He was born in Toronto, Ontario, the son of a successful shopkeeper. His parents were born in the Ukraine and were driven out of the Russian Empire by poverty and the pogroms against the Jews. His father was only 26 when he died of the ‘flu epidemic but had already acquired three millinery shops as well as a men’s haberdashery.
Shulman was educated at Harbord Collegiate, then spent four years at the University of Toronto. Although he wished to pursue a writing career, he was articled to a law firm, attending lectures at Osgoode Hall Law School for a further three years before being called to the Ontario bar just before war broke out in 1939.
After the ‘phoney war’ period Shulman signed up for the Canadian army, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Canadian Armoured Corps and posted to England in June 1943. Stationed in London as a captain he was assigned to the secret operational intelligence unit MI 14b, dealing with the order of battle of the Wehrmacht’s formations.
He joined Canadian Army HQ three month’s before D-Day as a major and by the war's end he was an intelligence officer with the First Canadian Army. While still in uniform, he interviewed many of the captured German generals in the following months and years including Gerd von Rundstedt and Kurt Meyer. As a result of these interviews he wrote the classic Second World War military history Defeat in the West, published in London by Secker & Warburg in April 1947, and by Dutton in New York in January 1948. The book remains in print in paperback.
Shulman joined the staff of the Evening Standard in London in 1947 and for five decades wrote about theatre, film, television and politics with sharp humour and irreverence. He also became film critic for the Sunday Express and Vogue, and for 18 years his distinctive voice was a regular feature of BBC Radio 4’s witty talk show Stop The Week.
During this time he also wrote two novels, The Victors (Dell 1963) and Kill Three (Collins 1967); the Preep series of children’s books; and two serious books on the impact of television, The Ravenous Eye (Cassel 1973) and The Least Worst Television in the World (Barrie and Jenkins 1973), as well as a 90-minute play for BBC 2.
He and his fellow critic Herbert Kretzmer co-wrote the screenplay for the film comedy Every Home Should Have One (1970) and a paperback, successfully published by Hodder & Stoughton, to coincide with the film’s release.
Shulman received the IPA Award as Critic of the Year 1966. In 1956, he wrote a scathing review of a musical "Wild Grows the Heather" based on a Bridie play, "The Little Minister". Directed by Ralph Reader who also wrote the lyrics, it received an ovation on its first night but Shulman and other critics knew that this was because Reader had given out first night tickets to the boys taking part in one of his Boy Scout productions and told them to go along and give the piece a good reception. Among other things, Shulman said that the plot "moved at the pace of cold porridge going uphill."
In 1994, three years after Milton Shulman had retired from theatre reviewing, the then Observer critic Michael Coveney published The Aisle is Full of Noises, a spirited 'vivisection of the live theatre' which he arranged in the form of a diary, including some witty if not entirely flattering references to Shulman, while bracketing him with 'the kosher butchers ... Herbert Kretzmer, Bernard Levin and David Nathan.'
Shulman took offence in a big way, as reported in The Times newspaper diary of 21 September 1994: "Solicitors are trying to hammer out a deal to prevent court action against Nick Hern, the small publisher of the offending work. "I thought the comments were in the spirit of the book,' pleads Coveney. 'I rather regret that Milton, of whom I am actually rather fond, didn't take them in that spirit.' Shulman is tight-lipped, 'There are negotiations going on at the moment. I have not issued a writ for libel.'" The final outcome was that the book was withdrawn from circulation but, according to Coveney speaking in October 2007, by then most of the copies had been sold.
Shulman married his first wife Joyce in Toronto in 1943, two months before he embarked on a troopship for England, and never saw her again. They were divorced in 1948.
He first met journalist Drusilla Beyfus in 1951: “I had for months been meeting Drusilla in cocktail bars and restaurants. She was the most decorative aspect of the Daily Express, where her elegant figure, piquant face and ever-smiling personality were in constant demand by feature writers and columnists.” After a long courtship, interrupted by her sojourn in America as an author and freelance writer, they married at Caxton Hall on 6 June 1956. There are three children of the marriage: Alexandra Shulman, Nicola Shulman and Jason Shulman.