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You’re nicked – Author Q&A with Ben Lamb

Tuesday, 12 Nov 2019

How would you like someone who has read your book to sum it up in one sentence?

This was a fascinating yet compelling exploration of my favourite television genre; I had no idea how central the police series has been to the television industry and British society’s post war development.

What book in your field has inspired you the most?

Probably Lez Cooke’s British Television Drama. He was the first academic author to synthesise a comprehensive timeline of all the key technological, aesthetic, and ideological developments through the entire history of British television drama. It is written in such an accessible manner – without losing sight of its academic rigor – that it is effectively the bible of all television scholars. You cannot write about British television drama history without referring back to it as a key reference point. You will not find a university library without a copy.

Did your research take you to any unexpected places?

Absolutely. At the start of this book I was first and foremost a television historian. By the end I had become somewhat of an expert in criminology, social science, gender studies, postmodernism, existentialism, and even neo-determinist geography. In order to make the analysis of each text loyal to the nuances of its implicit ideologies I had to read as widely as possible around particular topics the programme in question appeared to be tackling. I was also surprised to find New Tricks as strangely addictive as I did.

Which writing process do you use?

As a millennial I’m sorry to say computer. I work best when I speedily type up all my immediate thoughts, analyses, and research, often to the point where there are so many spelling mistakes that Microsoft word is unable to keep using spellcheck. On average each chapter starts life as an undecipherable 40,000 word rantings of a madman.  Then comes the part I most enjoy; the process of crafting this 40,000 word mess into a succinct, expressive, and (hopefully) insightful 10,000 word study some 15 drafts later.

Why did you choose to publish with MUP?

Not only do they have an incredibly strong back catalogue of arts/culture/media publications, Matthew Frost was the only editor – out of all the publishers I contacted – who wanted to have a detailed chat about how to make the book commercially viable in a way that was most loyal to my research strengths. Initially my book was a study of police series from the 1950s until the 1980s. Whilst other publishers simply wanted me to shoehorn American series into the book, Matthew gave me the time and space to flesh out what would be best to write about for the critical field. From that initial conversation we decided it would be a book that studies British television police series from 1955 until today and I never looked back since.

What are you working on now?

In collaboration with the Heritage Lottery Fund I am currently touring a film through the region on how welfare state service delivery has developed since the 1930s. Using the North East Film Archive’s collections, Rewinding the Welfare State: A Social History of the North East on Film uses local news reports, Tyne Tees Television documentaries, trade union campaigns, community films and more to determine what we can learn from out past to improve our future.

Similarly I am assisting with the North East regional campaign to market Ken Loach’s latest film Sorry we Missed you throughout the Teesside area.

I am currently writing a paper on reassessing Blade Runner in relation to Ridley Scott’s formative years in Teesside, and his initial social realist / modernist aesthetic that often gets overlooked in analysis of his seminal sci-fi film.

In the pipeline I am also writing a journal article on police interrogation scenes in British crime drama and how they have changed in relation to policing practice.

Lastly in the not-too-distant future I hope to compile an edited collection of essays on regional trade union film movements with a chapter by myself on the north east’s trade film, amber, and swingbridge companies.

If you could go back and give yourself once piece of advice when starting out on this project, what would it be?

Don’t sacrifice too much of your private life. Some days won’t be productive as others but sometimes a day spent just thinking through and planning possible trajectories of your argument are not wasted by any means.

If you could have been the author of any book, what would it be and why?

Germaine Greer’s Female Eunuch. I’m not sure how this would work given my gender, however, I think this book sits atop the pedestal for demonstrating how a thoroughly academic study can strike a chord with the general population and change an entire generation’s perspective. I’m not sure whether we will see its like again.

What other genres do you enjoy reading?

So long as an author is passionate and well researched on a particular topic I will read absolutely anything. At the side of my bed I always have at least one novel, one academic study, and one history book so that I can dip in and out of a number of different writing styles depending on my mood that particular evening. For example at the moment I am reading Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Paul Gilroy’s After Empire, and Misha Glenny’s The Fall of Yugoslavia.

Which authors (academic and not) would you invite to a dinner party?

I would love to have an evening with Jonathan Coe, Philip Roth, Jimmy McGovern, Stuart Hall, James O’Brien, and Stephen Lacey. I think together we could solve this very dark sectarian path British politics and wider society seems to be locked in and come up with tangible solutions as to how popular culture can be the key solution to unlock such deep seated divisions.

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