dark' the screenplay was also written in 1990, and then finally of course, 'Blood Brothers' which was produced in 1983, it first opened in Liverpool but then transferred to London however it wasn't too successful and closed. Bill Kenwright opened a new production in 1988, along with the show opening on Broadway in 1993.
Willy Russell, as a child grew up with mostly women around him, his mother, grandmother and his aunts. This had a big influence on his work and writing about women, and class, such as Shirley Valentine, Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons and Rita in 'Educating Rita'.