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Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington announces retirement

One of the UK's most revered critics is hanging up his pen

Michael Billington joined the Guardian in 1971
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Michael Billington has announced his retirement as the Guardian's chief theatre critic, after nearly 50 years with the paper.

Billington, one of the UK's longest-serving critics, has written over 10,000 reviews for the Guardian since joining in 1971. He will step down at the end of the year.

"It has been a huge privilege and pleasure to write about theatre for the Guardian for the past 48 years," he said. "I have, however, decided to step down from the job of daily reviewing. I shall shortly be 80 and, with the years, the stress of writing to a deadline doesn't get any easier. Giving up will be a wrench but I feel now is the right time to do it."

Katharine Viner, the Guardian's editor-in-chief, said: "I've been reading Michael's writing for as long as I can remember – the insights, flair and depth of his writing have been essential to my understanding of theatre for decades, as it has for so many Guardian readers.

"The 'Billington review' is a vital moment for any new production, as eagerly sought out by readers and rival critics as it is by performers and directors. Michael's run as the Guardian's chief theatre critic has been extraordinary. I am delighted that he will continue to write for us regularly, and I'd like to thank him on behalf of hundreds of colleagues, and thousands of readers, past and present, for everything he has brought to the Guardian for the past 48 years."

As well as his overnight reviews, Billington has authored several books on theatre including a biography of Harold Pinter and State of the Nation: British Theatre Since 1945. He was appointed an OBE in 2013 for services to the theatre.

The Guardian's Arts editor, Alex Needham, said: "It's been a joy and a privilege to work with Michael, unquestionably the pre-eminent theatre critic of our times. I'd like to thank him for five decades of wonderfully insightful, funny and scrupulously perceptive reviews."