John Ellis

John Ellis


  • TW20 0EX

Personal profile

Personal profile

Media Theorist

Television Producer

Historian of Moving Image and Sound

I studied English Literature at Cambridge followed by a spell at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University. My MA thesis on Ealing Studios was published in Screen (1975) and I subsequently became a member of the editorial board from 1975 to 1984. Between 1978 and 1982, I taught at one of the UK's first Film Studies departments at the University of Kent.

Involved in the Independent Film-Makers' Association's campaigns around the setting up of Channel 4, I became involved in the successful bid to create a series on world cinema for the new channel. this became Visions, which ran for 32 editions between November 1982 and December 1985. The company we founded, Large Door, remained active until 1999, producing around 100 programmes including Brazil: Beyond Citizen Kane (1993), The Holy Family Album (1991) and French Cooking in Ten Minutes (1995). During this period I was a council member of the successive independent producers' trade associations IPPA and PACT, being elected vice-chair 1989-93.

I was a visiting professor at the Media Studies Institute at the University of Bergen, Norway (1991-2002) and joined the Bournemouth Media School in 1995, initially in a 50% post. I became a full-time professor in 1999. In 2002 I joined Royal Holloway as the head of the Media Arts department, serving for four years. In the spring of 2011 I was invited for a semester as visiting scholar at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

I am or have been a member of the following committees:

  • Research Assessment Exercises, 2001, 2008: Communication, Culutrla and Media Studies panel member
  • MeCCSA Executive 2007-
  • Executive, British Universities Film & Video council (BUFVC) 2005 -, currently chair
  • DCMS/AHRC Task Group on Research and Knowledge Transfer in the Arts (2004-7)
  • HEFCE Communication, Cultural and Media Studies advisory panel (1998-9, 2004-5)
  • Chair, Association of Media Practice Educators (AMPE) 2003-6
  • Founder member, Southern Broadcast History Group
  • Editorial Board, Screen 1975-1984

Television Productions

Riding the Tiger
4 x 50 mins for Channel 4, T/x June 1997 (Executive Producer)
The effect on Hong Kong's population of the handover to Chinese rule.

The Architecture of Carlo Scarpa
51 mins for Channel 4 and Arts Council, T/x 21 Sept 1996 (Producer)
The Italian architect who revolutionised our view of old buildings and how to re-use them.

The Man Who Ruined the British Film Industry
25 mins, Tx Channel 4, March 1996 (Producer & Director)
Critical profile of John Davis, who ran the Rank Organisation 1949-76

The Reel Truth
4 x 25 mins, Tx Channel 4/S4C, Nov/Sept 1995 (Executive Producer)
The story of factual film 1895-1929. Directed by Colin Thomas

French Cooking in Ten Minutes
6 x 9 mins, Tx BBC2, April/May 1995 (Executive Producer)
A dramatisation of the famous cookery book, starring Christopher Rosycki, director David Giles

Dream Town
40 mins, Tx BBC2, August 1994 (Producer)
A celebration of Blackpool's continuing success, 100 years after the Tower was opened. Director: Mark Kidel.

Those British Faces
1993/4 (Producer, researcher, director)
12 part series of profiles of British character actors for Lumiere Group and Channel 4 TV

Brazil: Beyond Citizen Kane
90 mins, Tx. Channel 4, April 1993 (Associate Producer)
An expose of TV Globo, the most powerful TV network in the world. Director: Simon Hartog

Seeking Approval: the Complicity of Women
52 mins, Tx. Channel 4, May 1992 (Executive producer, uncredited)
Examining the tortured relationship between mothers and daughters. Director: Agnieszka Piotrowska, Writer/Presenter: Rosalind Coward

The Holy Family Album
25 mins, Tx. Channel 4, December 1991 (Producer)
Angela Carter's last work, an irreverent view of Christian religious paintings

Distilling ‘Whisky Galore’
52 minutes, Tx. Channel 4, January 1991 (Producer)
On the making of myths, and of the classic Ealing comedy. Director: Murray Grigor Presenter: Derek Cooper

This Food Business
4 parts, Tx. Channel 4, August 1989 (Series Editor)
A Channel 4 current affairs series on the food industry, produced with the London Food Commission. Presenter: Derek Cooper
Winner of the 1990 Glenfiddich Award, Best Television Programme

New Chinese Cinema
52 mins, Tx, Channel 4, May 1989 (Producer)
The vibrant new cinema of China, caught just before Tiananmum Square. Co-produced with the China Film Corporation. Director: Tony Rayns

Opening Up the Family Album

4x28 min parts, Channel 4, August 1988 (Producer)

A series on the uses of amateur photography. Director: Nina Kellgren. Presenter: Jo Spence


32x53 min parts, Channel 4 Nov 1982 - December 1985 (Series Editor)

Channel 4's cinema programme in various innovative formats. Programmes include a History of Cinema in China; two reports from the Cannes festival; profiles of filmmakers from Godard and Svankmajer to Wendy Toye and Sally Potter; the state of cinema in Africa; and times from Neil Jordan, Chantal Akerman, Peter Wollen, Chris Petit etc


Research interests

Television, moving image and sound are my principal research areas, having been a producer and a 'medium theorist' for many years. Read my regular blogs at

I am particularly interested in:

  • the nature of television as a medium
    • what distinguishes it from other media
    • the nature of its appeal to its users
    • how it wors as an industry and as a cultural form
    • issues examined in my books TV FAQ (2007), Seeing Things (2000), Visible Fictions (1984)
  • How digital technologies have changed TV by:
    • enabling new production possibilities
    • enabling new forms of use through online access to old as well as newly created material
    • issues examined in my Documentary: Witness and Self-Revelation (2011)
  • The specific genres of TV and the audio-visual:The impact of moving image forms on modern culture and the process of audio-visual witnessing
    • factual and documentary styles and practices
    • series or repetitive narrative forms
    • light entertainment and 'people' shows
  • How digital availability will change TV
  • How the institutions and markets of the audio-visual are becoming more diverse, and how this impacts on usage
  • British cinema 1930-1950

My current work involves initiatives to make archival TV material more available:

  • www.adapttvhistory ADAPT: Hands-on history of TV technologies. ADAPT (2013-8) is a European Research Council project lead by Professor John Ellis of Royal Holloway University of London. ADAPT studies the history of technologies in television, focussing on their everyday use in production activities. ADAPT examines what technologies were adopted and why; how they worked and how people worked with them. As well as publishing written accounts, ADAPT carries out ‘simulations’ which reunite retired equipment with the people who used to use it. Participants in these simulations explain how each machine worked and how different machines worked together as an ‘array’; how they adapted the machines; and how they worked together as teams within the overall production process.
  • EUscreen, an EU funded project to make 40,000 items from the archives of Europe's broadcasters universally available through streaming. This project also involves the creation of an online journal Critical Studies in European Television
  • Chairing BUFVC which is the organisation behind as well as huge databases of TV and film information such as TRILT



  • Television, digital, archive, moving image, sound, documentary, entertainment, medium theory, production, Britain