Creativity and Constraint in the British Film Industry in the 1970s and 1980s: A case study on Bill Douglas PhD Studentship Ref: 2645

About the award

The proposed research topic will generate important insights into how creativity was shaped and constrained in the British film industry in the 1970s and 1980s – a period in which the industry was framed by economic, social and political uncertainty.  The research will take place through a detailed case study featuring filmmaker Bill Douglas (1934-1991), who wrote and directed films in this period.  The investigation of Douglas as a case study, and the methodologies used in the project, will contribute to an understanding of the interplay between creativity and constraints within the British Film Industry.

The project will exploit the significant, and as yet largely un-researched, archive of Bill Douglas’ Working Papers, recently donated to the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum by Peter Jewell in 2014-16.  A Student Campus Partnership from the College of Humanities in 2016 facilitated detailed cataloguing of the papers, which comprise c. 38 boxes of diverse materials across Douglas’ career (such as correspondence, scripts, budgets, storyboards and photographs). A funded doctoral studentship would allow the potential of this archive to be realised through scholarly interpretation and would demonstrate the significance of research resources at The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum and the University of Exeter.

The papers comprise a wealth of material illuminating the distinctive working practices of Douglas, and his collaborators.  The student will analyse these distinctive practices, drawing on the emerging conceptual paradigms for studying production processes in media industry studies (Holt and Perren 2008; Mayer, Banks & Caldwell 2009).  The student will then extend these insights through a contextualisation of Douglas’ work, developing analyses of how Douglas’ practices illuminate the context of film production in this period of British film history.  The papers are particularly rich in documenting the development, funding, production and reception of Douglas’  film Comrades (1986), a film which dramatizes the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and which portrays issues of politics, the representation of history and class.  The archival materials and a ‘production centred’ approach provide an opportunity for a distinctly British focus on film production studies, hitherto the field has been dominated by American-focused projects.  The papers can also provide material for consideration of a construction of a critical reputation; Douglas is now acknowledged as one of Britain’s most significant directors, but his career in the 1970s and 1980s was characterised by struggles to realise his projects.

The project’s contextualisation of Douglas’s films within the constraints of the creative industries in the 1970s and 1980s will allow an exploration of a figure who demonstrates the tensions of a film artist working in a collaborative and commercial medium.  The project will explore Douglas’ position in the development of a specifically British Art Cinema, which only began to be established in this period.  The difficulties Douglas faced in getting projects funded, and dealing with producers and institutions, exemplify wider issues, notably the British Film Industry’s struggle to accommodate diverse forms of artistic practice.

The case study will also enable a consideration of this wider context and the production-centred approach will make visible the structures and power dynamics of the British film industry in a period when it faced financial problems and declining audiences. British independent production, as represented in the Bill Douglas Archive, and other related filmmakers’ archives in the museum (such as the papers of Don Boyd and Gavrik Losey), which the researcher may use for comparison, was mediated by both state funding organisations such as the BFI and Channel 4 (Comrades was the biggest film investment at the time) and powerful individuals, and the extent of these influences can be assessed.

By undertaking the project the doctoral researcher will gain a range of skills.  S/he will become proficient in a range of methodologies both conceptual and historical.  The researcher will gain a deep understanding of archival and historiographic methods, an understanding of theories of authorship, fluency in the conceptual frameworks appropriate to production studies, familiartity with concepts and histories of art cinema and knowledge of industrial histories. At the completion of the project the researcher will be expert in the history of British independent cinema, and able to advocate for the University of Exeter’s unique and rich resources in this field. In addition to gaining academic research skills, the researcher would gain important experience of working within a public museum and archive, skills in disseminating research and experience of public engagement and impact.

In addition to this, the Museum will contribute In-Kind support.  The researcher would work in The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum and utilise the museum’s facilities as well as its collections. The Curator of the museum will work with the candidate, offering up to 50 hours training over the period of study on the museum’s catalogue systems, support on researching the collections and assisting liaison with the donor of the material and other associates of Bill Douglas. In addition the Curator will use his long experience in mentoring volunteers, interns and researchers for careers in film research and the culture and heritage industries to help to develop the researcher’s skills. The candidate will contribute at least two blog posts for the museum’s public website.

The proposed project is timely; 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, and the museum has a public programme of events running in 2017, drawing attention to the significance of Bill Douglas, the collection and Humanities research and resources at the University.

Duration and value of award

This is a collaborative PhD studentship funded by the University of Exeter and The Bill Douglas and Peter Jewell Trust. The studentship will be for a period of up to 3 years of full-time study, dependent on satisfactory progress, and will cover full UK/EU tuition fees and a maintenance grant of £14,553 per year.


Holt, Jennifer and Perren, Alissa (eds.) The Media Industries: History, Theory, Method.  Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2008

Mayer, Vicki; Banks,  Miranda and Caldwell, John (eds.) Production Studies: Cultural Studies of Media Industries.  London & New York: Routledge, 2009


Application deadline:16th July 2017
Number of awards:1
Value:£14,553 plus UK/EU tuition fees for eligible students
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Dr Matt Barber, Graduate School

How to apply

Entry criteria:

We invite applications for these awards from candidates with a strong academic background who can demonstrate in their application statement that they are academically well prepared for the proposed research topic and how undertaking the PhD will help them in their career goals. Successful applicants normally have a good first degree (at least 2.1 or international equivalent) in Film Studies or related discipline, and a Masters degree at Merit level or international equivalent, in Film Studies or related discipline. If English is not your native language then you will also need to satisfy our English language entry requirements.

To apply:

To be considered for this Doctoral award, you must complete an online web form (please be sure to indicate the correct programme) where you must submit some personal details and upload a statement outlining why one of the topics fits well with their academic skills and future goals, a full CV, transcripts, details of two referees and, if relevant, proof of your English language proficiency, by 16 July 2017. Instead of a research proposal, we would ask if you could upload an academic writing sample (max 5,000 words) in a subject related to the discipline.

In addition you must also ensure that your referees email their references to the Postgraduate Administrator at by 16 July 2017. Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

Please note that if you have already submitted references to support your application to one of our MPhil/PhD programmes you may re-use these to support your funding application. However, this is not automatic and you must email us at to confirm that we have two references on file to support your application, and to request that they be used to support your funding application.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

Interviews are expected to take place in the week beginning the 24th of July.

More information
For more information contact:
Dr Matt Barber, Graduate School Administrator
College of Humanities Graduate School, University of Exeter
Queen's Building, The Queen's Drive
Exeter, Devon, EX4 4QH