The University of Anglia (UEA) is delighted to announce that the Charlie Higson Archive is now part of the British Archive for Contemporary Writing.
Charlie Higson is a highly acclaimed writer of comedy for television and radio as well as an actor and the bestselling author of the first Young Bond novels and The Enemy series. He studied English and film studies at UEA, where he met his comedy partner, Paul Whitehouse.
Together Higson and Whitehouse formed the punk band, The Right Hand Lovers. They later lived together in London and began writing comedy for a variety of other writers and performers, including Harry Enfield, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. They went on to create The Fast Show in the 1990s - a landmark in TV comedy that attracted a cult following.
The archive material includes early drafts, manuscripts and correspondence relating to Higson’s many fiction and comedy projects.
Higson said: “Going through all the boxes of stuff made me realise how many different areas I’ve worked in. Since leaving UEA over 35 years ago, I’ve worked in the music industry, as a singer during the 80s. I’ve worked in TV, writing, producing directing and acting in comedy and drama, and I’ve co-created at least one television programme that’s become part of our cultural heritage (even if it's just weather forecasters using the word ‘Scorchio’). I’ve written film scripts and worked in radio. And I’ve written four novels for adults and 13 books for younger readers, including a series of official James Bond books.
“I said to myself, “Come on, why are you keeping all this stuff? Nobody’s ever going to be interested in it. You're just being a typical bloody narcissistic writer, convinced that everyone is going to be fascinated by the outpourings of your tiny mind.
“The more I spoke to UEA, the more I realised that there actually might be some worth in my old papers. Because it wasn't all about me. People wouldn't necessarily want to study this material because they were obsessed with my obvious genius, but because I had lived and worked through ‘interesting times’.
“So, perhaps my work throws at least a dim light onto the cultural life of the UK over the last three decades. It’s not about blowing my own trumpet (which I did do a bit of when I was in my band, actually). It’s about the academic interest of what I’ve accumulated.
“So it’s fantastic that the dedicated team at UEA is going to properly catalogue and archive all this material for the use of students and academics. And whilst a lot of it is primarily or interest to researchers of the creative industries, it also includes manuscripts of my novels, TV scripts, unrealised projects, and even a couple of unpublished novels that I wrote while I was studying at UEA in the late 70s, one of which I am now in the process of rewriting.”
Dr Brett Mills, senior lecturer in UEA’s School of Art, Media and American Studies, said: “The archive gives us invaluable insights into the work of a key player in British popular culture over the last 30 years.
“As a scholar of comedy I’m particularly interested in the scripts and other production material for The Fast Show, which help demonstrate the particular complexities of making a sketch show, which relies on multiple characters, short narratives, and a highly organised production process juggling all the elements.
“Higson’s archive is also interesting because of the multiple roles he has undertaken within the comedy programming he has been involved in; it’s rare to come across someone who’s a writer, performer and producer. The archive helps us explore the differences and similarities between these roles.”
As Mills told The Observer: “The archive is also invaluable because comedy is a genre for which little historical documentation is kept – which is odd, given humour’s centrality to British culture and its importance to institutions such as the BBC. We need to take better care in remembering and exploring our comedy heritage.”
Dr Matthew Woodcock, a senior lecturer in UEA’s School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, said the archive “offers a unique insight into the creative processes behind the production of several of the UK's leading young adult series.
“It will allow scholars and students of crime writing, spy fiction, and children's literature privileged access to the successive stages of research, composition, editing, and promotion that are necessary for a successful, engaging book.
“For me, this material also provides an exciting opportunity to explore how one goes about writing a James Bond novel and, moreover, how one re-imagines Ian Fleming's, at times, controversial hero for a young adult readership. It has been interesting to trace, for example, how Higson carefully revises and reworks the scene in which we first see young Bond so as to imitate the opening of Fleming's Casino Royale, and how he confronts the delights and perils of naming 007's friends and foes.”
Higson has loaned the material under the UEA's innovative storehouse model – which organises and provides access to collections much earlier in a writer's career while retaining flexibility should they need to withdraw material at a later date
The paper archive consists of 53 boxes and includes notebooks, correspondence, drafts, typescripts and working papers associated with the entire spectrum of Higson’s career as novelist, producer, actor and script writer. There are also numerous floppy discs and a large number of VHS recordings including unseen material not used in screened versions of his projects.
The archive will be catalogued according to the research priorities of scholars who are eager to begin working with the collection. The material has loaned under the UEA’s innovative Storehouse Model, which organises and provides access to collections much earlier in a writer’s career while retaining flexibility should the author need to withdraw material at a later date.
Click here to read my five part series on The Secret History of Young James Bond.