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Gendering the past: negotiations of authority and authenticity in history on television and television history: the case of Victoria Wood, Victoria’s Empire [2007] and the BBC.

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  • P301 Television Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Computer Science
  • Ecology
  • Linguistics


Longevity of and scope for the performance of female identity are a real issue for women front-of-camera in factual forms on television. As recent stories about female news and factual programming presenters outside of daytime schedules demonstrate, aging, with regards to women in the profession, in the main does not seem to equate to authority or authenticity; characteristics central to the ‘television personality’. The paper works with the categories of John Langer (1981) of ordinariness, intimacy, familiarity and constancy and the refinements by Bennett (2008 & 2010) of ‘television-personality-as-expert’ and ‘television-personality-as-personality’, to investigate why it is, within these terms, exceedingly difficult to identify more than the exceptional case of female television personality in the present British television ecology. There appears to be greater potential for movement across genres and the presentation of persona ‘growth’ in male personality career trajectories that seems to remain closed for their female counterparts. Comedy, however, does appear one site of possibility and Victoria Wood is one such exception to be investigated here, with a career ranging through stand-up comedy, sit-com, comedic and straight drama to documentary. The paper looks at how Wood’s comedy is tied up with an awareness of the cultural history and resonance of television as a medium, of which she is an integral part. This and the ‘voices’ of femininity that she employs are tracked in her performance in the documentary Victoria’s Empire [2007], looking to see how these, as expressions of ordinariness, intimacy, familiarity and authenticity, are deployed in television’s [and more specifically the BBC’s] engagement with and negotiation of discourses of nationhood, colonialism and post-colonialism.

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