I was born in 1954. My dad was an Anglican priest from South Shields, son of a river policeman on the Tyne. My mum was a nursery nurse from Hartlepool, daughter of a steelworks foreman (here’s a song I recently wrote about him). I went to Harrogate Hill Primary School in Darlington, St Agnes primary school in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, and Christ’s Hospital, Horsham.
My first degree was in English at St John’s, Oxford, under John Carey and Tom Shippey. In my final year, I was proud to win the Eugene Lee-Hamilton poetry prize. I trained as an English and Drama teacher at Durham, under Gavin Bolton, and worked for twenty-four years as an English, Drama and Media teacher in comprehensive schools in Huntingdon, St Neots and Cambridge.
I began a long semi-professional career in folk music in the late 1970’s, and joined the band Camus in 1980, and am playing with them still.
My brief political career was as a Labour member of Cambridge City Council from 1983-7, where my most successful efforts were the redevelopment of Arbury Town Park, in the ward I represented; and twinning Cambridge with Szeged, Hungary, as part of the council’s peace initiative.
At my last school, Parkside Community College in Cambridge, I wrote the bid for the school to become the first specialist Media Arts college in the UK in 1997. This programme lasted effectively for a decade, producing innovative work in film, animation, videogames and comicstrip design, described in Media literacy in Schools, my book with Parkside colleague James Durran.
I did an MA in Cultural Studies at the Institute of Education with Ken Jones, then a PhD (on werewolf films) with Gunther Kress and Debbie Epstein. I joined the Institute of Education in 2001 as a lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies. I spent ten years in the Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media, directed by David Buckingham, to whom I owe a considerable debt. I am currently Professor of English, Media and Drama, based at the UCL Knowledge Lab.
In 2011 I set up, with IOE colleague John Potter and Mark Reid of the British Film Institute, a new research venture, DARE (Digital|Arts|Research|Education). You can read there details of current and recent research projects, partnerships, events, publications, visitors and more. I supervise PhD students researching a range of fascinating topics, from game design to Peircean semiotics. I teach on the brilliant MA Digital Media at UCL. It’s one of the oldest Media MAs in the UK, and one of only two with a component focused on media education. I’ve also recently introduced, with colleagues at UCL, a new BA Media programme, launching in October 2021. Beginning in Bloomsbury, it will transfer to UCL’s new campus in East London, UCL East, in 2023.
I’m also director of MAGiCAL Projects, an enterprise developing game-based tools for education. One of these, developed a while ago in an ESRC-funded project, is a game-authoring tool called Missionmaker, used to make 3-D adventure games. You can read more on the Missionmaker page on this site.
Details of the jobs I’ve done, projects I’ve been involved in, publications I’ve produced, talks I’ve given are contained in my CV.
In my other life, I live in Cambridge with my partner Jenny, formerly a Deputy Principal in a Cambridge secondary school. I play melodeon and Northumbrian smallpipes in the song band Camus; run a piping workshop at the Cambridge Folk Festival; and fairly regularly attend the London smallpipers’ group at the Calthorpe Arms on Gray’s Inn Road. The pipes are a connection for me with my family’s origins in the north-east of England. My pipes were made by Nigel Barlow; my melodeons are by Castagnari: a D/G Mory, a D/G Nico and a C/F Lilly.
Here’s the band playing two of my tunes.