I wrote my first PhD proposal in 2011. It was about live TV drama of the 1950s and 1960s. I didn't get anywhere with that one, and I started to look at my collection of Bonditis ephemera and wonder what I was going to do with it. Some time in 2012 I visited the Cinema Museum for the first time, and looking around at all the fantastic posters and collectibles I began to think that maybe there was a PhD in all of that. Having spoken at Cine Excess a couple of times, and given a guest lecture on British cult film in 2011 at Brunel, I applied for their fee waiver with a proposal that looked at film promotion in the 1960s. it was very vague, but knowing some of the academics there through Cine Excess, I got in.
I started with Brunel in September 2012, and my supervisor was the brilliant Leon Hunt. He helped me begin to shape my idea into something which might actually work. his own passion for Italian cult cinema in particular began to interest me. My own historical interests were very Brit-focused, and he helped me to see that there was a whole continent of fascinating European film that might be worth exploring. Coupled with my collection of Bonditis material, a 1960s spy film from Germany distributed by Compton, a British company, ideas began to coalesce. The notion that one could study the distribution of European cult film in the UK in the 1960s took hold, and that was it. I loved studying, and the fee waiver was a massive help, but I still had to work as a college lecturer for three days a week. This was a real struggle, and after a year I knew that I was never going to get anywhere without more financial backing.
Jobs.ac.uk told me that Sussex were offering full scholarships through the AHRC-sponsored CHASE programme. This was worth a shot, and I applied. This was late 2013, and the fact that by this point I had already written a literature review and knew what I wanted my project to be really helped shape a decent application. I was offered a place, but after a long wait I was turned down for the scholarship. This was a massive disappointment, particularly as 2014 was already shaping up to be quite a difficult year, and I was so desperate to get out of my current employment. About two months after that, as I was still working slowly on my research, I received an email out of the blue from the head of Music, Film and Media at Sussex to tell me that the department wanted to offer me a scholarship anyway. My application had been the strongest film one they had and they were very keen to have me. That was the single greatest email I have ever received, even better than the time Barbara Steele asked to friend me on Linkedin. I should probably frame it. From that point on my life took an upward turn, and my Doctorate would live after all!
Three years and four months later I have just submitted my finished thesis, all 85,000 words (plus a 50,000 word appendix) and am now waiting for a viva. My supervisors have been brilliant, particularly comedy legend Andy Medhurst, who for the last year has shepherded me through more or less single-handedly. This research has opened up so many great opportunities for me, and I hope that it will lead to an actual career. A decent full-time job somewhere would be a good start at least. There have also been exciting media moments along the way, such as my appearance on The One Show a couple of years ago, and yesterday I spoke down the line to Patrick Cox, a BBC journalist based in Boston, about the development of the 'X' certificate in the UK and the US. He contacted me having found my chapter in the Routledge British Cinema History book which was published a year or so ago. I consider myself very lucky!
I'm not sure how much more I will use this blog now that my research has finished, at least for the time being. I'm sure eventually I will be encouraged to turn my thesis into a book. I'm considering a book just on the Fancey family at least. However, as well as catching up on some of my other writing commitments for magazines, I really need to get on and finish my Norman J. Warren book which has been in the background for about nine years now. He's been very patient, but it has to be done this year! Still, this is the life I have created for myself, and I'm happy with it.