Historian wins place on 2020 Edinburgh TV Festival digital event

University of Huddersfield researcher and documentary film maker Joe Hopkinson took part in the prestigious Edinburgh TV Festival talent scheme after an intense three-day Zoom process

The Edinburgh Television Festival is one of the world’s premier media events, a gathering of global movers and shakers in the TV industry. This year a University of Huddersfield research student – already an award-winning documentary maker – earned an opportunity to take part and gain insights from seasoned professionals.

Covid-19 meant that the 2020 festival happened online, but as one of 15 UK-wide students selected for the TV PhD talent scheme run by Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Joe Hopkinson was able to participate in an intense series of seminars and meetings via Zoom.

“Maybe it would have been better to actually be at the festival, but it was still a fantastic experience and brilliantly organised,” said Joe, who is in the final phase of a PhD project that examines the experiences of commonwealth immigrant children in Britain between the 1960s and 80s.

He is producing not only a written thesis, but also a documentary film, based on a series of interviews with second and third generation migrants in both Kirklees and Liverpool. This follows an earlier film made by Joe during his Master’s degree studies. Focussing on a controversial approach to the education of immigrant children in the 1960s and 70s, this was awarded a Public History prize by the Royal Historical Society.


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Joe’s doctoral studies – supervised by Senior Lecturer in Modern European History Dr Lindsey Dodd – are under the aegis of the AHRC-funded Heritage Consortium based at the University of Huddersfield. It urged him to apply for a coveted place on the Edinburgh Television Festival talent scheme.

Joe’s elevator pitch

The application process was exhaustive, and included a substantial Zoom interview.

“One of the things they asked was what TV programme would you pitch if you find yourself in an elevator with the controller of the BBC!” said Joe, who was then selected as one of 15 PhD students at UK universities to be awarded festival passes.

“It was three intense days of being on a Zoom call basically. We had some great sessions,” said Joe, whose career goal is to combine academic work with producing documentaries that present his research to a wide cross-section of the public.

“We met a number of people from different production companies and they talked to us about their roles and their jobs.”

One of the key figures that spoke to Joe was Bill Locke, who is Director of Specialist Factual at leading production company Lion Television.

“If you are an academic who wants to work in TV, he gave us advice on protecting our ideas,” said Joe.

The centrepiece event at the Edinburgh Television Festival is the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture, delivered in 2020 by historian, broadcaster and filmmaker David Olusoga, a familiar face on TV. Now Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester, he is himself an alumnus of the AHRC’s TV talent scheme.

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