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November 2013

Appropriate Architecture 

Why does David Favager wish to consign the buildings he doesn't like to Liverpool John Moores University's Birkenhead Docks Campus? Birkenhead is just as deserving of quality modern architecture as Oxford; isn’t this just another example of Oxford elitism?
Julian Treuherz
Christ Church College, 1965

I am sure the debate over architecture in Oxford has been on-going, perennial, continuous and even endless… but surely not eternal, as your cover suggests?
Peter Brain
Mansfield College, 1963

Crackdowns

I am surprised none of your correspondents confessed to being arrested and fined as a result of the Khrushchev-Bulganin demonstartion in 1956 (Michaelmas issue, 2013). Scores were, including a schoolboy friend of mine. It marked the beginning of a postwar police crackdown on students who, unlike the Bullingdon Club members, did not pay handsomely for the damage they caused.

A few years later there was a similar crackdown on Bonfire Night revellers. Colleges gated their students, and members of gown who did manage to join town in the traditional assault on the Randolph Hotel, Super Cinema and Taj Mahal Restaurant received swift retribution. They were kettled in Turl Street, whisked down the Crown passage, and charged in a temporary police station at the back of Oxford Town Hall.

Next year November 5th passed peacefully for the first time in living memory.
Don Chapman
St Catherine’s College, 1952

Bulganin, Khrushchev and Gorbachev

I was interested to read the letters in the Trinity and Michaelmas issues regarding the visit of Bulganin and Khrushchev to Oxford in 1956. With Ross Taylor, a very distinguished geochemist from New Zealand — then working in Oxford in the Department of Geology and Mineralogy in Parks Road — I walked down from the Department and we stood together on the steps of the New Bodleian Library opposite the Clarendon Building during the event. 

As the motorcade carrying the Russian leaders came along the Broad, an undergraduate managed to arrive at the Clarendon at the same time, parking his bicycle against the kerb. The police promptly whisked it away. 

When the Russians came out of the Clarendon after their visit, only the diminutive figure of Krushchev broke into an arm-waving response to the chanting of Poor Old Joe. The tall gaunt figure of Bulganin remained austere. The next day, The Times severely rebuked the students at Oxford for their behaviour. 

Years later, when Gorbachev paid his first visit to Britain to see Margaret Thatcher in London, he afterwards came to Edinburgh. I happened to be passing the Caledonian Hotel at the West End when Gorbachev came out after lunch to get into a car. The visit to Edinburgh was abruptly terminated due to the death of Marshall Zhukov in Moscow. As he got into the car, I shouted out ‘Poor Old Joe’. Am I the only person to have been at both events?
Norman Butcher
Queen’s College, 1954

Get It Right

I wish you'd learn to punctuate. Oxford Today is getting as bad as the Daily Telegraph or the BBC web site. You should also be aware that the word ‘likely’, in spite of its ending, is an adjective. Just stop trying to be so American, will you?
Hugh Casement
Balliol College, 1966

A mis-spelling in a prominent place at the top of page 5 of Oxford Today (Ed: ‘councellor’ as opposed to ‘counsellor’). What’s worse, it’s the sort of mis-spelling that excites a suspicion that one doesn’t know any better — but of course you do, and all is put right on page 66. Please don’t let it happen again!
Bill Alexander
Queen’s College, 1944

A spelling error (Ed: ‘extolls’ rather than ‘extols’) on page 54 of the latest Oxford Today! I’m manning the barricades as we speak, as the Philistines are upon us. I hope I am never witness again to such a heinous crime against all decent folk. Yours in shock,
Steve Haynes
Lincoln College, 1981

In ‘Time for a Change’ (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2013), I was interested to read that a weather vane atop the new Harris Manchester clock tower ‘shows a member of the college peddling a bicycle’. I had no idea college finances were in quite such a dire state but I suppose, with all the spare bicycles left around the city, stealing them to sell on to needy students must provide easy pickings.
Peter Malin
St Edmund Hall, 1970

I look forward to seeing the new clock tower and gate at Harris Manchester College, but will be surprised if I find a weathervane depicting a member of the College trying to sell a bicycle (Michaelmas issue, p55). I suspect said vane actually shows someone pedalling, rather than peddling. 
David Bradbury
Brasenose College, 1981

Ed: Thank you, all, for pointing out these mistakes. May we point you to a wonderful feature written by Simon Horobin, which questions the importance of adhering to strict rules of our language.

Master and Commander

Hilary Bichovsky quite rightly regrets the Oxbridge 'discretionary' Master's degrees. Yes, of course they devalue the real ones — but, as one of the great cold and hungry 1950's brain drain to the American job market, I certainly found my (very cheaply) bought Master's invaluable. 

Without it, my Oxford undivided 2nd class chemistry degree was rated as only suitable for employment as a very junior laboratory technician. I wonder if the same now applies to the UK job market?
Alison Sutherland
Somerville College, 1951

Thatcher

Charles Moore may find puzzlement at the University's refusal of an honorary degree to Mrs Thatcher in 1985 (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2013), but many of us remember rejoice among academics that at least Oxford had not sycophantically rewarded the leader of a government that had recently cut the universities’ funding by up to 30 per cent. Some more cynically commented that it was the first time Oxford had been in the forefront of resistance to an authoritarian government since the reign of James II. In any case, I think the fact that she had been educated at Somerville — and even her achievement in overcoming a gender-disadvantage — did not make her a suitable candidate for such an honour. 
Christopher Wain
St Peter's College, 1971

Jill Rutter's overview of Baroness Thatcher as a scientist reminded me that I once met the man who first gave her employment at BX Plastics. He liked her, even though he claimed that she ‘lacked the common touch’. Given a specific task, he said, she would meticulously see it through to perfection, but was unable to generate ideas in research. This would have borne out her tutors' expectations.

None of the contributors mentioned that the reason for Oxford withholding the customary honorary degree was the damage which Mrs Thatcher had done to education. The only abstention was that of the then-Principal of Somerville, who allegedly said that she knew what would happen to her college if she voted with the rest. Indeed, the Prime Minister was held to have responded swiftly with the £10m cut to Oxford research funding, which alumni helped to make good.

It was she who initiated change requiring substantial maintenance fees from students. As some of us cynically said, having obtained two degrees largely at public expense, when aboard she pulled up the ladder. Tony Blair was also state funded but he completed the process which is leading towards restoring the old system wherein, against university wishes, ability to pay will normally determine entry. This will finally destroy Rab Butler's innovative post-World War 2 work, which has enabled any able student to gain access to the excellence of an Oxford education.  Moreover it will mean that the stimulation of a broad social mix will be denied to future generations.

It worries me that the pressing need to raise funds to preserve modern Oxford, and a tutorial system which is of incalculable value to this country and its economy, may encourage selectively favourable representations of the very persons responsible for creating that need.

However, I must declare a personal bias. I read PPP at Jesus College from 1954-56 on a mature student's state scholarship, moving on to teach, before becoming an educational psychologist for state schools and finally a lecturer at Nottingham University. Had present circumstances prevailed in ‘54 I would probably have remained a navvy ganger. Arguably less socially useful, but perhaps rather better paid.
Peter Cox
Jesus College, 1954

Your interesting articles on Margaret Thatcher and the importance of science in politics did not mention the 1987 Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer — a treaty that she was able to push for in a knowledgeable way. Implementation of the Montreal Protocol is the only conscious and successful action that we know of taken by an organism to protect its planet. 
Jonathan A Coles
Worcester College, 1961

Horrible Henry

So, we are now informed that Henry VIII was a psychopath (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2013), a fact self-evident to anyone with any acquaintance with the life of this thoroughly unpleasant monarch. Does it really require an academically funded exercise to establish the obvious? 

The arrogant, egocentric and repressive character of this king — disturbingly portrayed in the thin-lipped and cruel likenesses by Holbein and his circle and manifested by his callous treatment of his wives — is surely evidence enough. Even if his preoccupations to produce a male heir were one of the mainsprings of Henry’s actions, his brutalities were inexcusable even by the standards of his own age and least of all by ours.  
William Smith
St Peter’s College, 1974

Kennedy’s Assasination

I very much enjoyed John Garth’s article Rendezvous with Death (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2013). In November 1963, my father, Monty Woodhouse (New College, 1935) was MP for Oxford, and he and my mother had been invited by Tom Boase, then President of Magdalen, to stay for the weekend. For some reason, I, aged 9, was included. I vividly remember being put to bed in the President’s lodgings in a room at the end of a dark corridor and feeling just like Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden. As my mother told the story, a dinner party was well under way downstairs when the butler whispered into Tom’s ear that there was alarming news from the US. A great deal of fluster ensued because the President’s lodgings had neither radio nor a television. College servants were dispatched in all directions to see if an undergraduate might have such a thing as a wireless. In due course one was found and the terrible news was confirmed. 

At that point, my father came upstairs and woke me up. ‘I think you should know,’ he said, ‘that President Kennedy has been shot.’ In retrospect, perhaps this seems an odd thing to have done to a child – disturbing in every sense of the word. However, I have always felt immensely pleased and proud that he wanted to share this moment with me. Had I known, however, that the author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was also dead, I might not have gone back to sleep quite so quickly
Emma Woodhouse
Lady Margaret Hall, 1973

I have a particularly clear memory of the evening of 22nd November 1963, when the news of the assassination of President Kennedy reached Oxford. We were about to attend a club dinner — Keble’s now sadly defunct Mitre Club. We did not allow the news to dissuade us from holding the dinner, but towards its end the President of the JCR came into the room and whispered a message to the Warden, the saintly Austen Farrer, who then told us that, sadly, he would have to leave, having received the news of the death of a very dear friend. I found myself wondering how he might have been a friend of JFK and why the news had reached him much later than the rest of us. It was not until the next day that we learned that his very dear friend was C S Lewis.
Andrew Bunbury
Keble College, 1962

The Class of 2012

I don’t usually read whole pieces in Oxford Today, but was fascinated by The Class of 2012 (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2013). Mr Eliot Ball, in particular, describes lectures as ‘almost universally very poor’. This was also my experience between 1971 and 1974. However, despite being rather a sluggish student, I did put myself out to attend the – purely optional – seminars given by the excellent Peter Gantz.

I remember another student attempting to correct Peter Gantz on an issue of pronunciation. ‘Nobody knows how it was pronounced’, he simply replied. On a further occasion someone suggested he was prejudiced. ‘Life would be impossible without prejudice,’ he said. He was a ‘vague’ academic of the best kind.

Perhaps it’s not the format but the personal chemistry, as always, which counts at this level.
Tom Doak
Jesus College, 1971