Dr Dai Llemmer

December 22, 2006

I have received an interesting letter from someone describing himself as "a senior pure mathematician from a teaching-averse university in the West Midlands".

He writes: "I am desperate to maximise my international esteem indicators in advance of the research assessment exercise deadline and wonder whether becoming a TV historian might be a good way of doing so.

"Could you advise me on how to get a syndicated mini-series on air before October 2007? I've watched a few on UKTV Gold this weekend, and they look like money for old rope."

Dr Dai Llemmer replies: I admire your ambition, but the fiercely competitive world of the TV historians would seem rather hard to break into from a standing start, especially for someone with a grounding in pure mathematics.

Between them, the little pompous one, the one who speaks with the really slow drawl (he can't get paid the same as the others, can he?) and the prettier one who might be a woman seem to have cornered the market.

My advice would be to try for some more modest TV work first and build up to your own series.

You might, for example, target a guest appearance on How Clean Is My SCR? (Kim and Aggie test the bursar's trousers for potentially harmful bacteria) or You Are What You Teach ("a lecture on string theory and two MSc supervisions a week? No one could seriously live on that!"), and then try for something more regular in a series in summer.

There are often slots on Ian Wright's Supersize Dons (the ex-Arsenal star forces overweight lecturers to do sit-ups while he shouts at them about Nietzsche), What the Leavisites Did for Us (the one where Adam Hart-Davis tours the Home Counties sneering at cinemas and the early works of Dickens) and The Ex-Factor (15 young hopefuls compete for the chance to become vice-chancellor of a university in Devon).

Some of these may be in the can for next year, though, such as RAE Planning Big Brother (a group of "housemates" live in a redbrick School of Chemistry while a panel of deans votes them off the RAE-return one by one), so you may have already missed the boat.

You might stand a better chance in the new series of Prima Donna Boot Campus , the show that follows academic enfants terribles sent to lecture without PowerPoint to retired US Special Forces PE instructors in the Nevada desert. They stay there trying to explain ever more complex principles with less and less audiovisual equipment until they crack and agree to do their fair share of first-year teaching.

You'll have to agree to be filmed eating rattlesnakes, showering under canvas and making tearful phone calls to your head of department offering to chair the exams board if only she will let you come home, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem if you stay focused on the bigger picture.

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