Benjamin Cook (journalist)
Benjamin Cook (left) and Andrew Hayden-Smith (right) in 2011
17 October 1982 |
Isleworth, London, UK
|Known for||Radio Times
Doctor Who Magazine
Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale
Benjamin Cook (born 17 October 1982) is an English journalist, writer, film-maker and regular contributor to Radio Times and Doctor Who Magazine. He has also been published in The Telegraph, TV Times, Filmstar, Cult Times, TV Zone and The Stage, and is the author of Doctor Who: The New Audio Adventures – The Inside Story. In 2008, BBC Books published Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale, based on a year-long email correspondence between Cook and Doctor Who executive producer Russell T Davies. A revised and updated paperback edition, The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter (featuring 350 pages of new material, extending the correspondence by another year), was published in January 2010.
Benjamin Cook was born in Isleworth, London, England. He went to Orleans Park School in Twickenham from 1994 to 1999. At the age of 13, in 1996, he won a competition run by BBC children's news programme Newsround. In a 2008 interview, he explained:
The first thing I ever wrote was for Newsround’s Press Packers... to enter a competition, and I won that, so I got to go to the BBC for the day – and work at Radio Times for a day, which now of course, a decade later, I’m doing regularly, and getting paid for it! – so that sort of sparked my interest.
For Radio Times magazine, Cook has written on E4 teen drama Skins ("The assertion that it's our job simply to reflect life is always a cop-out," co-creator Bryan Elsley told him. "But people who think it's our duty to educate young people on the correct way to live are just as bonkers"), ITV talent show The X Factor ("We weren't always fighting," Dannii Minogue confessed about ex-judge Sharon Osbourne, "but Sharon made it clear that she didn't like me, so she won't be missed. Not by me"), short-lived ITV fantasy drama Demons ("I didn't entirely understand Demons," actor Richard Wilson told Cook. "I just had to say I did and hope no-one caught on"), the BBC's The Omid Djalili Show ("The first series was OK, but we all agreed it was there to be bettered," said Omid Djalili. "It was a bit slapdash, to be honest"), Dan Cruickshank's Adventures in Architecture and Wild China, Comedy Central's Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire, as well as BBC dramas Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Merlin, Little Dorrit and Spooks. In 2009, Cook interviewed US boy band the Jonas Brothers for Radio Times, in which they spoke out about the controversy surrounding comedian Russell Brand's ridicule of their chastity rings at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards: "You know what? We were happy to see he recognised their value," reasoned Joe. "You have to learn to laugh," Kevin added. The next year, Cook conducted the "first Twitter interview" with Stephen Fry, asking him how he accounted for (fellow 2010 National Television Award nominee) Piers Morgan's career: "It's pretty hard to imagine, isn't it?" replied Fry. "Biodiversity is the answer... Just as nature needs a few snakes and bugs, TV needs Piers Morgan and me!"
Doctor Who Magazine
Cook first wrote for Doctor Who Magazine (DWM) in March 1999. Since then, his catalogue of interviews for the publication ranges from David Tennant, Billie Piper, Kylie Minogue and Richard E Grant to Peter Kay, Charlotte Church and McFly, and the first ever major print interview with Matt Smith. Cook's regular back-page interview column, Who on Earth is..., has featured such diverse names as Bernard Cribbins, Timothy Dalton, Duncan James from Blue and Professor Richard Dawkins.
Cook has compiled six DWM Special Editions – published between 2005 and 2010, under the umbrella title In Their Own Words – providing a chronological commentary on the making of the TV series, from 1963 to 2009, by those involved in its production, collated from extracts of interviews previously published in DWM.
In 2002, Cook tracked down elusive Doctor Who scriptwriter Christopher Bailey and interviewed him for DWM. This inspired Robert Shearman to write Deadline, an acclaimed audio play starring Derek Jacobi as retired writer Martin Bannister (loosely based on Bailey) and Ian Brooker as journalist Sydney (loosely based on Cook), reporter for the fictional Juliet Bravo Magazine. In a 2004 interview, Shearman explained:
I think Deadline is in some ways inspired by the idea that he [Martin Bannister] gets tracked down by, essentially, Ben Cook. Not called Ben Cook in the play, of course – but it was actually based on DWM's Christopher Bailey interview. Here was a writer who hadn't been interviewed for many years, and was obviously not bitter about it, but had [...] his own perspective of what he wanted to say and do.
In February 2008, Cook had a contentious interview with actor Clive Swift. "I'm quite aggrieved," Swift told him. "Why should I do this? I'm not getting paid, am I?" Swift refused to answer some of Cook's questions and replied brusquely to others. When Cook asked Swift – best known for his portrayal of Richard Bucket in BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances – whether people shout "Richard" at him in the street, the actor replied: "Sometimes. I tell them to fuck off." The encounter ended with Swift insisting, "I know that you all think that this is a big world, this Who business. But it isn't. There are much bigger things than this." When Cook replied, "Maybe, but it means a lot to a great many of us," Swift terminated the interview.
In another controversial interview, in January 2010, outgoing Doctor Who star David Tennant told Cook:
Clearly the Labour Party is not without some issues right now [...] but they're still a better bet than the Tories. I would still rather have Gordon Brown than David Cameron. I would rather have a Prime Minister who is the cleverest person in the room than a Prime Minister who looks good in a suit. I think David Cameron is a terrifying prospect. I think he's a regional newscaster who will jump on whatever bandwagon flies past. I get quite panicked at the notion that people are buying into his rhetoric, because it seems very manipulative to me... It's very weird that you can work in the arts – which tends to be about empathy, and understanding the human condition, and hopefully feeling some kind of sympathy for your fellow man – and vote for the Tories. I do find that inconceivable.
Well, that's a pity, but there we are. You're never going to win over everybody. I definitely believe there's no point trying to win over everyone. Say what you think, say what you believe in, say what you believe needs to be done – and if people will come with you, they will come with you. I never give up, so maybe I'll have another go at convincing him.
The Writer's Tale
In 2008, BBC Books published Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale, based on an in-depth email correspondence between Cook and Doctor Who executive producer Russell T Davies, spanning February 2007 to March 2008, during production of the show's fourth series. Extracts were published in The Times on 16 and 17 September 2008, and the book itself met with positive reviews. Esther Walker of The Independent predicted that "the fans will adore it. Davies has engaged with the book totally and there is full disclosure from him about everything." The Daily Telegraph's Robert Colvile called the book "Remarkably open", adding: "Despite the self-deprecating bonhomie, there's a ruthless confidence to Davies." In a five-star review for Heat magazine, Boyd Hilton called it "a funny, revealing insight into the workings of the genius who puts the show together." In another five-star review, SFX Magazine said, "You can douse all the other books about new Who in lighter fuel and spark up your Zippo – this is all you need. It's the only one that opens a door into the brain of the series' showrunner." Darren Scott of The Pink Paper – which also awarded the book five stars – agreed: "If you’re an uber fan of the show... or an aspiring (or even established) writer, this book will very, very quickly fall into the 'can’t put down' category." Scott Matthewman of The Stage said, "I can't recommend The Writer's Tale highly enough… It's a genuine insight into the entire television production process." "The Writer's Tale is an enormous book, but consumed compulsively it doesn't last very long at all," said Thom Hutchinson of Death Ray magazine. "We learn, brilliantly, the difference between bellowing media personage Big Russell and the apprehensive, chain-smoking obsessive who exists alone and silent in the early hours." The Scotsman's team of arts writers said: "The Writer's Tale offers a fascinating insight into the writing of one of TV's biggest hits." Veronica Horwell of The Guardian called it "the Doctor Who Annual for adults", suggesting that 500-odd pages "is not nearly enough, should have been 1001 pages, because Davies doesn't need to be writing fiction, shaping stuff retrieved from the flux of his Great Maybe, to be a storyteller. He's the Scheherazade of Cardiff Bay." Horwell described Davies as "a total romantic about writing. It's his love, his drug, his force for change: over the year even invisible, unopinionated Cook emerges as a proper companion who challenges Davies over the last image in the series. And wins. Brilliant."
In the blogosphere, Sci-Fi Online's Daniel Salter claimed that The Writer's Tale "could be one of the most important Doctor Who books you're ever likely to read, even if it's not always about Doctor Who." "Page after page of banter that's just as exciting and suspenseful as the show itself," enthused Sebastian J. Brook of Doctor Who Online. "Cook's fearless and intelligent approach to asking questions pave [sic] the way for some fantastic responses as he manages to temper Davies' fun, energetic and sometimes insecure narrative with good, solid and sometimes cheeky responses." Off The Telly's Graham Kibble-White concluded: "Candid, lucid and an all-too painful evocation of the challenges inherit in writing and running perhaps the most important show on the BBC".
In November 2008, it was announced that Richard and Judy, the couple credited with revolutionising the reading habits of Britons, had selected The Writer's Tale for their Christmas Presents book strand – in the Serious Non-Fiction category – as part of the prestigious Richard & Judy Book Club. The couple described the book as "an absolute snapshot into the mind of a creative writer... It's a free flow of thought – a stream of consciousness. It's a great book."
On 2 December 2008, inspired by The Writer's Tale, Charlie Brooker devoted an extended edition of his BBC Four TV show Screenwipe entirely to interviews with prestigious writers, including Russell T Davies.
Published in January 2010, the paperback edition, The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter, updates Davies and Cook's correspondence to September 2009, to cover Davies' final year as Head Writer and Executive Producer of Doctor Who, taking in David Tennant's final few episodes as the Doctor. Critical reception was generally positive. SFX magazine's Ian Berriman described the book as "satisfyingly voyeuristic" and said, "It’s well worth buying, even if you’ve already got the original edition." The Guardian's Vera Rule called it "Far more than a ritual 'making of'" and the "Best masterclass in telly I've ever attended," adding: "Made me cry." Heat magazine included the book on its "Hot List" of "The Top Ten Things We At Heat Are Completely Obsessed With This Week." However, Private Eye criticised the tome for being "breathlessly self-congratulatory" – "a bring-your-own-extolment party in which readers are invited to bask in the outrageous genius of this bear-like TV demagogue."
Asked, in a February 2010 interview, whether there were any plans to conduct a similar correspondence with Davies' successor as showunner, Steven Moffat, Cook replied:
Not at the moment. Well, not by me. Maybe Steven's e-mailing someone else! But look, e-mailing me isn't a prerequisite for taking the job of showrunner. I'm not handed down from head writer to head writer, like a soup recipe. Or a genetic disorder. The Writer's Tale sort of came about by accident, really, and it was quite an organic process, at a time when Russell already had three series under his belt...
On 16 August 2012, Cook released a trailer on his YouTube account ninebrassmonkeys for his new project, Becoming YouTube, a 12-part video series about the British YouTube community. Presented in a documentary style and incorporating sketch comedy and fantasy sequences featuring popular YouTube stars, Becoming YouTube also documents Cook's first attempts to enter the medium of online video. The first episode was launched on 9 December 2012. After publishing the last episode of Becoming YouTube on 23 February 2014, he announced Project:Library. Cook has confirmed the development of a 2nd series of Becoming YouTube.
- Cook, Benjamin (2003). Doctor Who: The New Audio Adventures – The Inside Story. Berkshire: Big Finish. ISBN 978-1-84435-034-6.
- Hickman, Clayton, ed. (2005), "Cook, Benjamin", Doctor Who Annual 2006, pp. 47–52. Kent: Panini Books. ISBN 978-1-904419-73-0.
- Davies, Russell T; and Cook, Benjamin (2008). Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale. London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-1-84607-571-1.
- Davies, Russell T; and Cook, Benjamin (2010). Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter. London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-1-84607-861-3.
- Hickman, Clayton, ed. (2010), "Cook, Benjamin", The Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 2011, pp. 104–107. London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-1-84607-991-7.
- Hickman, Clayton, ed. (2011), "Cook, Benjamin", The Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 2012, pp. 10–14, 36–39, 64–67, 94–97, 154–159. London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-1-84990-230-4.
- USF > Features > Russell T Davies & Benjamin Cook interview
- Hudson, Gill (9 February 2008). "Teenage Rampage". Radio Times.
- Hudson, Gill (Ed.). Generation X!, Radio Times 16–22 August 2008
- Hudson, Gill (Ed.). One Final Question: Richard Wilson, Radio Times 7–13 February 2009
- Hudson, Gill (Ed.). Mock Tudor, Radio Times 18–24 April 2009
- Hudson, Gill (Ed.). The Inside Story, Radio Times 11–17 April 2009
- Preston, Ben (Ed.). King of the Tweets, Radio Times 9–15 January 2010
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- Spilsbury, Tom (Ed.). Fire Walk with Me, Doctor Who Magazine 417
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- Struggling to find the perfect Christmas present? From bronze horses to Harry Hill, our team of arts writers offer their recommendations – The Scotsman
- Horwell, Veronica (4 October 2008). "You. Would. Make. A. Good. Dalek". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 26 April 2010.
- Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale (Hardback) – Book review
- Doctor Who Online
- Critical mass : Off The Telly
- Richard and Judy pick The Writer’s Tale » Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale
- YouTube – ibebenjamin's Channel
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- Rusbridger, Alan (Ed.). Review, The Guardian 6 February 2010
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- Hislop, Ian (Ed.). Literary Review, Private Eye 1254
- Doctor Who The Writer’s Tale: Benjamin Cook interview – Den of Geek
- "BECOMING YOUTUBE - Trailer". ninebrassmonkeys. August 16, 2012. Retrieved May 10, 2014.
- "Everything Changes - BECOMING YOUTUBE - Video 12". ninebrassmonkeys. February 23, 2014. Retrieved May 10, 2014.
- Lewis, Tim (7 April 2013). "YouTube superstars: the generation taking on TV – and winning". Guardian. Covent Garden, London. Retrieved 19 August 2014.