What do you actually do?! Episode 1: Hannah Greig, Historical Adviser

Today’s episode of What Do You Actually Do!? explores the role of Historical Adviser, Hannah Greig, who has worked on notable TV and Film producstions such as The Favourite, Poldark and The Duchess.

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You’re listening to the What Do You Actually Do!? Podcast. Each week, we want to bring you an inspiring interview, a useful tip, or encouraging message to help you find your place in the professional world.

K: So, Hannah, what do you actually do?

H: I think I describe myself as a professional academic historian, so I have a University job and I teach and research at the University of York and I specialise in 18th century British history. But as part of that work, because of the nature of my expertise, I also consult regularly for film, television, and productions – mostly period dramas, so the kind of things you might see on Sunday nights on the BBC.

K: So how did you break into that?

H: I think it was luck, to be honest. About ten years ago now I did my first job as a consultant for a film called The Duchess. It was set in 18th century England and starred Keira Knightley as the duchess of Devonshire, so that was quite an elite, but into this whole new world for me. And then, after that I started to work quite regularly for BBC productions, so I’ve worked with Poldark for the past five series, other dramas like Death Comes to Pemberley, Gunpowder, that was on last year, Jamaica Inn, I’ve worked for those and then we have a new film as well that’s coming out this year in the US and in the UK called The Favourite which is set in the court of Queen Anne, so another film again more recently. But it was really just on the basis of being an expert in the time period that these dramas are set in, and so I was approached by the productions on the basis of that expertise.

K: So you don’t go out and pitch your services to production companies – they, as part of their research are finding “oh, who’s an expert in this field?” and come to you?

H: Yes, they usually seek out people who have a specialism in the field that they are interested in, and that the drama is set in so I don’t have an agent who is seeking work for me in the industry. I think there are experts who work in that capacity but more often is a case of production saying “well, our drama is set in 1850s France so lets ask around some academics to find out who’s expert in the field” and you get drawn into productions in that way. I often recommend other colleagues for dramas that are not my area of specialism. And, increasingly, I think, productions are seeking out the kind of highest-quality specialist expertise they can find to help underpin their dramas. Because we expect high-quality now, particularly from our television productions as well, there’s bigger budgets attached to them, they’ve got to have a cinematic element to them. That requires a high level of investment in research and pre-production planning, so there’s more space there for consultants to play a role. 

K: So, talk me through the sort of, key elements of the role. When one of these jobs comes in, what happens?

H: Well it varies from production to production depending on the director, the producer, and what it is that they’re looking for but in general terms, I’ll often be speaking to production at least a few months before filming, sometimes years. We’ll be looking at the script during development so whatever points the production feels they want to think carefully about the historical context then they will be sending materials to me. I will read scripts, I’ll do things like look for anachronisms so things that don’t sit very comfortably with me as a historian, I’ll also try to suggest details and elements which might only be evident to someone who’s got a richer understanding of the period. So, how can we work on smaller details to make it feel like a world that is informed by its own time. One of the things that we try and do with visual dramas in particular on television and film is creating a meaningful world when all of the elements come together. Sometimes, it’s the smaller details that can really help.

K: Can you give me an example of that? What kind of small detail?

H: Well, it could be things, simple things like in a market scene you might expect to see some food products or some textiles, but actually if we can make them as precise as possible… So in an 18th century street you might see a rat-catcher carrying traps to catch rats in, you might see people begging on the street who have particular aspects of their characters that tell us something about the time. So, injured soldiers returning from the Napoleonic Wars, or elements like that that help communicate time and place in smaller details, as well as in the ways in which the story unfolds. And I think that my… I always say with the productions that I see my role no simply, you know, being chief complainer or kind of chief pedant in the production, but it’s about trying to make sure that everyone involved in the production can make choices about what they’re doing rather than mistakes. So quite often we identify something as being problematic from a historical point of view but we retain it and keep it in because it’s valuable for other reasons. And I am totally supportive of that as a production choice, but it’s always important it’s a choice, not done by accident. And that’s what I see my role as, it’s making sure that it’s a decision-making process rather than just doing things by accident.

K: I can imagine some people might approach and “uhh you wouldn’t have had those shoes there and oh they didn’t have pineapples back in those days, get it off set” – sort of telling people what not to do and I guess real strong communication with costume departments, set departments, all that kind of stuff so you all understand where you’re coming from and it’s not a last minute thing.

H: Yea, it’s about having the communication skills and making yourself accessible, and welcoming and friendly in terms of how you communicate levels of expertise. And also, I think, to counter the idea that people judge dramas on the basis of just accuracy – is that right or wrong? – we’re very quick now on Twitter and in social media whenever a period drama comes on television we say: “oh, my goodness we wouldn’t have had that” or “that costume is slightly the wrong colour” or “they would never had said that”. And, you know, that might well be the case but that’s not the sum of the kind of decision-making processes involved in making a drama. And I think whatever role you play in that kind of production process you need to recognise that it is a whole product, that there’s a whole story that needs to be told, and a whole world that needs to be created… And history is a part of that- the way in which you can make historical content as rich as possible is to, first make yourself accessible, but also to participate in the process as early as possible. Because if the history becomes useful to the production then it can have a greater value as the process begins to unfold. 

K: Do you get to go on set sometimes, and if so, what’s the best and worst things about being on set?

H: I do get to go on set, which is fun and exciting – I like all of the equipment and the thrill of seeing a world unfolding. I don’t go as much as I used to, or if I haven’t done a drama for a while I tend to be on set more and then I… and then the novelty wears off quite quickly. I mean, they’re very busy places, everyone is working incredibly hard… and actually being on set is not the place where you want a historian saying: “oh, this is wrong” because there’s actually nothing you can do at that point. You’re too late to the game if you’re already on set and spotting things. You need to put that process in much, much earlier. But I like to go on set because it reminds me of the complexity of the process that everyone is involved with. It reminds me about the work that other people do within a drama. And of course it’s just exciting to participate in a different world for a while. And you can’t complain if you’re having a coffee with Aidan Turner…

K: That sound exciting but let’s get to the real heart of this – who’s the best celebrity you’ve spotted on set?

H: Well I’ve been lucky to work on some pretty successful dramas, and so it’s been a great privilege to meet some of the cast and also the crew who’ve been involved in this productions. So from The Duchess we had some pretty big name cast involved like Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, and I think for a long time my favourite anecdote was the time when Ralph Fiennes phoned me to check a detail, and I was picking up a ready meal… And obviously Poldark has got a very high-profile cast involved, and a film that’s coming out soon, The Favourite, has some three very strong leads – Olivia Coleman, Rachel Wesz, and Emma Stone. I do feel incredibly privileged to see people who are very good at their job working in a way that they work very well. And I’m always very humbled by the time and effort it takes to make these dramas, for all of the cast and crew involved are often on set for 12-hour days for many many weeks, many months of the year. They work incredibly hard and it is a very important creative process for them.

K: And how are you treated on set? Do they sort of see you as a hindrance or a help, I mean, earlier you were saying you try to do it as a partnership, communicating and sharing ideas… but, does it ever feel a bit different to that?

H:  I try to keep out of the way and out of trouble as much as possible, because they’re incredibly busy so I’m usually to be found near the catering and drinking coffee and having a chat to the fireman or something, just trying to keep out of the way. But I think that I’m always struck that media productions are incredibly collaborative and everyone knows what their job involves and they try to deliver it as quickly as possible and so you want to facilitate that rather than hinder it. As I said earlier, usually being on set is the last place where you want to make big historical interventions. Everything should’ve been put in into place prior to that. But it can be useful sometimes if I’m floating around on set to answer questions. I like just having little chats about history with people, and lots of the cast and crew are often interested in finding out more information and it gives them an opportunity to ask those questions informally because there isn’t much time in the run-up to these things.

K: So you said before that the productions that you work on tend to relate directly to your research interest… do you have to have a PhD and be a professional academic to break into this kind of work? 

H: I don’t think you need a PhD and an academic background necessarily but I do think it’s useful to have a specialism. Most consultants are drawn in on the basis of field of knowledge and field of expertise. I think it’s quite hard to forge a career as a consultant without that sense of specialism, because that is really what the production is investing in – it’s that kind of high-level knowledge that they can’t access in other ways. So a friend of mine, a writer, Hallie Rubenhold, who writes a lot of 18th century books, she once described being a consultant as being the icing on top of the cake, it’s the extra thing that you do alongside the other things that you have that mean you’re acting as a historian and a specialist in a particular period of history.

But having said that, there’s lots of opportunities for people with history degrees or arts and humanities skills to work in the media, and lots of students are interested in taking my job – they can’t necessarily have that! They do often go into work in production development and in other research capacities as well.  There’s plenty of scope for clever, interesting people to get work in that industry, and of course now television drama in particular is having a boom in how it’s being funded. And the new opportunities through Netflix and very high budget dramas coming through commercial channels means that there’s a lot of drama content, and a lot of that is historical as well – we have a lot of period dramas being made. They’re very profitable, being made in Britain and then sold around the world, so it is quite a substantial market I think, and a place where students can carve out a career for themselves. But probably not necessarily in quite the way I do, which is turning up every few months and talking a bit about history and then going off again…

K: So would you say your kind of historical advising, consultancy work is pretty niche, and people who are interested in historical drama, maybe documentaries, that there’s other ways they should look to break into the sector?

H: Yes, I think my particular career pattern is fairly niche, but there are these other opportunities and there are production companies of course that really specialise in historical content. So if you think about production companies like Wall to Wall who make things like Who do you think you are? and some of the reality TV shows, history-based television shows as well; there are production companies that really focus in on historical content, so if you have a history degree, then I recommend you just send them your CV and cold call those companies who seem to be investing in that kind of drama.  The producers of Poldark, Mammoth Screen, make a range of other programmes as well, including Victoria. So when you’re watching something on television, see who’s made it, and if you loved it, write to them and tell them you loved it and that you would love to come and ask them if they’ve got any work available, or try and get some experience, and most of the production companies I know work on a basis of cold calling, door knocking still; it is quite an old fashioned way of trying to break into the industry.

K: So what do you think the key challenges or opportunities will be for the sector over the next few years? Thinking for students who might be considering this as a career area, what should they be thinking about?

H:  Well I think it’s seeing how the media industry has evolved in the last few years, to see how bigger budgets are now involved in television dramas as well.  It used to be that the really glossy productions were only possible in film; film had the budgets and you could really do period dramas well, and it was hard to do on television. But that has changed now, and also the nature of television technology means that we can create cinematic quality on television much more readily than we could when I started out in this field. So I think television has lots of opportunities now. I think that actually game technology is one of the places that we’ll see as a big boom. There’s a lot of history based games in development; that seems a very big market – issues of accuracy in storytelling that we have in film and television are evident as well in gaming, so I would expect that to be emerging as a new field of work for consultants and for people with history expertise being drawn into that multimedia platform as well.

K: Great, that sounds very exciting – a whole new podcast that we could do around gaming! Well, thank you very much for joining us today, it’s been really helpful. We’ve got some resources that we’ll be sharing with students to help research this area more and I think you’ve mentioned you’ve got some places you would recommend, so just check our website for details.  Thanks again Hannah.


5 ways we can support you this term

Here are 5 ways you can use Careers and Placements this term to support you whether you’re not sure where to start, you want to find out more or you’re in the midst of applications.

Use our events to explore options and do some research
Our careers events are designed to give you an insight into potential career options. Our programme changes every term and this term, we’re running an event called Careers in and we’re focusing on three different sectors. They are:
1. Advertising, Marketing & PR
2. Big Data
3. Policy & Development
At this type of event, we invite York graduates and contacts working in the sector that we’re focusing on, to come back and answer questions and to share their direct personal knowledge of their role and the industry they work in. We’ll also be exploring work experience options and the types of skills in demand in three smaller events focusing on advertising, marketing & PR (week 4), criminal justice (week 5) and community support & engagement (week 6).

Practice and prepare
You wouldn’t do a 10k run without doing a bit of training and a warm up first. Think about an interview or assessment centre in the same way. This term we’re running an assessment centre and interview experience where you can try some typical assessment centre exercises used by real recruiters. Similarly, if you have an interview coming up, you can book a mock interview with one of our careers consultants or use the application and interview tips on our website. Get some practice to help you approach interviews with confidence.

Try something new and boost your skills
Through our volunteering programme we advertise opportunities from a range of organisations. Whether you’re interested in a specific sector or type of work or would just like to get some experience and develop your skills, there is lots on offer. This term, for example you can volunteer to help run craft and lego clubs, plan sensory sessions for people with hearing and sight loss and work with an advocacy charity to provide support and information for older people.
Deadline for volunteering opportunities: Sunday 10 February

Consider a Placement Year
You can opt to take a placement year between your 2nd and 3rd year of study, providing you with up to 12 months of valuable work experience. You need to find and secure your own work placement however Careers and Placements are on hand to provide support. If this is something you’re interested in, contact us to book a placement appointment.

Think about what makes you tick
Our York Strengths programme is designed to help you uncover what your personal strengths and preferences are. The first stage for first years is an online test which is available now. Complete the test and receive feedback on your top 3 strengths. The next stage is to come to a York Strengths development day where you’ll have the chance to delve a bit deeper. We’ll help you understand what your strengths mean and how you can use them effectively.

What do you actually do?! Podcast Launch

Next Wednesday 16th January 2019 we’ll be launching our brand new podcast, What do you actually do?!

Every week we’ll be releasing a new episode with guests from a variety of jobs and sectors to help give you an insight into, well, what they actually do for a career.

You can listen to the podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud, or YouTube.

Check out the schedule for upcoming shows:

Date Episode Guest Job Title Sector
16-Jan 1 Hannah Grieg Historical Adviser Film/Academia
23-Jan 2 Adam Smith Audience Engagement Editor Journalism/Editing
30-Jan 3 Stefan Sipika Process and Production Manager Biotechnology
06-Feb 4 John Tomlison Producer / Company Director Theatre
13-Feb 5 Kate Pyle Compliance and corporate services manager Healthcare
20-Feb 6 JT Welsch Lecturer (English and related literature) Academia
27-Feb 7 Cat Schroeter Senior Fundraiser Charity
06-Mar 8 Richard Knight Production Liason / Former Location Manager Film
13-Mar 9 Laura Hallet Strategic Projects and Change Higher Education (non-academic)

Have yourself a merry little interview

Written by Careers Brand Ambassador, Lindsay Christison.

So you’re curled up on the couch, home alone is holding strong at its 100th showing this season and the Christmas food coma has worn off enough for you to be halfway through a tin of quality street (apart from the toffee pennies because let’s be honest you’re not that desperate yet). Next thing, you get an email. You’re invited to an interview for that job/placement you so optimistically applied to last term.


I give you: A Christmas wish list to boss that interview… *hair flick*

A holly jolly… firm handshake

Well first impressions count right? My first wish is the Goldilocks of handshakes. Strong enough to show I mean business but not so aggressive that their memory of your interview is the red imprint of your hand over theirs.  


^^Tip: Don’t do this either

What I’d ‘Love Actually’ are easy questions

Please don’t hit me with all that ‘If you were a biscuit, what kind of biscuit would you be?’ nonsense…. There is no chance I can show off my Gold DofE with that… Wish number two: Straightforward questions to which I can regurgitate my pre-prepared evaluation of what my part time job has taught me about time management and customer service skills.


Baby it’s cold outside… but can my hands stop shaking?

Wish number three is to release my inner Taylor Swift and shake off those pre-interview trembles… The only trembles we need belong only to a House of Madness. Deep breaths, eye of the tiger on headphones and lucky pants… you can do this!


My only wish this year… is some actually relevant experience

It’s always the case that you’re always busy so you must have experience and skills but how on earth do you apply them to this job? So my fourth wish is the ability to figure out how all of the things I spend my time doing have made me employable… what did I learn? What was I good at? How did getting lost on DofE teach me resilience and how did that annoying customer at the cafe teach me interpersonal skills? Hmm…. maybe I do have experience?


Don’t suffer ‘Home Alone’… get help from Careers and Placements with a mock interview

My fifth wish would be a practice run at the interview. Like pancakes, what if the first one’s a dud? This wish is probably the easiest to grant. The magic elves at Careers and Placements can book you in for a mock interview! They can test you with surprise generic questions or you can work with them beforehand to arrange a sector specific interview.


And finally… A Christmas miracle… on 34th street

It’s worth a shot.

Wish six. A miracle.

*crosses fingers and toes*

fingers crossed.gif

And with all that, hopefully, is the makings of a very merry interview!

Happy holidays everyone and best of luck for those pesky January exams and essays!


All I want for Christmas is… a job

One of our Careers Brand Ambassadors, Steph Gardner, let’s you know her Christmas wishlist when trying to land a grad job.

The countdown to Christmas has begun. So, we thought it would be ‘fun’ to talk about…you guessed it: Grad Jobs! We know, nothing can quite ruin the holidays like the thought of impending unemployment, so here’s Steph’s Christmas Wish List for the perfect grad job…

Minimal Entry Requirements


So you’re reading through a job description and everything is going great, it seems like a great opportunity and all you need is a 2.1. Then you get to the very bottom and it says that you need not apply unless you donate your kidney to the manager’s sister’s best friend’s cousin. Obviously that’s an exaggeration, but nothing is more annoying than getting excited for a job and realising that because of your degree, or your A-Level results, or anything out of a list of about a 100 things, your application will be tossed aside before it’s even been read. So unless it’s a highly specialised field, my first wish is for a job that doesn’t demand ridiculous things before we’ve even started to apply.

Money to Spare


Nothing is quite so disheartening as realising that the type of job you want pays next to nothing, and that in order to afford rent you’ll probably only be able to eat rice and nothing else for a couple of years. So my second wish is for a job that pays well, or at least enough to not be forever penny-pinching.

Free Stuff


Recently, while job shopping, I came across a graduate scheme where part of the perks were free fruit and yoghurt. It seemed at first like a strange thing to advertise, but as a student (or former student) any free stuff is good stuff, so grad schemes that offer gym memberships, private healthcare, and more get bumped to the top of the list. My third wish is for a graduate job that offers perks aside from just working for them, let them make it worth my while to apply.

Not Too Much Competition


Some people might find the idea of fierce competition a challenge, and while I don’t mind a bit of healthy competition, nothing quite puts me off applying for a job like company statistics saying that only 1 out of every 1,000 applicants gets hired. It could be that there are just lots of bad applicants, but if I’m not deluding myself, I know that a great chunk of the people applying are amazing candidates, and even they are not good enough. So even if some companies have only 1 or 2 vacancies, they’re worth applying to anyway because you might only be facing 100 other candidates instead of 3000.

Anyway, that’s enough about grad jobs, enjoy your holiday, and good luck with any revision or applications you might do! Remember you can always come to Careers for advice and help with job applications, your C.V., and interview prep.


Time to take stock


You may remember, we spent the first half of term encouraging you to get involved with all sorts of activities from work experience to volunteering, student societies to attending careers fairs.

Hopefully, you did do one or two things – but there’s no point in just doing! We suggested trying things out so you could build up experiences and develop your skills, as well as to have some fun.

So why not take some time to think through what you’ve been doing and what it’s given you? It’s a good idea to record the activities you do and also the skills you’ve gained. This will make a handy prompt when you’re applying for jobs or further study and you need to give some examples.

Not sure how to do this?

If you need some help thinking this through, try the following resources.

Not had chance to do anything yet?

Don’t worry, there’s still time to get involved. Here are some ideas for things to do next term.

  • Volunteering – deadline Week 5 for applications for Summer Term opportunities
  • Placement Year – for 2nd year undergraduates, who don’t have this as an option on their course. Register interest by 20 Jan
  • Network – Careers in… events. Check the events schedule
  • Enterprise – lots of competitions and events coming up
  • Recruitment – Assessment Centre and Interview Experience will run again in Spring. Check the events schedule

2nd undergrads – putting it all into practice

Don’t forget, if you’re a second year undergrad, you can apply for York Award Gold in the Spring Term. The application asks you to describe the activities you’ve been involved with and what you’ve gained, as a result.

Keep a look out for more information – including the application form and deadline – via the Careers Bulletin, delivered direct to your inbox.

5 actions to refine your business idea

Guest Blog written by Stuart McClure, Co-founder of Lovethesales.com

adult-bar-brainstorming-1015568(1)Creating business ideas is exciting. Working on an idea that you have thought of is both liberating and rewarding.  However, narrowing your ideas into one cohesive business plan is a challenge in itself, one which if done right can set you on a path to creating your dream business.

Here are 5 actions you can take to refine your business ideas and ensure you have the best launch pad for your next project.

Choosing the right idea

Having focus is important for an entrepreneur. You might have thousands of half thought out ideas and not know which one to focus on. So how do you know which is your best idea? I’d suggest keeping a list of all your ideas. Then, when you’re ready, you should put each potential idea through this exercise.

Take one of your ideas and write the name for it in the middle of a blank A4 page. Then answer the following questions, writing the answers around the outside of the idea:

  • What problem does this solve? How big is that problem? Why are you sure it’s a problem?
  • Has it already been done?
  • What barriers to entry can you create? (What would make it difficult for someone with more resources to come in and compete against you?)
  • What’s the potential market size?
  • What money would you need to invest to start the business and make it profitable?
  • What skills do you need in your team to get it going? How will you find people with those skills? Can you get it going by yourself?

After this exercise you should be able to filter out implausible ideas and be left with your most viable options.

Putting your proposal into one sentence

You need to have a clear picture of what your business offers, who it will help and what is its biggest benefit. You should be able to put all that information into one sentence, like the one in this template:

(“My business is, _(insert name of business)_, we develop _(define your product or service)_ to help _(define your audience)_ _(the problem you are solving  for them)_ by _(main benefit of the business )_”).

Mine looked like this:

“My business is LovetheSales.com, we are a discount aggregator that brings the sale products from 850 retailers, into one place. We help shoppers save money on the brands they love by finding the best deals across the web.”

This exercise is really useful for the actions below, where you will need to describe your idea succinctly to people (Will they understand it?)

Test your idea

Start sharing your idea with the people around you. Anyone who can spare 5 minutes to hear your proposal. This is a great way to get direct feedback on what’s good and not so good about your idea. Did they understand it? Do they have problems with it? Try to collect feedback from at least 30 people. It would also be an added bonus if some of them are your target customers.

It can be difficult to listen to criticism of your ideas from others, however it’s really important to try to elicit this kind of feedback without getting defensive. It can save you a lot of wasted time and effort. Getting early feedback, no matter how brutal it is, will help you to adjust your plan and give you a higher chance of success.

Tip: Try and get peoples uninfluenced and unbiased opinions. Refrain from interrupting or trying to change their objections with new information. The best feedback is fresh, unaltered first impressions.

Attend regular events related to your industry

You should try and become a mini expert of the industry you’re about to enter. Like a research project, you’re finding out who the major players are, the supply chain, the audience it attracts etc. Don’t try and overload yourself with all the information at once, it will take time and doesn’t happen overnight.

The best way to start is to attend regular events that would concern your business. For example, if you are starting a recruitment company, you want to attend recruitment conferences, business talks and meet ups that involve relevant people in that industry.

Eventbrite is a great tool to find these types of events near you. If you have a niche business and you can’t find events relating to your idea, try broadening your search to general business lectures, Marketing & PR events and so on.

Tip: These events are also fantastic for networking. Set up a LinkedIn and have it open and ready to share with new contacts you meet.

Find a good mentor

Good advice is like gold dust and having the right team around you is a critical part of successfully building your idea. Reach out to your university business professors, the Enterprise team at your university or join the entrepreneur society, try to find people who wouldn’t mind offering you bits of guidance from time to time.

There will be plenty of entrepreneurs and business leaders that are happy to pass on their wealth of knowledge. LinkedIn is also a great tool to keep in touch with these contacts.


IMG_3279Stuart McClure is the co-founder of a company called LovetheSales.com – a website that aggregates sale items from 100’s of retailers into one website, helping consumers to find the best deals on products they want.

He has 14 years experience in digital marketing and business management and, before starting his company, worked in a number of multi-million pound businesses in senior positions.

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/stuartmcclure/

LovetheSales.com – https://www.lovethesales.com/