… don’t worry; you’re still doing better than most modern undergraduates.
Welcome back everyone – and what better way to start the academic year than with a good read? After what seems (to me) like an eternity, my first book – The Changing Spaces of Television Acting – was at last published at the end of August, and I have since been busily promoting it via whatever means possible. This onslaught arguably began with a blog on this site back in May 2016, when I foolishly promised the world that the book would be out later that year. How little I knew…
Changing Spaces deals with how acting for British television dramas has changed since the days of (primarily) live broadcast – when most production took place in the studio, using a multi-camera model – and the present, when, even though sets are still employed, most work takes place on location, single camera, and green screen covers a multitude of sins. Multi-camera is the domain of soaps, some sitcoms, and magazine shows, and the rehearsal period that was an endemic part of production for so many years has all but disappeared. I call these two eras ‘studio realism’ and ‘location realism’. There was no clear cut-off point; the BBC started going out on location a lot more from the 1970s, sometimes on film, sometimes Outside Broadcast, but it was the 1990 Broadcasting Act and the arrival in 1993 of Producer Choice that really tipped the scales. Other determinants have also changed. Actors training at British drama schools in the second half of the twentieth century might have received some screen training (but not much), while today it is a major part of their grounding. In addition, the theories of Konstantin Stanislavski – which better-versed performance academics than I have posited as being eminently suited to screen work – only made their way into the curricula of UK schools by stealth. To achieve all this, I used telefantasy case studies that had all be re-made in the 2000s (The Quatermass Experiment, Doctor Who, and Survivors), allowing (as I seem to keep writing in my promotional blurb) for both a historical overview and a then-and-now of British TV acting. Why telefantasy case studies? It would take too long to explain here, alas. You’ll just have to read the book! All this involved hours of research into production and reception at the BBC’s Written Archives Centre and the Westminster Reference Library (great fun), plus further hours of interviews with the great and good of British television drama (ever greater fun), and oodles of watching and writing about old TV (bliss).
In all, the process has taken over seven years, since much of the work included in the published version derives from my PhD. Although I began back in the palmy days of 2009, the writing process really began in 2010. I’d started the PhD at Royal Holloway, but jumped ship after the first year when my supervisor, Cathy Johnson, got a job at Nottingham. To be honest, I didn’t feel too thrilled about yomping up to Notts once a week for the compulsory Work In Progress sessions, where the various doctoral students would critique each others’ work. However, I soon changed my mind; this was the first time I’d had to defend my writing to anyone other than Cathy, and it did me (and the thesis) a power of good. My postdoctoral interaction at RHUL was limited to being befriended by Billy Smart, and then wrangling with him over who was going to meet and greet Michael Grade when we helped out at the BFI’s Radical Television Drama season.
At Nottingham I also acquired a new co-supervisor in the form of renowned Star Trek scholar Roberta Pearson, whose seminal Eloquent Gestures (1992) had, in the early days with Cathy, provided some clear pointers in terms of evolving my methodology.
Unlike many academics I have spoken to, many of whom seem to regard their PhD as the equivalent of water torture, I loved every minute of mine. I had next to no money for three years, but was doing work that I truly enjoyed. I honestly felt I was saying something nobody had said before, and in my naiveté I was convinced the world must hear of it, and that right soon.
My viva took place at the end of October 2012, and again, I seem to be slightly unusual in that I thoroughly enjoyed the process. As Cathy and Roberta pointed out beforehand, this was one of the rare occasions in my career when I would have the opportunity of an in-depth chat with not one but two people who had actually read my work with a serious degree of attention. At the end of the process, I asked my interlocutors how I should go about turning the thesis into a publishable book. Amongst much sage advice, the standout line was: ‘Change the title’. Since my case studies all derived from the BBC, I had called the PhD Acting for Auntie: From Studio Realism to Location Realism in BBC Television Drama, 1953-2008 (any decent historical PhD needs a lengthy sub-heading and a date range in the title). Given the science fiction-related nature of my case studies, I toyed with The Changing Times and Spaces of British Television Acting, but that didn’t exactly roll off the tongue, so The Changing Spaces of Television Acting it became when I first pitched it to Manchester University Press. M.U.P. had published many of the books on the history of British television drama that I most admired, so I approached them in summer 2013 with a certain amount of confidence and a thoroughly researched proposal (I had the stats to prove that there was a definite gap in the ‘market’, and my proposal was the best book to fill it). You can imagine my disappointment when, a few months later, the first reviewer damned the whole concept with faint praise. My ideas were not exactly condemned, but there wasn’t a huge amount of enthusiasm.
There will always be differences of opinion in academia, as in all walks of life, but this dousing with cold water (well, tepid) dashed my hopes of ever getting the full-length work into print. I began to seriously consider the route I’d seen discussed at Screen 2010 (my first proper conference) of simply filleting the most adaptable bits of the thesis and converting them into a series of journal articles.
That would not have satisfied me, however. Although my first article was indeed lifted from part of a draft thesis chapter, I considered it more a sketch for the final, finished piece – and (I’ll admit it), a sort of promotional calling card for my work. By and large, I hope my articles in recent years have been ends in themselves, either presenting entirely new research, or utilising the bits and pieces that didn’t find their way into the thesis proper.
However, when I learned that Christopher Hogg and Tom Cantrell had a deal with Palgrave to write a book called Acting for British Television, I dragged myself from the slough of despond, and renewed my attack on M.U.P. Editor Matthew Frost, who like Hercule Poirot possesses a magnificent pair of moustaches (and little grey cells to match), saw the light, and a second reader review was far more favourable.
I got the gig.
Serendipitously, this coincided with the job interview for what turned into my current post. My good fortune still hadn’t sunk in properly when I attended the interrogation in December 2014, and as I got up to leave, I off-handedly mentioned that I’d recently agreed a book deal with M.U.P. This genuine forgetfulness was apparently mistaken by the panel for an act of modesty.
I got the gig.
It wasn’t until the following summer, by which time contracts had been signed and delivery dates set, that I started re-working the thesis into a monograph that, while intended primarily for an academic readership, might (given its reasonably well-known case studies) also appeal to a wider audience. These two are not the same thing. Back in 1983 I had, as a teen fanboy with a reasonable vocabulary purchased John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado’s Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text, which turned out not to be quite as easy a read as The Making of Doctor Who by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke. Nevertheless, I ploughed through it, understanding most of the words but around fifty per cent of the meaning. When I returned to it ten years later as a mature undergraduate, it made a lot more sense. Reading it again for the PhD, I wondered what my problem had been.
Much of the early sections of my PhD had been about demonstrating my familiarity with the existing field. While plenty has been written on big screen film performance, television had been largely neglected, so I spent a lot of time proving that:
- a) Nobody had done what I wanted to do
- b) It needed to be done
This was still necessary for the book, but not at such great length. So, the introduction – which in the thesis included both a mini literature review and a legthy-ish methodological outline – was pared to the bone.
So far, so good.
In the thesis, I had also expended a lot of effort on explaining things. Not because I thought my audience (my supervisors, and two very eminent examining professors) wouldn’t understand what I was about, but because I knew I needed to demonstrate that I did understand. As Cathy once told me: ‘There is no room in academia for common sense.’ That made me laugh then, and still makes me laugh now (only a little hysterically), because – having worked at various universities – I know that the one thing they could all do with more of is common sense. Particularly when it comes to timetabling.
I understood what she really meant, however.
For the book, I decided that I didn’t need to spend quite so much time on explication, as long as every point made was adequately backed up with supporting evidence. Where evidence is genuinely lacking, of course, one simply adds the words ‘arguably’ and/or ‘more research needs to be done in this area’, before stirring gently and leaving to cool.
By the time I was actually writing the book, it was nearly three years since I’d finished the PhD. So, I needed to update my background reading.
This didn’t take long. I came across one or two good pieces about television acting (in particular, Max Sexton’s 2015 interview with Philip Jackson, which covered many of the areas I was interested in, with some of the same findings), but the field, while slowly expanding, was still comparatively empty. While bad news for academia, this was good news for me; I still had a USP.
As most of the book was a historical overview, there wasn’t a huge amount of updating to do in the main chapters. In the thesis I had speculated that, since Doctor Who star William Hartnell’s ‘performed’ voice as the Doctor occasionally betrayed the vowel sounds of his working class origins, this might also have been the case with his ‘real’ voice. However, the publication in 2013 of not one but two recordings of the actor in interviews revealed a symphony in Received Pronunciation 9or what used to be called Standard English). So, I rewrote accordingly.
The most significant piece of ‘new’ writing came with the creation of an additional chapter, examining the possibility of studio realism making a comeback via the increased presence on late 2000s TV of live drama performance (think of all those soap specials, plus in 2011 the weird and wonderful Frankenstein’s Wedding). For the thesis Roberta talked me into simply using the 2005 re-mount of The Quatermass Experiment as a segue into a conclusion re-capping the points made in earlier chapters; ‘Save the chapter for the book,’ she counselled.
So, that’s what I did. And since EastEnders had recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with a week of live segments, culminating in an all-live finale, it seemed appropriate to use that to round things off, and so bring the book up to date.
I was pleased with the finished version, and – as I emailed it off to Matthew at the end of February 2016 – felt confident that it would soon be adding to new knowledge; every academic’s goal.
How little I knew.
The reviewer comments, when they came back in July, were concise and (on the whole) extremely positive. However, it was also made clear that there were several things I could do to make the book more robust. For starters, the reviewer pointed out that, if I wanted to look at telefantasy acting, I needed to explain and justify why. Panic. I didn’t want to look at telefantasy acting; my aim was to look at TV acting using telefantasy case studies (again, see the book; it’s a very long explanation). Clearly, this important point had become lost during the process of excision and revision. Back to the thesis I went, and a lot of the justification and explanation I had junked was reinstated, with a few additional flourishes.
In addition, the reviewer suggested some first class sources that both strengthened and expanded upon the points I was trying to make. I spent a very pleasurable August re-working the fourth chapter in particular, which is now (I believe and hope) much stronger than the original thesis version.
All to the good, then. My book would be out imminently, and the field of television performance would expand just that little bit further.
Alas, no. Do you think these things happen overnight?
First, there was the promotional blurb to write, and the abstract.
Then, the draft cover designs.
Then the proofs.
These were followed by calmly made amendments (so, I’d made a few typos; who doesn’t? I’d also forgotten to thank Dick Fiddy in the Acknowledgements for providing an email address for Alvin Rakoff. Tsk).
Then (big moment) the book was listed on M.U.P.’s website.
This was followed by more draft cover designs (I wasn’t entirely happy with the original choice of masks).
Then the book appeared for pre-order on amazon.co.uk (with the wrong cover art, but this was still extremely exciting. I could now send my friends links to prove that the book existed. Sort of).
More proofs and amendments (how could I have made so many typos? I’d also forgotten to thank Billy for letting me have an advance copy of his PhD).
Approval of cover designs.
Final proofs, and further (somewhat panicky) amendments (how had I forgotten to thank my publisher?).
I wrote further promotional materials sent to me by M.U.P.
Then – suddenly, almost without anyone noticing – I was an author. I telephoned M.U.P. on 31st August (the official publication date) to check that the book is now available before (bursting with pride) posting an announcement via MeCCSA.
Yes; the book was, indeed, available.
I posted the announcement.
My colleague Geoff McQueen was the first to congratulate me by email.
Hot on his heels, Rob Turnock wrote that it must be good to at last hold a copy of the book in my hand. Alas, I was out when they were delivered by courier. My neighbour took them in, and as nobody had advised me when they were coming I was none the wiser.
Never mind. I swiftly retrieved my freebies, and when the university’s library copies arrived a week later, I spent more time than is healthy admiring my surname on the spines in big, friendly letters.
I then began organising a launch event, to be held at Manchester’s HOME cinema. To my great delight, Patrick Malahide (one of the most patient and articulate of my interviewees, though to be honest they were all patient and articulate) agreed to be special guest, and to take part in a Q&A.
NB: This event is due to take place from 7.30 pm on Friday 6th October, so – depending on how quickly Kim and Tobias post this – please do come along/it’s happening right now/you’ve missed it, sorry.
And that’s it. It was a lot of work over a long time. During the PhD I was occasionally frustrated by the fact that the friends and family who were all too often treating me (surreptitiously ensuring I didn’t buy the first round when we met, insisting on paying the tip; all greatly appreciated) didn’t really understand what I was doing, or why I was doing it. They tried to be pleased for me (I was clearly having the time of my life), but were faintly baffled by the whole thing. Why couldn’t they see how important this was?
Now, however, they understand; I’ve written a book. Some of my friends have even bought it, and a copy also presumably resides in the British Library. One day, when I am in particular need of reassurance and validation, I shall seek it out.
I also have some unique and pleasant memories of the whole research and writing process. The late Roger Lloyd-Pack making his own bread (‘It’s from an actual living culture’) while we chatted in his kitchen in Tufnell Park, comparing digital voice recorders as he explained how he used his to master dialects. Me spluttering with disbelief as Eton-educated Moray Watson (also now gone, sadly) apologised for not having had a regional accent to eradicate when he attended Webber Douglas drama school (he had a beautiful speaking voice). During our chat, in the coffee shop beneath Waterstones in Piccadilly, he then took the time to ask me about myself: my background, and what my ambitions were. He was an old school gentleman, and made a point of taking an interest in others. I recall realising that I had just had a lengthy, involved (and involving) discussion of Stanislavski’s acting techniques with Louise Jameson, without once blurting out that I’d had a huge crush on her when she played Leela. And lastly, I remember going for a celebratory Chinese meal in Nottingham with Cathy and Rob the evening after my viva.
Good times; good times.
See you at the launch?
Dr Richard Hewett is Lecturer in Media Theory at the University of Salford’s School of Arts and Media. He has contributed articles to The Journal of British Cinema and Television, The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Critical Studies in Television and Adaptation. You are probably sick of hearing about his new book now.
 So often confused with the Method, which is an appropriation/adaptation of just some of his ideas.
 I should stress that the book is not about a particular style of acting for telefantasy – though I would love to write that, if anyone out there is willing to fund the research.
 Also known as the WIPs – and who doesn’t enjoy a good WIP-ing, from time to time?
 Billy won.
 Yes, I passed – but with minor amendments. Or rather amendment; Paul McDonald was ready to open the postdoctoral gates at once, but that bounder Jonathan Bignell pointed out that I hadn’t included a filmography. This was a case of not seeing the woods for the trees; a mistake I continue to make.
 These days I use blogs for that – as if you hadn’t noticed.
 Though admittedly ‘The Changing Determinants of UK Television Acting’ – written before I had the book deal – does sound very similar to The Changing Spaces of Television Acting – and allows my students to familiarise themselves with my key areas without ploughing through 80,000 (well chosen) words. As one student put it to me last year: ‘I’m not expected to read a whole book in a week, am I?’
 I am not modest.
 Alas, histories have a habit of not staying up to date very long.
 A fine man; I don’t care what the others say.
 M.U.P. have spelt it correctly, with an ‘e’ rather than an ‘i’. I’m a wet, not a wit.