Crossed Ts and Crossed Wires
: The Sliding Tray Principle and Major Absurdities in the Civil Service

  • Stephen Walsh

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The Sliding Tray Principle is a composite novel. Its protagonist, James Black, is a Manchester-based civil servant, working in the DSS before and after the advent of Thatcherism, though his great ambition is to be a stand-up comedian. The period described in the novel was a time both of social turbulence and cultural shift, in which the post-war consensus on economic and social policy was overthrown by Thatcherism. My novel portrays the resultant damage inflicted on individuals and society. The wounding social, cultural and economic disruption which took place in 1980s British society coincided with a concurrent cultural movement in comedy - a time when the ‘traditional’, almost exclusively white working-class male stand-ups were about to be supplanted by an invasion of a cohort of younger, middle-class, ‘politically correct’, left-leaning comedians. These awkward ruptures in society and culture find expression in the frustrated ambitions of Black, a would-be comedian in the traditional style, as well as a civil servant in the DSS. Coincident with his struggle to be a stand-up, Black fights to survive the shrinking of the state enacted as a consequence of the ground-breaking reforms to the civil service perpetrated by the Thatcher/Major regimes. Black has one foot on each of these ‘historical era tectonic plates’ pre- and post-Thatcher, and he struggles for purchase. Moreover, Black, as a government official, becomes involved in the poverty and hardships of the people receiving benefits – both witness to, and participant in, the social trauma evoked in the novel. The novel is largely told from Black’s point of view and braids, as a composite, mixed genre pieces describing his professional, private and stand-up lives. The Sliding Tray Principle arises from, and is largely based on autobiographical events experienced as a social security inspector and government policy advisor.
Date of Award18 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorStephen Ely (Main Supervisor) & Sarah Falcus (Co-Supervisor)

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