1st Edition

Heroes in Contemporary British Culture Television Drama and Reflections of a Nation in Change

By Barbara Korte, Nicole Falkenhayner Copyright 2021
    160 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    160 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book explores how British culture is negotiating heroes and heroisms in the twenty-first century. It posits a nexus between the heroic and the state of the nation and explores this idea through British television drama.

    Drawing on case studies including programmes such as The Last Kingdom, Spooks, Luther and Merlin, the book explores the aesthetic strategies of heroisation in television drama and contextualises the programmes within British public discourses at the time of their production, original broadcasting and first reception. British television drama is a cultural forum in which contemporary Britain’s problems, wishes and cultural values are revealed and debated. By revealing the tensions in contemporary notions of heroes and heroisms, television drama employs the heroic as a lens through which to scrutinise contemporary British society and its responses to crisis and change. Looking back on the development of heroic representations in British television drama over the last twenty years, this book’s analyses show how heroisation in television drama reacts to, and reveals shifts in, British structures of feeling in a time marked by insecurity.

    The book is ideal for readers interested in British cultural studies, studies of the heroic and popular culture.

    Introduction: Heroes, television drama and a nation in change. Concepts and contexts 1

    1 The hero’s journey and the state of the nation 21

    2 British soldier heroism in the War on Terror era 44

    3 The heroic TV detective in the twenty-first century: Transforming archetypes 64

    4 Secret service TV drama: Dubious ethics, dubious heroism 90

    5 Merlin versus Misfits: Heroic British youth telefantasy 110

    Summary and Outlook 135


    Barbara Korte is Professor of English Literature at the University of Freiburg. She has co-edited the volumes Heroism as a Global Phenomenon in Popular Culture (2019) and Heroes and Heroisms in British Fiction since 1800: Case Studies (2017).

    Nicole Falkenhayner is Senior Lecturer of British Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Freiburg and author of Media, Surveillance and Affect: Narrating Feeling-States (2019) and Making the British Muslim: Representations of the Rushdie Affair and Figures of the War-on-Terror Decade (2014).

    This timely, vigorous, and wide-ranging book is a welcome addition to the scholarship. Korte and Falkenhayner demonstrate an illuminating depth and breadth of understanding of the texts and their contexts that contributes new insights on both.

    - Michael Goodrum, Canterbury Christ Church University, UK


    It has been a true pleasure reading this book. It offers a rich and engaging discussion of the ambiguous hero and the contested heroic in contemporary British TV culture. Moreover, it presents a range of deeply fascinating and thought-provoking analyses of contemporary series – military, espionage, detective and fantasy - and scrutinizes the protagonist – mostly male - as a figure whose actions raise the broad and important questions what counts as heroic and who can be represented as heroic. Thereby it includes a clever and critical discussion on TV series and (the lack of) diversity. It is highly recommendable to anyone interested in contemporary British TV culture and how TV fiction can contribute to our understanding of contemporary societies.

    - Anne Jerslev, University of Copenhagen, Denmark