Writing For Walford


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Broadcaster: BBC2 Wales
Year: 2012
Genre: Documentary
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/102441

Review by Lisa Smalley

Students of creative writing modules will find this episode on screen-writing very helpful.  The writers, directors and actors of ‘Eastenders’ give ideas and advice on creating a successful script under the headings of:

  • How to write a story
  • Know your world
  • Know your character
  • Writing a great script
  • Getting into the industry.

As the title of the episode suggests, the focus is around the ‘Eastenders” and ‘E20’ story lines and the method of character creation (‘character is story, character is action’), and applying that onto a script alongside other established characters.

A video diary from ‘Eastenders’ writer, Daisy Coulam gives  an interesting insight into the process of being a professional screen writer, showing time frames, potential issues and even giving personal motivation techniques to keep the creative juices flowing.

Essentially this episode is full of professionals giving great advice to anyone interested in developing their screen writing skills, with ideas on authenticity of dialogue and language to discovering a character’s individual voice.


Spreading the Word (Fry’s Planet Word)

Broadcaster: BBC TWO

Year: 2011

Genre: Language, Documentary, History of English, Sociolinguistics

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/72403

Review by: Lerah Mae Barcenilla

Fry’s Planet Word is a five-part series, which ran from the 25th September to the 23rd October 2011 and ‘explores language, coming to understand how we learn it, write it and sometimes lose it, and why it defines us’. In this episode, Fry explores the written word and its evolution with the help of the development of the printing press, to the emergence of new mediums of technological advancements in the twenty-first century in the form of online blogging and the accessibility of knowledge with only one click away. Certain sections of this episode is particularly relevant to the history of the English language and perhaps, some aspects of modern-day linguistics and how language has changed over the years.

It is worth watching the whole episode, but her are particular scenes of note:

  • 35:00 – Chaucer, printing press
  • 0:37:21 – English in the Middle Ages
  • 0:38:00 – Caxton, made the ‘English language more stable’
  • 0:40:45 – ‘The Age of Reason’, ‘The Enlightenment’
  • 0:47:20 – The digital age, blogging

Shakespeare’s First Folio (The Secret Life of Books)

Broadcaster: BBC FOUR
Year: 2014
Genre: Literature, Documentary, Renaissance Drama, Shakespeare
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/239003

Review by: Lerah Mae Barcenilla

The Secret Life of Books is a six-part series, which ran from the 5th September to the 6th November 2014 and aims to uncover ‘the stories behind the creation of six classic British books.’ In this second instalment, Simon Russell Beale looks at what we can learn from Shakespeare’s First Folio. This is particularly relevant to first year English undergraduates in their second semester studying the module, EN1050: Shakespeare and his Contemporaries.

It is worth watching the whole episode, but here are particular scenes of note:

  • 0:03:00 – ‘…collaborated, worked with his fellow playwrights and actors and his great words weren’t always his. His plays changed during his own lifetime.’
  • 0:12:15 – three versions of Hamlet
  • 0:14:05 – why there was different versions of certain plays; good and bad quarto.

As a 30-minute documentary, the information provided is not very detailed. Nonetheless, studying Shakespeare and his contemporaries, such as the likes of Marlowe, Webster and Kyd, may help develop a newfound love and respect for the beauty of Renaissance plays and their playwrights. This episode is particularly interesting in that it shows the early copies of Shakespeare’s works and how they may have changed from their original forms – whether it be as a result of changes by the actor or as a result of co-authorship and collaboration with his fellow playwrights and perhaps, what it would sound like if the Shakespearean plays we are familiar with today were written differently.

Poetry Please


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Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Year: 2008
Genre: Poetry Reading
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/295928

Review by: Luna Ferraraccio

In this footage, Roger McGough introduces the life and work of poet Alexander Pope. Some of his famous poems such as Birthday ode (1732) are read during the programme.

The different extracts recited through the broadcast are an intelligent way to illustrate the style of the author. McGough takes the poem Eloisa to Abelard (1717) as the main point of focus of the programme since it appears that, even if Alexander Pope was a classic author, Eloisa to Abelard has been described as the first Gothic work in the English literature.

Contextual background information is given to allow a full understanding of the poem and the impact it had during its time. The complete reading of the poem follows, which is refreshing to listen to since the reader respect the pauses, the rhythm and intonations of Eloisa to Abelard.

The programme is composed mainly by the reading of the poem Eloisa to Abelard. Even if it is not essential, it would be more fruitful for the listener to have some previous knowledge on poetry to catch all the subtleties of the text, which could however be an interesting as well as challenging excise.

The broadcast would be of great use for students since they would be able to discover some other pieces of work of Alexander Pope, other than the ones traditionally studied on University level curricula. ‘Poetry please’ might be an interesting programme for the listener who would like to refresh their background knowledge about the author Alexander Pope himself and rediscover his work from a different angle. However, it might be better to keep a critical perspective while listening to the footage, since McGough’s opinion is the only one given through the broadcast.

The Beauty of Books


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Broadcaster: BBC 4
Year: 2011
Genre: Documentary
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/295686

Review by: Luna Ferraraccio

In this documentary, we are introduced to London’s British Library where a number of ancient and unique books, more than eleven million in fact, are kept. In this prestigious setting, the viewers a shown a book called the Luttrell Psalter which is described as a book of a kind, a milestone of the medieval literature. According to the programme, this piece of work is described as much as “an horrible piece of art” as it is ”marvellous”. An apparently compelling book for anyone who was lucky enough to read and observe it for the past 700 years with its grotesque, fascinating images and its 150 psalms in Latin. The Luttrell Psalter is a major part of English heritage and history.

Key information about the kind of manuscript and contents are given in the clip. The historical value of the book is set out by a professor of the university of London, who claimed these books are also mirrors of the life of their time. Indeed, many manuscripts were of religious content and were meant to guide the people in their everyday life to be good Christians.  The programme stresses the importance of the Medieval period as developing the first steps of the English literature, where Geoffrey Chaucer is introduced as the ”Father of English Literature”, being the one to boldly reject the literary conventions and start to write in English. The viewers discover that various rhetorical techniques, various levels of readings and subtext already existed at that time and are not reserved for the most modern work.

The documentary does not only focus on the literary aspect of the medieval period, but gives the viewer key historical information to allow them to grasp the subtleties found in the texts. In fact, literature and history are subjects best taught in tandem.  Combining the two exposes the different meanings of a book, particularly a medieval book, as a sign of wealth and pride, an educational and religious tool, and a way to defend oneself against the fear of death and Hell.

This documentary would be interesting to watch as an introduction to a Medieval Literature module for the language used is simple but the information is precise. It would be equally useful for further projects since many professors of various prestigious university make an appearance and so could be used as potential sources for complementary readings and research by the students.

Art of the Public Adress


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Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Year: 2010
Genre: Documentary
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/30165

Review by: Luna Ferraraccio

This radio programme discusses the speech that can be heard on the usual public addresses on trains, in the supermarket and other venues.  The broadcaster goes to talk with people that regularly make the public addresses.

The speakers observe that these kind of announcement are more and more frequent but that often the language used is peculiar and nothing like the natural spoken English that people use in their everyday lives. The first example that they take is the use of words such as “beverage” or even ”vestibule”. Rarely heard in a simple conversation, they are regularly used in the public announcements.

The broadcaster observes the phenomenon of adapting one’s voice when talking for a crowd, how some voices adopt almost a musical rhythm or are more hesitant. It is also interesting to note that these changes are often described as unconscious by the speaker. However, the speakers seem to be able to controls the inflexion of their voices in order to give a very specific impression or feeling. Indeed, an interviewee explain that he always tries to come across as “friendly” and “approachable”.

An expert in public speaking whom also teaches his techniques to amateurs is then interviewed. He explain the Colloquial Formality Syndrome which affect people who are not used to public talking and adopt a specific and formal speech, sometime archaic words. He talks as well about the process hidden behind the change of one’s voice during a public announcement. Also, the expert comments on the phenomenon of suppressing stresses and emphasis.

The meeting with the expert is then followed by a discussion with various people whom regularly have to make public announcements because of their jobs. The broadcaster equire after their intentions during the announce and their feelings while they speak. Often, the answer to his questions varies from one person to another, sometime drastically so.

Some of the store announcers discussed on the programme were then invited into the broadcasting house to be coached to improve their speech by a professional radio speaker, for example by using some vocal exercises.

This clip would be useful to all the students studying discourse analysis, the notions of audience design, broadcast talk and institutional talk. It can also be used as a source for group project wanting to focus on this kind of material. However, if using this radio programme for research, you should also seek other scholarly research on the topics as the programme does not cite any.

In Our Time: Beowulf


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Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Year: 2015
Genre: Documentary
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/295758

Review by: Luna Ferraraccio

This radio talk focuses on the work of Beowulf, one of the oldest piece of English Literature, as main subject. A brief summary of the story is given at the very beginning, followed by some historical information about the work itself. A group of experts in Old English, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Literature from various schools and universities have been reunited for the purpose of the talk show.

The first point of discussion revolves around the ”when and where” the story of Beowulf takes place and also when the poem might have been written. We learn that the story is set around the sixth century, in Denmark, but more surprisingly, it appears that, if Beowulf himself was a fictional character, some other figures of the tale were real people living during that era. The second point of focus is the outline of the story itself, from the ”plot point of view”. An extract of the poem is read in Old English and then translated in Modern English. The third subject of discussion is the different themes that are present in Beowulf such as “memory, glory and futility”. The character of Beowulf is then described in depth as well as the reasons why he could be seen as a peculiar hero for his time, followed by the different symbolic of Beowulf’s three adversaries. The language of the poem and the rhetorical tools used in the text themselves are then analysed and explained by the experts. The genre of the poem is a matter of debate afterward, and finally, to conclude the talk show, a link between Beowulf and Tolkien’s work is mentioned.

This talk show might be of interest to the students for multiple reasons: the persons debating around the epic poem are real expert of the subject, not only do they give their opinion on Beowulf, they also explain their arguments and the thinking process they followed in order to built these arguments. The experts give to the listeners the tools to understand one of the oldest piece of English literature rather than simply state some general information or facts about that “cultural artefact”. The work of the professors present for the talk show could also be used as sources for further readings and research.

Fry’s English Delight – Spelling in the English Language


This episode considers the English language and all of its irregularities and unpredictable rules for spelling.  At just under half an hour (the programme starts 0:03:25), this is easy listening for EN1040 students, describing a brief history of the language ranging from 6th Century AD to the present.

The original ‘Old English’ was an ‘extremely regular’ orthography.  Superimpose over this three layers of Germanic history, French romantic innovation and classical Latin orientation, and the result struggles to represent our naturalistically spoken sounds.  To quote Stephen Fry, the English language is ‘wearing the wrong trousers’. As linguists, our job is not to make pejorative judgments though, but to understand why the complexities of the English spelling system arose.

The questions raised in this programme: Is the complexity and irregularities of the English language damaging?  Could the spelling system ever be ‘straightened out’?

The alternatives considered here range from John Hart’s ‘An Orthographie’ (1969), Noah Webster’s American reform (Federal English) and George Bernard Shaw’s legacy, the Shavian alphabet.  Various contributors, including Professor David Crystal (Honorary Expert of Linguistics at the University of Wales), Jennifer Richards (Professor of Literature and Culture at Newcastle University) and Dr. Lynn Murphy (Reader in Linguistics at the University of Sussex) provide the motivations for change in each of these circumstances, as well as a basic description of the proposed reforms.

Tags: English Language, sociolinguistics, EN1040, language etymology, Old English, Germanic, Latin alphabet, John Hart, Noah Webster, Federal English, George Bernard Shaw, Shavian, Shavian Alphabet, language reform, reading and spelling.

The Mysterious Mr. Webster


Professor James Shapiro presents this exploration of John Webster’s life.  His background and education, and the influence of Jacobean society upon his greatest play, ‘The Duchess of Malfi’.

This documentary provides interesting observations into the staging of ‘The Duchess…’, and takes an in-depth look at the original stage at Blackfriar’s Play House.  The impact of lighting, costume and make-up are considered in the location, and compared with a recreation of an early Jacobean theatre at The Globe in London.  Several scenes are used from the BBC’s Arts at the Globe production of ‘The Duchess of Malfi’, starring Gemma Arterton (http://bobnational.net/record/222085).  This is recommended viewing for EN1050 students alongside this documentary.

Previous actors are interviewed on their experiences of character and dialogue, and the historical inspiration of the play is put into context.   Religious paranoia of Jacobean culture is discussed and a rendition of Webster and Johnson’s musical composition for the play is performed.

Finally, Professor Shapiro considers the problematic assertive woman, and how the Duchess’ character would have been received by the audience.  This lone female protagonist was the first of its kind, and reflects Webster’s unique approach as a playwright who was ahead of his time.

Tags: John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi, Renaissance drama, Renaissance tragedy, English Literature, BBC Arts at the Globe, Jacobean theatre, Professor James Shapiro, Renaissance theatre, staging renaissance theatre, Renaissance plays, EN1050, Shakespeare and his Contemporaries.

What’s So Great About…Chaucer?

Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Year:  2011
Genre: Documentary
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/205111

Review by  Lisa Smalley

Starting off in South London and moving Canterbury West, Lenny Henry tries to get to grips with the Middle English in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.  ‘This is not Jay-Z, its G.C’.  Tourists often believe the Middle English version of the prologue to be a foreign language, and Lenny finds reading it a challenge.  The question here is does Chaucer remain relevant over six hundred years after his death?

With brief outlines of the plot and use of language in The Canterbury Tales, students of EN2010 may find this a useful introduction to the ‘Chaucer and English Tradition’ module.

Accompanied at various points by readings of the prologue set to music, various efforts have been made over the years to keep public interest in The Canterbury Tales, with even a musical version produced for the stage.

The contributors to this programme seem to be in agreement that Chaucer had a skill for depicting the subtlety of human nature.  Even making a comparison with ‘Coronation Street’, in that human nature hasn’t really changed over six hundred years.  The stereotypes that existed then still exist today, which allow modern readers to identify with characters’ strengths and weaknesses.  Allowing appreciation to be found in each generation.

Tags: Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, Middle English, EN2010, Chaucer and English Tradition.