|Born||17 October 1982
Isleworth, West London, England
|Known for||Radio Times
Doctor Who Magazine
Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale
Benjamin Cook (born 17 October 1982) is an English journalist, writer and regular contributor to Radio Times and Doctor Who Magazine. He has also been published in Filmstar, TV Zone, Cult Times, TV Times 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 e-mail correspondence between Cook and Doctor Who executive producer Russell T Davies. A revised and updated paperback edition of The Writers Tale (called The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter), featuring 350 pages of new material, was released on 14 January 2010.
“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, 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!"
Cook first wrote for Doctor Who Magazine (DWM) in March 1999. Since then, his catalogue of interviews for the publication ranges from David Tennant, Kylie Minogue, Billie Piper 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..., is a favourite among DWM readers, and has featured such diverse names as Bernard Cribbins, Timothy Dalton, Duncan James from Blue and Professor Richard Dawkins.
Cook has compiled five DWM Special Editions - under the In Their Own Words umbrella title - providing a chronological commentary on the making of the TV series by those involved in its production, collated from extracts of interviews previously published in DWM. A sixth volume will be published early in 2010, covering the years 1997 to 2009.
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 Sir 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 controversial 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 2008, BBC Books published Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale, based on an in-depth e-mail 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 September 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." Feeling Listless confessed that "none of us have [sic] truly been prepared for how honest and apparently uncensored the book is... You couldn’t imagine another journalist to get Davies to write so candidly". Simon Guerrier of Nothing Tra La La? said that The Writer's Tale is "a chance to eavesdrop [on] a long-running conversation between two very smart people. They're such warm, good-humoured company, it is a pleasure to nestle beside them." "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." On his From the North blog, Keith Topping called The Writer's Tale "a quasi-novel full of extraordinary characters, told in a clever and enterprising fashion and concerning themes as diverse as stress, obsession, fame, guilt, redemption and - quite beautifully - magnificence in the cutthroat world of broadcast media in the early years of the 21st Century." 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.
Released 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.