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David Butler


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Personal profile


I grew up in West Cumbria and studied Human Communication and Drama at Manchester during the mid-1990s. I gradually began to turn to Film Studies and undertook a PhD (also at Manchester) between October 1996 and January 2000.  After working as a drama practitioner with West Cumbria Youth Service, I took up my first lecturing post in Drama and Screen Studies at the University of Manchester in 2001 before joining the Drama Department as a permanent member of staff in 2003.


Research interests

My PhD, examined by Richard Dyer and Peter Martin, explored the use and representation of jazz in film noir. The thesis set out my interest in the way meaning (particularly ideological notions of race and gender) is created in music and how film takes account of and contributes to that process. This interest in the audio-visual relationship is now at the heart of my work.

As well as film music, my research interests include film noir, literary adaptations, non-naturalistic cinema/television and the fantastic on screen. I'd be delighted to supervise research in these areas and am always happy to discuss possible topics (even if not from the above list!) in person or via telephone/email.

Ever since the first School of Sound in 1998 and the inspirational presentations of Simon Fisher Turner and Peter Kubelka (among many others), I've been committed to the possibilities of juxtaposing sound with image (although my fascination stems from the magical credit Special Sound - Dick Mills and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop!). That commitment to sound has encouraged me to combine practice-based research with my more conventional academic work.

In 1998, I collaborated with the acclaimed composer David Shea on a speech and sound piece titled The Voice (the score is now available on John Zorn's Tzadik label). I collaborated with the celebrated jazz musician and composer, John Surman, on The Cairn, open to the public as an audio-visual installation in 2005. At the heart of this practice is a desire to create work that challenges the sensory hierarchy of contemporary Western culture and its privileging of sight over the other senses.

All of my projects are shaped by my research and the inspiration I've gained from my students. I've carried that creativity into my academic work and am keen to encourage practical work on my courses that is informed (I hope!) by an enhanced historical and critical awareness.

Current research projects

My recent research has focused on multiculturalism in contemporary science fiction television music and the portrayal of Cumbria and the Lake District on screen.

Running alongside is a long-term project on the life and work of Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001), one of the most significant and influential figures in British electronic music who worked across film, television, theatre and radio. In 2007, the Centre for Screen Studies and the NOVARS Electroacoustic Research Centre were honoured to acquire Derbyshire's tape and written archive, as a generous loan from the composer Mark Ayres on behalf of the Derbyshire Estate. The collection has grown to include items from Derbyshire's childhood, including her schoolwork, and the Delia Derbyshire Archive is now accessible to researchers and the wider public at the John Rylands Library, Deansgate.  

Since 2015, I have been the Chair and one of the founder members of the music education charity Delia Derbyshire Day, which aims to grow awareness and understanding of Delia Derbyshire and British electronic music more broadly as well as providing opportunities for emerging artists, commissions for new work and outreach activities with schools, colleges and families.   


Supervision areas

Current research students

  • Caroline Clegg (co-supervised with Barbara Kelly and Jane Turner): Music and Site-Specific Theatre
  • Thomas Grocott (co-supervised with Jackie Stacey): Cinema and the Anthropocene
  • Morgan Hale (co-supervised with Roddy Hawkins): Video Game Music and Fandom


Completed research students 

  • Mark Astley (co-supervised with Eithne Quinn): Contemporary Multimedia and the Human Body in Extremis
  • Chris Auld (co-supervised with Rajinder Dudrah): A Critical Reappraisal of the Quatermass Films
  • John Ayres (co-supervised with Vicky Lowe): Masculinity and Performance in Post-War British Film Stars
  • Laura Crossley (co-supervised with Rajinder Dudrah): Myth, Magic and Britishness in Contemporary Screen Mythology
  • Peter Deakin (co-supervised with Rajinder Dudrah): Masculinity and Male Anger in Contemporary Hollywood
  • Maohui Deng (co-supervised with Felicia Chan): Representations of Dementia and Ageing in Film
  • Emanuele D'Onofrio (co-supervised with Susan Rutherford): Film Music and National Identity - The New Italian Cinema Revisits the 1970s
  • David Hartley (co-supervised with Honor Gavin): Autism and Science Fiction
  • Matthew Jones (co-supervised with Rajinder Dudrah): Gender, Audiences and 1950s Science Fiction Cinema
  • Aalia Khalid (co-supervised with Rajinder Dudrah): Audio-visual Style and Aesthetics in Contemporary Science Fiction Television
  • Ming-Hsun Lin (co-supervised with Viv Gardner): Gender and the Harry Potter films
  • Suzy Mangion (co-supervised with David Lomas): Sound in Surrealist Film 
  • Mariano Paz (co-supervised with Rajinder Dudrah): Ideology and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema
  • Robert Watts (co-supervised with Felicia Chan): Transnational Television Aesthetics and the 'Cinematic' in Contemporary British Television Drama
  • Daniel White (co-supervised with Roddy Hawkins): Music and Worldbuilding in Fantasy Cinema
  • Laura Wilson (co-supervised with Jackie Stacey): Physical Spectatorship and Mutilation Films



DRAM10031 The Art of Film: Introduction to Reading Film Form*

DRAM13331 Introduction to Early Film Histories*

DRAM20711 A Score is Born: History and Ideology in Film Music*

DRAM21222 The Audio Feature*

DRAM30662 Stars in Your Eyes: Stars, Fans and the Hollywood System 

DRAM30381 Alone Against the Night: Film Noir

DRAM31042 Falstaff & Gandalf go to the Movies: Adapting Fantastic Texts to Film*

[Course units running in 2023-2024 marked with *]


MA in Film Studies: Film Theories, Debates and Approaches


Directed Reading

Prizes and awards


Teaching Excellence Awards - Flexible Learning, Digital Delivery and Students' Sense of Belonging, Institute of Teaching and Learning, University of Manchester


Outstanding Teaching and Outstanding Technology Advanced Learning - Faculty of Humanities Outstanding Staff Awards for Teaching, Learning and the Student Experience, University of Manchester


Distinguished Achievement Award - Teacher of the Year, University of Manchester


Faculty Students' Teaching Award, University of Manchester

Dean's Award for Teaching, Faculty of Humanities, University of Manchester

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Digital Futures
  • Creative Manchester


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