Reading Noel Annan's The Dons (1999) recently made me reflect on what a plethora of great dons were around when I was a student, many of them household names: A J Ayer, Dacre Balsdon, Max Beloff, Isaiah Berlin, Maurice Bowra, Alan Bullock, Lord David Cecil, Richard Cobb, Lord Franks, Helen Gardner, Christopher Hill, Iris Murdoch, Christopher Ricks, A L Rowse, John Sparrow, Enid Starkie, A J P Taylor, J R R Tolkien, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Francis Warner, R C Zaehner, Theodore Zeldin – to name just a selection.

Charismatic, inspirational, often eccentric and larger than life, their presence gave the university a tremendous sense of vitality and prestige. I remember as a fresher walking up Parks Road behind Balsdon, Bowra and Berlin – all armed with shooting-sticks and talking brilliantly – and feeling I was at the centre of the intellectual universe. Where are their like today? I can scarcely name any current Oxford dons. Will anyone in fifty years' time think to write a book about the dons of today?