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Personal profile


My undergraduate degree was in English and Art History with the Open University, where I then did a Masters in the Eighteenth Century Novel. My PhD was supervised by Professor Jacky Bratton in the Department of Drama and Theatre Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London. I researched provincial popular entertainment during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

I worked from Royal Holloway as Assistant Editor on Nineteenth Century Theatre for four years, and on a major AHRC project, 'An Alternative History of Victorian Entertainment,' for three years following that.

I joined the Drama Department at Manchester as a part-time lecturer and then full time, teaching introductory courses on theatre history, Shakespeare, melodrama and, my favourite, Gags, gaffs and geeks: an introduction to popular entertainment in the 19th century. I supervised a range of historically based PhDs.

When the jointly-authored book, The Victorian Clown (CUP, 2006) was published in 2006, I appeared on Richard and Judy and gave many radio interviews. It seemed everyone was interested in Victorian jokes! Since then I've appeared on The One Show, The World's Greatest Joke and Who Do You Think You Are, where I got to meet my teenage hero, Sir Ian McKellan.

I retired from teaching in 2014, and was granted an Honorary Research Fellowship. 

Research interests

My doctoral research was focused on popular entertainment outside London in the 19th and 20th centuries, and this field is so rich and unexplored that it still occupies me.

Though I'm now retired, I am still an active researcher, and have an ongoing fascination with what engaged and amused the ordinary Victorian and Edwardian. So that the popular theatre, circus and music hall have always formed the broad base of my research.

I am currently working on dog-dramas (those fascinating melodramas from the first half of the 19th century in which the dog was the star). I am putting together my research on penny gaffs - the original 'found space' theatres - and on the portable theatres, which is a very large project. I have given conference papers on dog-dramas and the strike of waitresses in London and Manchester tea-shops in 1908, and will be speaking about penny gaffs and women managers in the portable theatres next year.

Other teaching information

Current teaching:

I retired from teaching in 2014, but I'm still taking questions!



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