Spotlight on John Dickie

1 May 2013

John Dickie

This week the spotlight is on John Dickie, Professor of Italian Studies, UCL Faculty of Arts & Humanities.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am Professor of Italian Studies. So I profess Italy, and everything to do with it.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I have been at UCL for twenty years! (And I even had a term here as a graduate teaching assistant during my PhD.) It's all so long ago that everything I did before is a bit of a haze.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

Probably the fact that my books are read by such a wide range of people: scholars, students, professionals involved in fighting the mafias in Italy, and people who are just interested in the subject. When I started my academic career I never thought I'd see people reading my books on the Tube!

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of you to-do list?

I've just finished a new book, Mafia Republic, which is the continuation of a two-volume history of mafia organisations in Italy from their origins to the present day. (The first volume was called Mafia Brotherhoods.) Now I have to combine the books into a single volume for my German publisher. I'm also heavily committed to publicity for the BBC2 documentary The Mafia's Secret Bunkers which is coming out on 1 May.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

It's not a single album, but music I go back to again and again is Haydn's Piano trios. The box set has never been far from my CD player since I first bought it about 15 years ago. I'm not sure I have a favourite film. But I've taught De Sica's Bicycle Thieves ever since I came to UCL, and I still enjoy watching it. Anything that durable has to have a place in your affections. And as for novels... the best one is always the next one.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

Err... I'm hopeless at remembering jokes.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

With our work and young kids, my wife (the novelist Sarah Penny) and I barely get time to go out for dinner outside of holidays. So her.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Smile more.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

My great sporting achievements. When I was 14 I beat the England captain at single-wicket cricket. (Admittedly, he was the England rugby captain, Peter Wheeler.) And when I was 15 Brian Clough confiscated my Stoke City scarf at Forest's City Ground.

What is your favourite place?

I particularly love going to the Cederberg, a mountain wilderness reserve about three hours north of Cape Town.