PhD: English Literature, Film and Television Studies, Cultural Studies
Thesis Title: Serial autobiography and regional working-class self-expression: a cultural history of the Midlands
The aim of my research is to ascertain whether the Midlands-region has a cultural identity all its own.
At a time when the regional working classes are the subject of much political, economic and cultural debate – when a recent study evidenced the middle-class domination of the arts, and when the dismantling in 2010 of the nine Regional Screen Agencies that energised regional film activity and empowered social groups conventionally neglected by the London-centric film industry, disadvantaged working-class filmmakers – it seems important that critical study of regional working-class cultural production be intensified.
The recent revival of D H Lawrence’s ‘Eastwood Trilogy’ by the National Theatre and the popularity of Shane Meadows’ This is England series point to an upturn of public interest in regional, working-class stories. Nottingham, in particular, has an exceptionally rich history of generating artists, a fact acknowledged in December 2015 when it was named a World City of Literature. The absence, then, of any comprehensive cultural study of the Midlands seems now more than ever to be in need of correction. It remains the case – as David Russell diagnosed in Looking North (2004) – that the Midlands are ‘ill-defined and oft-ignored’; my research means to remedy this.
My thesis will identify a regional working-class cultural expression of the Midlands, offering for the first time a comparison of literary and audio-visual works by Midlands-indigenous artists—among them the largely under-explored early dramas of D H Lawrence (1909-14), and Shane Meadows’ This is England television series (2010-15), which has yet to be subjected to sustained critical analysis. The works of Nottingham-born novelist Alan Sillitoe, the television dramas of writer William Ivory, and Stephen Lowe’s episodes of soap opera Coronation Street make up my other case-studies.
I will draw on recent developments in cultural geography and regional studies in order to show how these artworks are grounded in a similar political and aesthetic approach; that they have in common an artistic sensibility arising from a responsiveness to place and social class. My thesis will chart a cultural lineage of the Midlands, a heritage that has been largely overlooked, and will argue that serial autobiography is a mode of expression specific to the representation of a regional working-class identity.