Willy Russell was born in Liverpool in 1947 and began working as a hairdresser after leaving school. Aged 20, he went back to college and became a teacher. He wrote his first play in 1971, and achieved national success with his first Beatles-inspired musical, John, Paul, George, Ringo … and Bert, which ran for eight weeks at Liverpool Everyman Theatre and then transferred to the West End. The musical won the Evening Standard and London Theatre Critic Award for best musical in 1974.
He has since written several plays, two of which have been made into screenplays: Educating Rita (1981) and Shirley Valentine (1988). He is also a prolific composer, writing the lyrics and score for his musical Blood Brothers (1986), and composing many of his own songs.