University of Leicester eBulletin

Television Roles for University Academics

March 2003
No 88

No fewer than four University of Leicester experts have been sought out for stardom in various television series, sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm with the general public.

Leicester Geologist Dr Sarah Gabbott plays a leading role in all seven episodes of an RDF Media production for a Channel 4 series on fossils – The Big Dig, to be shown in summer this year. The series covers a wide range of palaeontological stories from dinosaur eggs and sabre toothed cats in the Pyrenées to dinosaurs in the UK. A pilot show drew an audience of 2 million viewers.

In one episode University of Leicester Geology students are featured on the trail of a giant fish in the Jurassic rocks near Peterborough.

Dr Gabbott, who lectures on the Geology and Geology with Palaeobiology degree programmes, said: “This has been a wonderful opportunity to show the public the excitement of discovering fossils, something that anyone can do if they know where to look. It also demonstrates how geologists use all sorts of information in a detective-like way to reconstruct the animal’s past life and environment.”

Professor and Head of the Department of English, Elaine Treharne has been filming with Wildfire Television, also for a Channel 4 Series, The Seven Ages of Britain, as has Dr Simon James, of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University.  

While Dr James worked on the Iron Age elements of the series and also expects to be involved in the episode on the Romans, Professor Treharne filmed at West Stow Anglo-Saxon village in Suffolk, in the great hall, where she discussed what is known about the Anglo-Saxons from their literary output. She considers particularly the influence of the Vikings, the types of poems written in Old English and the understanding we can reach about the Anglo-Saxon mindset. She is currently working on the next episode which deals with the Norman Conquest.

Those with access to the Discovery Channel will be able to see comedian Eddie Izzard later in the spring presenting a series for Outline Productions on English identity. In his own inimitable way he will be filmed speaking to people in Old English, a skill he owes entirely to Elaine Treharne, who spent three hours giving him a crash course.  

University historian Dr Jo Story filmed with Tony Robinson for Time Team in the Anglo-Saxon crypt at Repton in Derbyshire in an episode televised in November last year.   Details have yet to be finalised, but Dr Story will also be presenting a new six-part series for Carlton TV called The History Detectives, which will be screened in the summer.  

[Photo: Professor Elaine Treharne and Eddie Izzard]
IN THE PICTURE: Professor Elaine Treharne and Eddie Izzard

These are the latest in a list of University of Leicester research that has been prominently featured on television, including the work of Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, the discoverer of genetic fingerprinting; and the Beagle 2 Mars Lander, parts of which have been developed in the University’s Space Research Centre in collaboration with the Open University.  

The nation also had a chance to see the work of a real criminal profiler when psychology lecturer Dr Julian Boon was featured in the Channel 4 television series The Real Cracker.   Dr Boon is one of only twenty experts in the country who work with the police in this way and the series highlighted some of the cases about which he has been consulted.

The University has also been used as the set for television and film drama – it provided the setting for the very first Bollywood film to be made in the East Midlands and earlier was the location for a teleserial, Shalom Salaam, of mismatched love.

Further information is available from:

Dr Sarah Gabbott, Department of Geology, 0116 252 3636, fax 0116 252 3918, email

Professor Elaine Treharne, Department of English, 0116 252 2636, fax 0116 252 2065 email

Dr Simon James, School of Archaeology and Ancient History, 0116 252 2535, fax 0116 252 5005, email

Dr Jo Story, School of Historical Studies, 0116 252 2761, fax 0116 252 3986, email

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Last updated: March 2003
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