April 7, 2016, by Charlotte Anscombe

Dr Jem Bloomfield answers the Big Questions

Dr Jem Bloomfield Assistant Professor of Literature in the School of English, talks about his first experience with the media – on the BBC1 show – The Big Questions.

This Sunday I found myself on the outskirts of York, recording a TV show. This was a slightly unexpected situation for me, which began a few weeks earlier when I had an email from a producer looking to put together a panel to discuss Shakespeare and the Bible.  Since this year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the BBC One show The Big Questions thought it’d be interesting to discuss the poet’s moral and cultural importance alongside that of the Bible.

A few phone calls back and forth resulted, as the producers sounded me out on various aspects of the topic and what I might respond to particular questions. Then a call to confirm they wanted me on the show, and an intricate logistical system kicked into operation.  I arrived the night before, to find the hotel lobby full of men in sombreros and false moustaches.  I’d always thought of York as a quiet medieval city with tea shops and museums, but apparently it has quite a number of stag and hen parties as well.  Really quite a number: the institution of marriage is flourishing in York, if the streets on a Friday night are anything to go by.

The next morning I was taken to the recording, where I met the other guests and signed a waiver to legally allow them to broadcast what I would say. The former was great fun: I already knew Alison Millbank of Nottingham’s own theology department, but I had only seen Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson from the back of lecture halls as a postgraduate, and only heard Akala on his singles, so was very cheered to actually meet them.  There were plenty of sandwiches, to which we failed to do justice (in my case because of nerves and a hotel cooked breakfast.)

The waiver was impressively ambitious: I genuinely signed over them the rights to transmit my contribution to the show via any technology which currently exists or may be invented in the future, and in any place anywhere in the universe. Well, if we going to talk about whether Shakespeare and the Bible were universal and timeless I suppose it made sense to think on that scale.

The show was great fun, and the hour was up before I thought we were even halfway through. It was oddly like a seminar in our department, with everyone adding their particular angle on the question (though admittedly we don’t usually have interjections or applause from an audience.)  I learned an awful lot from my fellow panellists in that hour, about the different ways Shakespeare and the Bible can be questioned and appreciated.

I also learned something about myself, though it was less profound: catching sight of myself on one of the monitor screens I realized that to the unbiased observer I am about 60%-70% beard. Oh, to see ourselves as others see us.  I suppose that’s what iPlayer is for…

 You can see Dr Bloomfield’s appearance on this Sunday’s show at 10am on BBC1

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