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Greek papyri

The significance of the Oxyrhynchus hoard of mostly ancient Greek papyri (Ancient Anadin, Ed 28.1, p.14) goes far beyond recipes for early analgesics. Most of the new material uncovered – shopping lists and other items relevant to everyday life – has been of interest primarily to social historians, but previously unknown discoveries include apocryphal texts and several poems by Saplo (?) Uncovering a lost tragedy by Aeschylus or Sophocles remains a tantalizing possibility, but the hoard is potentially of enormous value to classicists, historians, theologians and archaeologists alike.

Pieceing together the vast number of fragments has been fortunately slow, but the technology now exists to speed-up the listing of related fragments prior to translating. Are full use n=being made of these new opportunities? Perhaps Google could help, although first we would need to know more about the agreement the American behemoth has signed with the University a propos the copying of the Bodleian archives. Or is Google (secretly) involved?

Paul Arthur
(Brasenose, 1977)


Hawking at Oxford

I read with interest ‘Hawking at Oxford’ in the Trinity Term 2015 issue.

I went up to Univ a year after Stephen and we were contemporary residents in college for a year– my first and his second.

My feeling is that he is unnecessarily hard on himself regarding his career as a cox: for his sins he was chosen to grace the Univ third eight in Eights Week 1962 and the crew of Univ III he was given was the Rugger Eight.

Even as a ‘one term only’ oarsman, I am aware that a cox can prosper only if the crew can demonstrate some level of competence. It is my recollection that none of our octet of enthusiastic and (variably) powerful Rugby players had previously rowed and all had to be coached in the basic rudiments of handling a blade. I am proud to say that one of my rowing-coaches was Stephen.

Come Eights Week, we were passingly co-ordinated but far from expert and no level of exhortation from our benighted cox was going to prevent us from being bumped three days out of four – despite the impression that on each day we were slowly catching the eight in front – How would we know? We were facing our pursuers!

On the fourth day we had to row the whole course because the following boat was itself bumped and the one ahead bumped the crew next in front. Stephen did a manful job in keeping our robust clinker eight more or less in the middle of the river, As the club’s Hon Secretary in Season 1961-62, I apologise unreservedly to Stephen on the behalf of the Univ Rugby Club for blighting his burgeoning coxing career.

The photograph on pages 32 & 33 is indeed of the Boat Club and sundry passers-by but with at least six Rugby Club members several of whom had been in that boat and lived to tell the tale. I am the only one wearing a Rugby jersey and appear to have Stephen’s left elbow planted in my ear. Alternatively buy Stephen’s My Brief History and look carefully at the occupant of the number 3 seat in the picture of Univ III 1962.

Mike Davies
(University College, 1960)


John Gray

I know many will join me in declaring that John Gray's tutorials in Classical Political Thought were the highlight of their Oxford careers. To paraphrase Waugh, the lore which I acquired that term will be with me in one shape or another to my last hour.

Charles Ewald
(Christ Church, 1979)


College shields

It was extremely pleasant to find your account of college heraldry in Oxford Today! Thank you for drawing attention to one of those traditional aspects of being an Oxonian which this magazine tends to overlook. 

Some years ago I wrote to Oxford Today to complain of flagrant and pretty elementary grammatical solecisms scattered through five separate items in a single issue. Not at all to my surprise the letter was neither acknowledged nor published, but I have not noticed anything quite so bad in recent numbers, so perhaps my criticism – and for all I know that of other readers – has had some effect. Anyway, I suppose I may have put the editors’ noses out of joint by characterising the publication at that time as (if I remember aright) ‘an inflight journal for high flyers’. By which I meant that it seemed to me slick, unscholarly and too concerned with outward success at the expense of eternal values, humanity and the humanities. Your article went some way towards correcting that kind of imbalance.

I became a heraldry nerd at the age of around ten or eleven and the interest has remained, though fluctuating in intensity, until now, when at long last I am in the process of acquiring bearings of my own from the College of Arms. Which brings me to one of my reasons for contacting you! I must protest at your statement that heralds – Richmond and Windsor – granted arms to colleges. Only Kings of Arms are able actually to make grants and they do so not on their own authority but on that delegated from the Crown through the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk.

Another formulation of yours surprised me initially – you write that the arms of Harris Manchester College appear to be ‘unofficial since the torches are variously interpreted’. – Firstly, as a Briton I would immediately assume that ‘official’ would mean recognition by the College of Arms. Relatively few colleges have arms obtained by a normal process. Three colleges use shields that are obvious amateurish (if longstanding) concoctions. The common use of undifferenced founders’ arms (or famous names’ arms as in the case of Keble) cannot be approved by those with a wider understanding of armory. – Secondly there is little in heraldry that cannot be variously interpreted. Interpretation has a very unimportant part to play in both the theory and the practice of the subject. – But of course I grasped your point after a second or two.

Please do not take my remarks amiss. (I would myself be gratified by feedback of any kind concerning something I had published.) I wish much power to your elbow and good luck in spreading armorial enlightenment (if you should wish to do so) elsewhere. We have more than heraldic interests in common. I am not normally much of a surfer or googler but I read in your Linkedin entry that you know classical languages: well, I recently brought out a collection of Latin poetry,–aevum.html written since I retired from teaching five years ago. Using a more old–fashioned means of reference I learnt also that you (surely you, though with another middle name) were an exact contemporary of mine at Trinity while I was at Balliol. I have always felt a sort of love-hate towards the elegant college east of my own so familiar one. I hope you do not despise me too intensely for my irrevocable Balliolism.

Stephen Coombs
(Balliol, 1962)

Hugh Trevor-Roper

‘...some of Oxford’s most prestigious chairs.’

I refer you to Trevor-Roper’s recently published ‘Letters from Oxford’. Adam Fox was Dean of Divinity at Magdalen 1929-42. In 1938 the Professor of Poetry position at Oxford opened to election. In those days those with an Oxford MA who were in Oxford on the day of the election could vote.

The position had been held by Magdalen men (George Gordon, and before him, by Sir Herbert Warren) and things were put in motion to ensure the Magdalen monopoly was not disturbed. There followed a campaign of skullduggery, blandishments both financial and epicurean, and vote fixing which, as one reviewer has said, was more appropriate to a Barchester chronicle than to academia!

Despite not being a poet – his rivals for the accolade were the Shakespearean scholar Sir Francis Chambers and Lord David Cecil, solidly backed by his colleges, Christ Church and New College – the Magdalen candidate won, and Adam Fox was duly installed as Oxford Professor of Poetry.

Adam Fox went on to become a Canon of Westminster Abbey and his ashes are buried – where else - in Poets’ corner.

Dr. Fox, who had a wonderful sense of humour, no doubt found the whole exercise amusing. His wish was that the legend on his stone read ‘A. Fox Gone to Ground.’ The Abbey disagreed. Such shenanigans, of course, could not happen today???

David Cruickshank
(Worcester, 1973)

T. S. Eliot

‘The poems of T. S. Eliot’ edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue is claiming great critical attention at the moment. It has been claimed that Christopher Ricks is the critic every poet dreams of; and by professor John Carey, as ‘our greatest living critic.’

Both John Carey, and Christopher Ricks were supervised by Helen Gardner, who was my tutor at St. Hilda’s college, 1949-52 , before she became the first female Merton professor in succession to Professor Tolkien , and had to move to Lady Margaret Hall.

Helen Gardner was a pioneer in the critical appreciation of T. S. Eliot, and a critic he knew and trusted; she had a very successful and influential career.

However, I would like to pay tribute to her as an undergraduate teacher, which she managed to combine with a formidable body of research and lecturing. She always emphasised the importance of undergraduate teaching, in order to, as she expressed it, plant the seed corn for future generations.

Is there a danger in pursuing the quest, as Andrew Hamilton put it, quoted in Oxford Today, for Oxford University, to become a twentieth century dynamic research powerhouse; of forgetting the essential need for top class undergraduate teaching?

And is perhaps Oxford Today in beating political drum of ‘gender imbalance’ in danger of forgetting the achievements of women like Helen Gardner, in a time when it was far harder for women to achieve academic and public distinction.

Anne Hancock
(St. Hilda’s, 1949)

Female writers

Can it be possible that only 1 in 13 of the letters Oxford Today receives come from female Oxonians?  That is the conclusion to be drawn from the female to male proportion on the Letters pages of the Michaelmas 2015 issue.

If that is not the case, perhaps the Editor might make some attempt to better represent female correspondents. If it is the case, can I urge your female readers to get writing!

Nancy Kenny
(St Peter's, PGCE 2013)

Edgar Allan Poe

I have recently reread William Wilson by Edgar Allan Poe.

After years of dissipation at school, the central character carries on in much the same way at Oxford, which is described as ‘The most dissolute university of Europe.’ No specific dates are given, but there is mention of a carnival in 18-. I think the period must be the first half of the 19th centruy, bearing in mind that Poe was born in 1809 and dies in 1849.

Keith Fraser 
University College, 1946


St Cross College

I have been puzzling over the last sentence of the paragraph on St Cross College in the article about coats of arms of the newer colleges in the latest edition of Oxford Today (Vol. 28, no.1. p.45 (48). ‘Before it became a full college, religious students had found it intolerable not to be able to participate in collegiate sports.’ I should be interested in a fuller exposition of this. I was not aware that this college was founded to make any special provision for ‘religious students’ (whatever that term may mean). As the college website makes clear, it was one of those founded in the 1960s, like Linacre and Wolfson, to provide for the growing number of graduate students and, of particular importance, to provide college fellowships for the growing number of ‘entitled’ academics who were without such fellowships. The need to tackle the entitlement problem is not specifically mentioned in the author’s list of reasons for founding new colleges on p.45, although it is hinted at. While it is an esoteric subject in some ways (a very ‘Oxford’ issue, one might say), it was a very important matter in the history of the University in the second half of the twentieth century.

Anthony Weale
Former Secretary of Faculties and Academic Registrar



College shields

With great interest I read John Tepper Marlin´s article ‘What’s your blazon?’ in the current edition of Oxford Today. As an old member of Linacre College, I was particularly intrigued by the description of the College’s coat of arms with reference to Thomas Linacre, the founder of the College.

Marlin rightly mentions Linacre’s service as physician to the King and founder of the Royal College of Physicians. Given the blazon with the alpha and the omega symbolizing Christ in the Book of Revelation, I was surprised Linacre’s Catholic faith was omitted. In fact, he resigned his position as King’s physician in 1520 to become a priest. Then he used his fortune to found the Royal College of Physicians. 

Pia Jolliffe
Linacre College, 2011


John Parrington

In his interesting interview with Georgina Ferry, John Parrington suggest that environmentally induced epigenetic changes might ‘push’ evolution in a certain direction, by creating additional genetic variants on which natural selection can act.

The plain assumption here is that the evolution hypothesis, possibly with Lamarck in a supporting role, is an unassailable datum, quite simply a fact.

There is ample evidence for micro-evolution: variation within the gene pool. But where is the evidence for macro-evolution: the evolution of one kind of living thing into some other kind? There is no evidence whatsoever of any living thing ever evolving into some different kind of living thing capable of breeding but infertile with its parent stick.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics has been tested to destruction. Not so the evolution hypothesis. I wonder if Oxford is allergic to any challenge to the ideological supremacy of evolution.

Tim Williams
The Queen’s College, 1958


College shields

John Marlin’s feature on College Shields in the Michaelmas magazine was full of interest but included one lapse in the commentary on Harris Manchester College. Originally founded as the Manchester Academy in 1786, yes, but not by ‘English Presbyterians’. 

Two of the Founders are to be seen in the College’s Warrington Window – Thomas Barnes and Thomas Percival – while the third, my first cousin Ralph Harrison, has a beautiful window dedicated to him in the College Chapel. All three Founders were graduates of the Unitarian Warrington Academy and two, Harrison and Barnes, were ministers at Manchester’s Unitarian Cross Street Chapel.

David Harrison
University College, 1960


John Gray

So striving to improve the lot of man is futile, we are but base beasts, and dreams of an improved future are just that and waking from them would make us happier? Odd. I sit reading this over my breakfast (generous, hot, with nice coffee) in a warm house, before I drive to London some 60 miles away to see my father who has lived to the positively patriarchal age of 95 thanks to angioplasty and pills. It is raining outside, yet I will stay dry. The chances that I am burgled, attacked, shot, enslaved, that my wife or daughters are raped or my house is casually burned to the ground are minimal. The number of highwaymen on the M11 is small. I have time, and education, to be irritated by Gray’s pronouncements, and a postal service and internet to deliver them to me.

None of these things would have been true 1000 years ago. Of course removing Saddam Hussein did not turn Iraq into middle class England. Of course societies can go backwards as well as forwards by the measures of progress that other societies deem just. But the grinding pessimism that implies that all you can do is live moment-to-moment is as unjustified as the idea that toppling Hussein would turn Bagdad into Bermondsey overnight. If, as per Gray via Berlin from Herzen, ‘The purpose of life is to live it’, then we have made progress. Perhaps what would make us happier is forgetting the grandiose pontification of politicians and philosophers, and remembering that if I have made my life better without making yours worse, then I have done OK, and if I can make both our lives better then we, members of the base human race, have made progress indeed.

William Bains
Corpus Christi College, 1975
(a drab, materialistic biochemist)


College shields

John Tepper Marlin’s informative article about recent Oxford coats of arms tells us that of Oxford’s 38 colleges, thirteen were created in the last century, almost all in the past seventy years. How many colleges does the university expect to have by the end of the present century? I shudder to think.

Philip Le Brocq
Exon, 1957

Peter Stothard

My own three years as an undergraduate at Trinity (1971-1974) overlapped with those of Peter Stothard, although I do not think that our paths physically crossed. I read his interview in Oxford Today with interest but would point out that his philosophy tutor at Trinity was MIKE (not Mark) Inwood.

Nigel Gravells
Trinity, 1971


History through a single pot

A small flat celadon vase made for a Yuan tomb, it was put together crudely from two moulded halves. It fitted into the palm of my hand and I was astonished to find that where my thumb sat it matched precisely the thumbprint of the potter who must have held it the same way to seal the seams with one thumb. The personal contact I felt with this potter, who had hands exactly the same size as myself, was breathtaking. I have never forgotten the personal intimacy, transmitted over nearly a thousand years, mediated through a single pot.

Dr. Paul Schofield
Reader in Biomedical Informatics, University of Cambridge


Hawking at Oxford

As Jayne Nelson wrote, Stephen Hawking was a Physics undergraduate at University College, Oxford before taking his postgraduate studies at Cambridge.
No mention was made however of Stephen's Physics Tutor at Univ, the late Dr Bobby Berman who has inspired Oxford University's Berman Graduate Scholarships.  Bobby was Univ's Fellow in Physics for 28 years from 1955 and I had the benefit of his supervisory skills for my D.Phil research in experimental low temperature physics at the Clarendon Laboratory during 1968-72. 
On Saturday 28th April 1984, I presented a postgraduate perspective of Bobby entitled "The Renaissance Man" on the occasion of his Valedictory Dinner in the Arlington Room at Univ. At some stage Bobby mentioned to me, in characteristic modesty, that he had tutored Stephen in his first year at Univ, thereafter Stephen taught him!
Dr Paul Hudson
University, 1968


Your Good Sport item on the OUMDC (Trinity term 2015) led to two very Veteran Members looking back on ‘their days’. In the late 1950s-early 1960s the Motor Drivers’ Club flourished on rather different motor sport events.

There were two road rallies, an afternoon rally. The Cotswold Rally late in the Michaelmas term, a closed event with the Oxford Motor Club which ran in the Northern Cotswold between Banbury-Deddington and Burford-Northleach. The second was the Targa Rusticana – restricted night rally in the Cotswolds and the Welsh Border-Forest of Dean. This attracted entries from the Combined Universities Motor Club (CUMC), the Oxford Motor Club, Eight Clubs and the Hants & Berks MC. The Combine Universities brought entries from Cambridge University AC, the London University MC including the London Hospitals. The Targa took place at the end of Hilary term, when, hopefully a dusting of snow might make things ‘interesting’. Both rallies were reliability trials. The OUMDC held fortnightly meeting, from 1956 at the University Air Squadron. The President for that year, John Clay (Queen’s) who was an aircrew member, negotiated the venue.

At a time when the majority of University Clubs and Societies could not meet on licensed premises, except for the Oxford Union, this was not to the Proctor’s ‘liking’. These meeting were talks by personalities, Mike Hawthorn, Roy Salvadori, Duncan Hamilton, John Cooper – his Cooper 500 car were at the height of their form and the Cooper Climax was challenging the Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, Gordinis. Journalists – particularly Laurence Pomeroy (Motor) who gave an annual talk on ‘The Motor Car’, our John Thornley of MG Cars, Abingdon. Alternate weeks there were film shows and table top rallies.

The feature of the Summer term was Driving Tests at firstly the Air Squadron. Then when it became vacant the Merton Gun Park – east of the Otmoor village, again a restricted event OUMDC, OMC, CUAC. The last of these Driving Tests was at RMCS Shrivenham – now the Defence Academy of Cranfield University – on their parade ground, which was an Inter-University event co-organised with the RMCS motor club.
The question whch Christopher Baron and I would like to know is the whereabouts of the two trophies bought in the 1950s for the OUMDC events?

They are the Targa Plate which was an annual award with a replica trophy for the winner to keep, to the winner of The Targa Rusticana Rally. This may have been given into the care of an event winner in the 1950s.

The Goddard Cup. This was for the best overall performance in OUMDC events by a membr. It ws given, again an annual trophy with a small replica in memory of David Goddard (Univ) who was killed when his Syandard 10 overturned. That was in the dyas before seat belts were compulsory and he was travelling home from the school he was at teaching practice at. David, who lived at Chichester was, like one, a geographer.
The band on the cup reads:

Presented in the memory of David R Goddard 1935-1957, sometime Secretary and President

Both trophies were subscribed to by the membership and veteran membership of the time.
We would hope if we can ‘find them’ to link the holders with the present OUMDC and hopefully bring them ‘back into use’. Mr Baron lives at Thames Cottage, 11 Camden Place, Bourne End, Bucks, SL8 5RW.

David Cooper
(St Peter’s College, 1954)

Protecting sub-fusc

I was disappointed to read that the student body has once again decided to vote on whether to retain subfusc for examinations. Are such votes now going to recur until subfusc is eventually abolished?

Oxford's traditions are part of the nation's heritage (not just the university's) and their removal should not be placed in the hands of a small, transient cohort of a few thousand people. What right does one small group have to remove a tradition which could be enjoyed my many hundreds of thousands of students for centuries to come?

Would those who voted to abolish subfusc be equally delighted to see the Cheyenne or Sioux abolish their distinctive headress and traditional regalia simply because it is 'anachronistic' and 'uncomfortable'?

If people have a strong dilslike of tradition, they can choose from some 15,000 universities in the world where subfusc is not worn.

Royston Spears
Wolfson, 1990

Sir David Butler

I have been asked by Nuffield College to write a biography of Sir David Butler, the eminent psephologist and historian, who many of you will have seen on television, especially on the late-night general election results programmes between 1950 and 1979. I am having a fascinating time interviewing David, who is now 90 and still lives in Oxford.

I would like to speak to anybody who has interesting recollections of meeting, being taught by, or working with David.
Please email me on or phone 07762 601173.

Michael Crick
(New College, 1978)

Kart riding heritage

I was delighted to read the article on the Oxford University Motor Drivers' Club (OT 27.2), and to note its recent success in kart racing. Back in the '60s, I was a club member, with meetings held at St Cat's and Keble.

As the article says, the Club was not involved with kart racing then, but I was, racing karts with 200cc Spanish Bultaco engines and five speed gearboxes, all over the country, with a sixth and two fourth places in that class at the British Championships between 1966 and 1970.

My racing was interrupted by a medical career, but I kept two of those karts, and in retirement I now run them in Historic Kart Club events.

Dougall Morrison

Worcester College , 1965

Oxford in 2065

Your interesting article ‘Oxford in 2065’ had two sections on transport. The waterbus service is a nice idea; but have Christopher and Wendy Ball done any traffic modelling to estimate the almost certainly tiny effect of such a service on traffic congestion?

As Lord Drayson says, the battery is one major problem with electric cars. Another is that as things stand, they pay very little towards the cost of road maintenance, since by definition they pay no fuel duty.

A proven approach which would address both pollution and congestion, and employ existing technology, is road pricing, as used in London, Stockholm and Singapore. Oxford would be an ideal place to implement it; and contrary to popular opinion, such a solution is acceptable to citizens, provided it is explained and justified.

John Walker

Brasenose, 1963

Napoleon's death mask

I was interested to read Christopher Danziger's article ‘Napoleon's last resting place’ in the Trinity 2015 issue of Oxford Today. For many years I was custodian of a death mask of Napoleon which formed part of the Heber Mardon collection of Napoleana housed in the Westcountry Studies Library in Exeter. This mask was originally the property of the Scottish army doctor Archibald Arnott who replaced Napoleon's surgeon Francesco Antommarchi at the Emperor's bedside in April 1821 and was present at his death. He presented it to John Gawler Bridge from whose estate it was purchased by Maggs in 1911. From Maggs it was obtained by Heber Mardon who bequeathed it to Exeter City Library in 1925. It was thought by Baron Eugène de Veauce to be one of only five masks made on St. Helena, and to be the first copy made after the Antommarchi archetype, now in Les Invalides. 

The history of the death mask is indeed complex and controversial and has spawned several books and many articles, including: The story of Napoleon's death-mask told from the original documents by G. L. de St. M. Watson (John Lane, Bodley Head, 1915), Le Dr. Antonmarchi ou le secret du masque de Napoléon by François Paoli (Publisud, 1996), Napoléon post mortem : Deux articles sur le masque mortuaire de l'empereur, suivis d'une analyse by Jacques Jousset (Lyon, Imprimerie Bosc, 1958) and L' affaire du masque de Napoléon by Eugène de Veauce (Lyon : Eugène de Veauce, 1957. It also attracted a variety of fanatics to Exeter, including one who wanted to DNA test the lock of Napoleon's hair also in the collection in an attempt to prove that Napoleon was rescued from St Helena by submarine and replaced by one of his doubles.

Ian Maxted

Keble, 1963

Oxford in 2065

Many futuristic ideas about life in 20165 seem distinctly old-fashioned. Electric flying cars and elevated monorails come from Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis or from Le Corbusier’s plans for an ideal city in the 1920s. The magnetic levitation (Maglev) monorailway as proposed by WestOxMonorail was invented more than half a century ago. Very few lines have ever been constructed and some, as in Sydney, have already been closed, as they are expensive and impractical. Elevated railways need elevated stations, with lifts, stairs and escalators, switching trains from one track to another is very complicated and two tracks are necessary for the two directions, and it is very difficult to rescue passengers in the event of a crash or breakdown. Their only useful function is in airports and amusement parks.

As for a mile-long tunnel from The Plain to the railway station, it may be thinkable but the civil engineering is not feasible. Transport subways need access ramps at each end, and it would be necessary to demolish half of St Clements to construct the access at the east end. The subway would need stations, and it would be not be possible to have lifts and escalators coming up in the middle of the High Street or at Bonn Square. The ideal future transport could be provided by electric trams running in the street, as proposed in a recent paper by Nicholas Falk and Reg Harman. Trams are quiet, clean and fume-free, with modern technology they can run without overhead wires in the historic city centre.

Martin Smith

Hertford College, 1952

Hawking at Oxford

I read your feature by Jayne Nelson with considerable interest. The photograph of ‘what are thought to be, members of the University College Boat Club for whom he coxed 1961’ was in fact taken in the Radcliffe quad at Univ in June 1962 and I am sitting on the bench. I have a copy of the other photograph taken two minutes earlier or later which is better of me but less flamboyant of Hawking. We were the only two undergraduate freshmen whose Christian name was Stephen of the 90 who came up to Univ in the Michaelmas of 1959. Seeing a photograph of myself on the front cover of his autobiography My Brief History published two years ago in Waterstones window, I purchased a copy. You have quoted the following paragraph: ‘I felt rather lonely during my first year and part of the second. I my third year, in order to make friends, I joined the Boat Club as a coxswain. My coxing career was fairly disastrous, though.’

Oh dear! As I wrote to Hawking on reading this paragraph it is absolute tosh! It is about as accurate as ‘the earth is flat and the sun goes round it!’, at least as far as timing of his joining the Univ Boat Club is concerned. I cannot comment with authority on his happiness except to say that we were good friends for the whole of three years, enjoyed all sorts of experiences on the river as I describe below and played many evenings of bridge over a bottle of port with the junior dean, Tony Firth, and sometimes with his friends Francis Hope and Jeremy Lever who were fellows of All Souls, but always for very small stakes!

The fact is that Hawking and I joined the Univ Boat Club in the first week of our first term in October 1959 and I rowed and he coxed the college’s entry in the Christ Church Regatta for Novice Eights in November when he was still 17.

The crew is pictured on page 33 of his My Brief History with the trophy we won held by the stroke (because he had rhythm) Bayan Northcott, later music critic of the Sunday Telegraph, and I can of course name all the rest. His editor could not have tried very hard to corroborate the text and the date of the illustration.

He goes on to claim that in his first bumping race (the Christ Church Regatta is rowed side-by-side) his bung got caught in the rudder lines, which I recall occurred in the Torpids in 1960. But by the Summer Eights he coxed us (the Univ Second VIII) to four bumps and we won our oars! I have the blade to prove it. I have many rowing photographs of Stephen in the years before he claims to having joined the Boat Club and it would be sad indeed if history regarded the wholly inaccurate statement quoted in your Trinity Term issue (p. 33) as having any veracity. I may add that Stephen has acknowledged to me through his office that my recollection is in accordance with the facts and his is entirely untrue!

Stephen Cockburn

University College, 1959

Turning kart wheels

Your feature in the Trinity Term issue on the Oxford University Motor Drivers’ Club reminded Chris Baron and me of our OUMDC days. Chris co-ordinates some veteran members and as a previous secretary (1965-67) provides some history of the club.

It is now some 70 years since the OUMDC was revived after the war. Those were days when undergraduates fortunate enough to own a car were required by the proctors to have a small green light on the front to indicate ownership by a junior member of the University. The club name followed its revival — possibly pre-war — after the proctors had closed the Oxford University Motor Club. It is unclear if this followed a High Street time trial; Longwall Street junction to Carfax or a sprint trial round St Giles!

The proctors were entrusted with the Club’s trophies, but when asked about them in the 1950s they could not be found. In my time with the OUMDC we purchased two trophies, which seem to have disappeared by the time the club officers were asked about them in the 1990s. Would it be possible, please, to ask if anyone knows their whereabouts?

The Targa Plate was given to the overall winner of the Hilary Term overnight rally — usually through the Welsh Borders. At the time night rallies were controlled-speed navigational exercises to which other clubs were invited, including CUAC (Cambridge University), obviously; the Combined Universities Motor Club, which was coordinated by one of our senior members, Pat Stark, who then lived in Kidlington; the Hants & Berks MC; and the Oxford Motor Club. The rally usually began in Burford or Chipping Norton and ended at breakfast time where it began. Craven Arms was another centre.

The Goddard Cup was for the best overall performances in the club events by a member who was still ‘up’. It was bought in memory of a president, David Goddard (Univ, 1953-7?) who was killed driving his Standard 10 whilst doing teaching practice as part of his PG Diploma.

If anyone does know in whose possession these trophies are Chris Baron and I would be glad to know and we would like to see them ‘back in use’ by the present OUMDC.

David Cooper

St Peter’s College, 1954

From probation officer to Professor of Poetry

I find it rather alarming and mystifying that one of the first comments made by the newly elected Professor of Poetry, Simon Armitage, is that poetry is ‘a muddy art form.’ I hope he has a clearer idea of his subject matter before he starts lecturing. May I suggest Robert Graves’ definition of poetry as ‘the profession of private truth, supported by craftsmanship in the use of words’ as a good starting-point.

Paul Gittins

Exeter College, 1964

Fracking: safer than you think

I was delighted to see the letter on fracking from my friend and contemporary Alan Mears (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015). I agree, and offer an engineer’s point of view.

It’s not love, or even money, that make the world go round: it’s inertia. Our little island is ideal for harnessing the energy of tides and there are many ingenious ways of doing this, both small and local, The Earth’s inertia is one of the greatest gifts we’ve got and we should make more use of it. And don’t worry about its inevitable unrenewable energy cost: our descendants will have died out long before the resulting lengthening of their days or increase in their weight become perceptible.

Peter Puller-Strecker

Wadham College, 1954

Oxford in 2065

The front cover of the Trinity Term edition of Oxford Today shows an arrow pointing downwards. Taissa Csaky and Richard Lofthouse use this arrow to illustrate their article on ‘Oxford in 2065’. They suggest that, since there is a height restriction on new buildings in the centre of the City, ‘digging and tunnelling’ is one answer to creating more space for the University and its colleges. The authors recall that the work on the New Bodleian in the 1930s first set this trend of expanding downwards.

When the underground book stack of what is now called the Weston Library was dug out Rupert Bruce-Mitford, a graduate of Hertford, then working at the Ashmolean Museum, made a record of the archaeology of the site. This research virtually established the study of medieval archaeology in England. After the war Martyn Jope, a graduate of Oriel, took forward Bruce-Mitford’s work. His work on sites such as the present Clarendon Centre, which was first developed by Christ Church in 1954-5, demonstrated the importance of Oxford’s Late Saxon archaeology.

Since the 1950s the work of these two pioneers has been continued and expanded by later archaeologists. For instance, evidence for Roman occupation was found during the construction of the underground Radcliffe Science Library extension. Oxford Archaeology’s 2004 publication, entitled Oxford before the University, conveniently summarises another aspect of this research. Today archaeologists continue to make important discoveries in the City. This year significant excavations are in progress in advance of underground library developments by Magdalen and Queen’s.

Oxford’s heritage is to be found not only in its buildings and skyline, but under its streets and quadrangles too. ‘Digging and tunnelling’ is not as straightforward a solution to finding more space as it may first appear. It comes at a significant cost in terms of the destruction of the unique record of the City’s and the University’s buried history. Furthermore developers who wish to destroy archaeological remains are now required to fund any necessary recording, publication and archive creation, as a condition of planning permission.

Tom Hassall

Corpus Christi College, 1962


Hello. In your obituary of Lord (Robert) Gavron, you appear to notice that he was also a member of the Guardian Media Group, 1997-2000. It may have been (though this is an absolute shot in the dark) that the columnist Polly Toynbee’s attack on him for accepting a peerage may have had something to do with his relatively early departure.

Michael McNay

Oxford in 2065

In the Trinity 2015 edition of Oxford Today there is a fascinating feature on the possible future of Oxford 2065. It addresses many issues that are close to my heart, some of which sound quite promising. However, were all of these things to become true, there will be a severe reduction in jobs in the area. Robot scouts, driverless transport, no Royal Mail or other parcel delivery companies, to name just a few of the eliminated jobs.  Oxford will turn into a city inhabited only by those privileged enough to have attained a higher qualified profession. It sounds like the Oxford of 2065 might become a social mobility nightmare!

I hope that the realistic future enables those in charge to remember that human interaction is a much valued and not to be overlooked cog in the functioning of a valuable society.

Gary White

Corpus Christi College, 2002

Isis: a name with a problem?

Rather than name changes on our part, could we not hold our ground and campaign for a new label for ISIS/ISIL/DASH/???

When I did my basic training in Catterick, our drill instructor always referred to anyone who sounded like a public-school type as a ‘sweeeedo intellectual’. How about trying to get ‘Sweeeedo Caliphate’ widely accepted?

Brian A Jones

Exeter College, 1957

Mars, my destination

I just saw in your recent alumni email that you have a report on this student that is going on the Mars One mission. I just wanted to suggest that you should be a bit more careful when choosing these stories, as it is very likely that the whole Mars One project is an enterprise with no real future that only justifies itself through the hype that it is creating.

There’s pieces of news backing this up, and honestly it seems quite surprising that so many people can take it so seriously, but I don’t think many of these people are really sure of what they are talking about. I can probably find more evidence if you so require.

If despite this you think this is still a relevant piece of news, fine, but I’d like to think that your newsletter aims for a rigour stronger than that any hopeful news about this mission could have.

Alvaro Martin Alhambra

Charlie Hebdo, free speech, and Oxford

The more I read articles, such as Professor Ash, on Charlie Hebdo, on free speech (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015), the more I am left with the sad reflection that it is not really free speech that is threatened. The entire thinking world salutes free speech and those who do not, cannot or do not wish to think straight.

Rather it seems to be a death wish by a group of people whose effort and life sadly seems to be wasted and who inadvertently drag others to death alongside with them.

This looks like folly, not martyrdom.

C Propopulos

Exeter College, 1955

Molecular marmalade

Bon Maman?

Quel horreur!

Oh dear —

Quelle horreur!

Diana Guest

St Hugh's College, 1967

Hawking at Oxford

Finally an article dedicated to the Oxonian side of Stephen Hawking! After so much TAB emphasis in the film The Theory of Everything it is time for the world to realise that it was Oxford that provided the foundation for Hawking’s innovation and mischief-making. Jayne Nelson’s ‘Hawking at Oxford’ (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015) is a refreshing look at genius, because it underscores a trait that Hawking shares with Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Professor Higgs: a playfulness of spirit, and a light-hearted approach to work that is based on adventure and indirect discovery. This is very inspiring to students: anyone who has struggled with exams or assignments should keep on mind that some of the world’s greatest scientists recognised the equal importance of leisure/library. The image of a naughty Hawking waving his handkerchief in the air calls to mind another famous Oxonian: Magdalen College graduate Oscar Wilde, who found it difficult to live up to his blue china, and boasted about doing little work (when in fact he was a work-horse, and was a sartorial Trojan horse at parties).

But on a more serious note: play is a crucial step in creativity. I’ve seen it first-hand in my daughter Leonora, whose playful spirit and emphasis on joy that does not deny competition and hardship, but rather, focuses on one’s individual gifts: what can I bring to the world that is unique and distinctive?

Oxford, when will our version of a Hawking movie come out? This would be a wonderful film, very comedic and young-at-heart and a true-story of Oxford blues and the rowing tradition.

Reynaldo Nera Obed

University College, 1966

Could you cover…?

I write to suggest a piece in Oxford Today on C N Francis, formerly in command of the Norrington Room at Blackwell’s.  Mr Francis was for me, as for many other students and dons, an unfailing resource for books on theology, whether newly published or newly exhumed from libraries being dispersed.  
I am confident that your readers would be pleased to see an article about a hero to impecunious theologians in urgent need as a tutorial, a lecture, or even a DPhil thesis deadline loomed.
I note that Mr Ken New, for many years Mr Francis’ assistant and now in charge of the Norrington Room, would doubtless be willing to provide an entertaining array of anecdotes for such a piece.
With appreciation for the excellence of Oxford Today, as for your kindness in considering my suggestion.

John I Durham

Regents Park College, 1961

Oxford in 2065

‘Oxford in 2065’ was typical Flash Gordon futurism: extrapolating from today into the future. But it never works, for two fundamental reasons. The first is that it ignores human behaviour. Driverless cars owned by the city or some other third party will rapidly be vandalised. Only personal ownership imbues a sense of duty of care. That’s why phone boxes on council estates are always out of order whereas mobile phones owned by those estate-dwellers are looked after. The second issue is that innovation isn’t linear. No one predicted Google or Facebook twenty years ago. Bill Gates’ famous book The Road Ahead was wrong on pretty much every major prediction about the way technology would go, and he was at the time of publication the ultimate tech geek. So if he couldn’t get it right, how can we expect anyone else to do so with an equivalently blinkered perspective?

We can be sure that human behaviour won’t change and therefore short-sighted personal goals will always weigh far heavier in the scheme of things than far-sighted general social goods. We can also be sure that the pace of technological development coupled to basic economics will mean that many of the supposedly promising developments today will fall by the wayside and entirely unseen (but actually quite foreseeable) technologies and applications will dominate the world of 2065. Coupling technological understanding to evolutionary psychology could save a lot of investors a lot of wasted money and likewise help entrepreneurs to get it right more often, more quickly.

Allan M Lees

Hertford College, 1984

Napoleon’s last resting place

I thoroughly enjoyed Christopher Danziger’s recent article  (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015) and was intrigued by the quote in his penultimate paragraph about ‘the most just, the most brave and the most generous of my enemies’, presumably the British. Interpretation of that comment depends strongly on whether it was made before or after Waterloo. Could Mr Danziger enlighten me? (A Google search simply led me back to ‘Oxford Today’.)

Donald Lehmann

University College, 1993

Molecular marmalade

Arthur Ransome’s Missee Lee say ‘Better scholars, better plofessors at Camblidge but better marmalade at Oxford.’ Think on. 

J P O’Gorman

Lincoln College, 1956

Napoleon’s last resting place

Christopher Danziger outlines the extraordinary story of how Napoleon’s death mask came to be at the Maison Française (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015).  Perhaps even more surprising is that it is not the only one in Oxford. Lord Curzon (Chancellor 1907-1925) bequeathed his collection of Napoleonica to the University, where it is preserved in the Bodleian Libraries. The Sir Colin Lucas Room — the Vice-Chancellor’s reception and robing room — in the Clarendon Building is furnished and decorated with these memorabilia.

Included in the bequest (though not currently kept in the Sir Colin Lucas Room) is Napoleon’s death mask. Danziger describes how Antommarchi released a subscription edition of the mask in 1833. Sixteen copies of that are known. The same mould was also used for a re-issue of four further copies c. 1840, and one of these was later purchased by the Napoleon scholar A M Broadley. Lord Curzon (who had visited St Helena in 1908) bought much of Broadley’s collection when it was sold in 1916, and it seems likely that he acquired then the death mask now in the Bodleian.

Michael Heaney, Formerly Executive Secretary, Bodleian Libraries

Molecular marmalade

After bon maman, quel horreur. Is French gender the latest lost cause?

Marie Surridge

Somerville College, 1950

Napoleon’s last resting place

I was interested to read about Napoleon’s death mask (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015). In the museum of Zugdidi, Georgia, they claim to have one of only three death masks of Napoleon, because Salome, daughter of David Dadiani, last prince of Mingrelia (Western Georgia) married Achille Murat, grandson of Marshal Murat and Napoleon’s sister Caroline. They also have 6,000 books of his, I believe. I’d be curious to know how and if this fits into Christopher Danziger’s story (particularly as the fifth edition of my Bradt Travel Guide to Georgia is being edited now). Perhaps it’s one of the ‘four, or possibly six’ casts taken from the prototype.

Tim Burford

New College, 1978

Hawking at Oxford

Even Stephen Hawking recognized the danger of the ‘grey men’. I have just read Oxford Today’s Trinity 2015 issue (as a physics graduate I probably should have understood more of it than I did), but I am moved to comment on the lack of anything that sounded like the cultural and social atmosphere that was ever-present 60 years ago. I am lost in admiration of the deeds of present-day Oxonians, but where are all the eccentrics and oddities that used to provide the main constituents of the exciting mixture that was Oxford in my day?

I have personally achieved little of interest that will go into my obituary, but I believe I absorbed at Oxford a huge amount of culture, learned how to enjoy and discuss almost any subject and above all how to have fun. I was educated.

Has Oxford changed a lot? I used to do tutorials with Konnie, a young Greek god who used to put Chanel No 5 on his feet. Michael Grace, our brilliant tutor, was much more interested in learning about Konnie’s love life than in teaching us atomic physics. One day Konnie took me to his room to see his grandmother. ‘She is in this suitcase,’ he explained, and opened it to reveal several large hunks of meat chopped up and wrapped in polythene. A friend of his had shot a deer in Magdalen Park and he was hiding the proceeds for him. Konnie married an Italian starlet.

John had a cousin who worked at Sotheby’s, and somehow managed to furnish his rooms in Meadow Buildings with sumptuous silk tapestries and exquisite old masters from all over the world.

Gorgeous Robin was thrown through a closed window by a drunken Rugger Blue whom he had invited to dance with him.

Lovely Vicky, an accomplished painter and jazz singer, kept a huge pet snake in her bedroom (a place much visited by eager young undergraduates). She fed it with live white mice. Her mother had been married nine times.

Bruce was a member of the Bullingdon, ran the Christ Church beagles and was the perfect example of the ‘Peckwater Bloody’. He is now a woman.

I could go on, but I hope my point is made. There are probably many like these at Oxford today: if so, your columns could do more to reflect the fact.

Adrian Petch

Christ Church, 1956

Hawking at Oxford

Reading Stephen Hawking’s recollections of Oxford in the early 1960’s (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015, p. 32) made me wonder what university it was that I attended in the late fifties. Of course we all knew that there was a gilded bubble for the rich dilettante (and occasional genius), but the prevailing attitude of the rest of us was not anti-work. My ‘grey’ friends included grammar school entrants with scholarships, and, up at the Clarendon laboratory, we all got on with it.

It is a great pity that the Brideshead Revisited image of Oxford has been so long a-dying. Twenty-five years after I graduated, my son rejected Oxford for this reason and obtained his degrees in theoretical physics and astronomy elsewhere. 

Michael Wray

New College, 1957

England’s first skipper

Regarding Nevill Swanson’s letter of October 2014, not only is the 287 innings of R E ‘Tip’ Foster (Univ) against Australia in 1903 the highest for England in Australia, but I believe it is the highest by any non-Australian in Australia.

John Kinory

(Not an Oxford man, but I did captain UCL’s University Challenge team in the halcyon days of Bamber Gascoigne, and my wife is an Oxford D Phil and currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Archaeology.)

John Kinory

Isis: a name with a problem?

I read Matthew Kaser’s letter about Isis/Thame/Thames with interest. The three names and the relations between the rivers are explored in poetic and chorographical detail in Books 14 and 15 of Drayton’s ‘Polyolbion’ (1622).

Anthony Peter

University College, 1970

An enduring testament

Reading Mark Bostridge’s brief piece about Vera Brittain (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015 [and online in expanded form]), of whom he is an authorised biographer, I was surprised to see the omission of any mention of Brittain’s reputation not only, as rightly noted, ‘ a writer, feminist and pacifist’, but also as a committed Socialist.

Philip Grey

Wadham College, 1972

Get it right

Oh dear — one would have thought that the Editor would have known better than to write ‘centred around’ (‘Portrait’, Oxford Today, Trinity 2015, p. 60); every good Oxonian pedant knows that it can only be ‘centred on’!

Douglas Lee

Pembroke College, 1971

Napoleon's last resting place

I much enjoyed the feature on Napoleon and St Helena by Christopher Danziger (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015, p. 47). May I, however, respectfully point out a small error.

It is not true that General Bertrand ‘was the only one of the so-called evangelists left on the island’ when Napoleon died. General Charles Jean Tristan de Montholon, who lived in Longwood House with Napoleon (Bertrand and his family lived separately nearby), also remained until the bitter end. As principal executor of Napoleon’s will he was probably even closer to him than Bertrand during the final days. He published his own memoirs on return to Europe after Napoleon’s death.

Sir Brian Unwin KCB

Author of Terrible Exile: The Last Days of Napoleon on St Helena

Sir Brian Unwin, KCB

New College, 1955

Molecular marmalade

Regarding Ian Fyfe’s letter (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015, p. 7) about ‘molecular marmalade’: Quel horreur?

Quel horreur!

Gill Hayward Smith

St Hilda’s College, 1945

Oxford in 2065

In the spirit of Charlie Hebdo/ free speech... slightly tongue-in-cheek:

I found the numerous articles guessing at Oxford’s future (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015, p. 36) to be unimaginative, self-serving, agenda-ridden, anti-car (ironic given Oxfordshire’s history and present — from Formula 1 racing cars to the Mini) and ludicrously ‘PC’; they were all replete with boring buses and ecopeace bamboo bicycles. Although I do rather like the monorail idea (and bamboo bicycles too — still saving-up for one!)

So, could you please solicit an alternative view from the recently ‘available’ J Clarkson of nearby parish.

Charles Toomer

Oriel College, 1985

Oxford in 2065

There are alternatives to the vision concerning energy set out by Barbara Hammond (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015, p. 39). Her assertion that energy will cost more, made affordable by using less of it, carries with it the implication of falling productivity and economic decline. An alternative vision is of cheap and almost limitless power as represented by the work going on just down the road at Culham.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change points out in its Working Group III report that it will take all our technologies to decarbonise our energy supply, and that restricting solutions to the renewables taxonomy will lead to less of a solution, or a failed solution. It also points out that we need to use the cheapest solutions or else we will damage the fabric of society through careless use of a finite resource — money.

Neighbouring France has already decarbonised its electricity, using 76 per cent uranium fuelled nuclear and 11 per cent hydro-electric power. In the process it has delivered electricity bills at the lower end for Europe. It makes an Oxford vision of getting there expensively by 2065 look a bit weak.

By comparison, the main renewable contenders are all intermittent, and as the IPCC points out require extra measures (store and recover technologies) to meet demand, or else they are lame ducks. Unavoidably those processes will consume some of the initial energy and incur process plant costs. For solar photovoltaics in particular, the engineering challenge of storing enough energy during the summer to see us through the winter is daunting. With the extra measures included, the cost of onshore wind power is about twice that of nuclear, and offshore wind, solar and tidal are between three and four times as much. In context, the excess spend equates to between 20 per cent and 50 per cent of the NHS budget.

While we may use less energy per head overall, a considerable expansion of electrical generation is required to replace fossil fuels in transport and heating, as well as address population growth. A high cost and environmentally intrusive platform of renewables is not an auspicious starting point.

Should not the Oxford vision be one of uranium power today, thorium power tomorrow and fusion power on the day after? Is Oxford leaving it to others to prick the renewables bubble with the pin of rigour?

James Anderson

St Catherine’s College, 1963

Molecular marmalade

My friend, David Durie (Christ Church, 1963) is the only person I know who has made marmalade from oranges from his own trees (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 59). When he was Governor of Gibraltar, he lived in the official residence, the Convent, which had a lot of Seville orange trees in the  garden.

When he was less grand, his marmalade was pretty good. The marmalade he gave me as a gift, after a stay in the Convent, was outstanding! 

Serge Lourie

Worcester College, 1965

Turning kart wheels

I was very pleased to see from the Trinity 2015 Oxford Today (p. 57) that the Oxford University Motor Drivers’ Club (OUMDC) is still in existence, and active, unlike another club of which I was a keen member, the Railway Society (OURS). I was OUMDC secretary during my second year, 1967/8. One of my predecessors, a year or so before, had pulled off a real coup in getting Graham Hill to visit and give a talk — the humorous and racy (in every sense) nature of his talk can be only too easily imagined!

My own tenure began well as I was able in my first term to invite Tony Rolt of Ferguson Engineering — four-wheel-drive pioneers from my home city of Coventry. I then aimed higher, and was able to persuade Jackie Stewart to come and talk; however, disaster struck, for me at least.

About a week before the date, I was told he could not come because of duties elsewhere, the details of which had to be kept secret. It was a week or so before it emerged into the public domain that Jackie had been secretly testing, in Spain if my recollection is correct, the new Formula 1 car designed by Ken Tyrrell, the first under his own name. A ‘good cause’, I suppose, but not in my eyes! I have never had the chance to meet Jackie and tell him of my disappointment! After that, the rest of my tenure, was, in my fellow committee members’ eyes, and indeed mine, very flat.

As current president Doug Henderson has discovered, the club in my day was heavily involved in road rallying, not only in running weekly ‘12-car’ events during each term (I recall I finished third in the navigators’ section two years running), but also in organising in mid-Wales a very well-known round of the Motoring News Road Rally Championship, the ‘Targa Rusticana’.

This event actually gave its name to a system of road rally timing  — ‘Targa Timing’ — whereby each marshalled timing point had a clock set to be at zero when the first car was due, regardless of the actual time. This system, devised by a former Club officer called John Brown, who went on to be a professional co-driver, was simpler for working out the overall times for each car, but unfortunately had the side effect that there was no way of checking that each stage had been covered at an average speed of 30mph or less, as required by RAC Motorsport rules! Consequently it was, some time after I went down, banned by the RAC!

If Doug would like any more history or tales of my era, don’t hesitate to give him my email address, and if I’m in Oxford, during his Presidency, I imagine there are still pubs in Jericho...?

Peter Deacon

Worcester College, 1966

Review: Nye

Dr John McCarthy’s review of Nye: The Political Life of Aneurin Bevan (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015, p. 55 and online here) doesn’t mention Bevan’s main work In Place of Fear. When I was first a Labour Party activist, in Battersea, in the Seventies, I read it and found it much more resonant than Crosland’s The Future of Socialism, Bevan was superior orator to Crosland, and wrote well too, drawing on his personal experience as a miner before he became an MP.

The strength of In Place of Fear is, among other things, its account of the founding of the NHS and why it was so important; whereas in The Future of Socialism there is a more detailed analysis of how socialism might adapt to changing conditions. Neither work anticipated Thatcherism and privatisation.

Chris Purnell

Magdalen College, 1967

Sir Peter Stothard

Just a quick email message to say how lovely it was to read the interview with Sir Peter Stothard (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015, p. 66).

In my first year (and quite possibly only my first or second term) at Trinity College, Peter Stothard came back to give a talk in college. That talk motivated me to write, review and edit with university publications Isis, The Word and the Oxford Student. I later went onto win third prize in the Young Financial Journalist of the Year Award 1998 and worked in regional newspapers for a number of years before moving into the world of writing short fiction and poetry.

I just wanted to say a belated thanks to him for that inspiration, and more generally to alumni taking the time to come back and encourage new students.

I also found the libraries and digital preservation feature in this issue most fascinating (‘The uncrowned tech monarchs’, p. 29), both the interesting historical details of the Bodleian’s blacksmith conveyor belt and also the overwhelming volume of data currently being created. It reminded me that not all data is knowledge but how difficult it can be in the now to predict exactly what will and won’t be relevant in the future, looking back historically. An ongoing dilemma not just for those involved in the storage but for all of us, all being involved, directly or indirectly, in this data creation.

A very thought-provoking issue, thank you!

Sarah Leavesley (née James)

Trinity College, 1993

Hawking at Oxford

Regarding the photo of the Univ Boat Club (Oxford Today, Trinity 2015, pp. 32-3), I’m pretty sure it must have been taken in 1962, not 1961. I recognise several of my contemporaries, including one who became a good friend, and we all matriculated in October 1961. The photo looks as if it was taken in spring/summer.

I believe Hawking graduated in 1962.

Simon Rowntree

University College, 1961

Gay Oriel?

In the May issue of The Oldie Wilfred De’ath, my contemporary at Oriel, says that back then our college was ‘overwhelmingly gay’. I was as naive in those days as I am now at the age of 80, but I never noticed anything of the sort. As far as I remember, we envied anyone who had any sort of relationship with the other sex, given the shortage of acceptable females.

Was I blind?  What other exciting stuff was going on?  Perhaps your readers can enlighten me.

Ron Farquhar

Oriel, 1955

Castle Mill

Regarding the Castle Mill flats, you say that ‘the University plans to mitigate the appearance of the buildings with additional landscaping and tree planting’ (‘Bulletin’, Oxford Today, Trinity 2015, p. 11). This will do almost nothing in my lifetime to improve the view from Port Meadow, and the views of the dreaming spires are of course gone forever. Nor does the published photograph come even close to representing the blocks’ true appearance from most of the Meadow.

I’m afraid that our descendants will look upon those who allowed these buildings to be erected as philistines.

Nicholas Arnold

St John’s College, 1992

The Germans in Oxford

Members of three leading German families involved in the build-up to the First World War attended New College (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 36). The families included Von Moltke (chief of the Army Staff), Von Bethmann-Hollweg (Chancellor) and Von Bohlen und Halbach (Krupp).  During my time at New College all were still represented.

David Giles

New College, 1958

The big junket

The picture of the Siberian vase at Merton (Oxford Today, Trinity 2014, p. 40) awakened memories from 40 years ago, when I was a visiting fellow at Wolfson.

On our first night in Oxford, my family and I trekked down from our house on Victoria Road to hear a concert at Merton. We were jet-lagged, cold and wet, but seeing that vase as we walked in imprinted a memory that is with us yet.

The concert was itself lovely, and our terms at Oxford were rewarding in many ways.

Marshall Shapo

Wolfson College, 1975

Portrait of a lady

That Oxford University is actively involved in transforming Burma’s ‘beleagured HE sector’ (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 10) is welcome news indeed.

As an undergraduate I believed Oxford the sanest spot on earth. Time has only reaffirmed this conviction. However it received a severe jolt when I read about Aung San Suu Kyi’s indifference to the persecution of the Rohingya minority in her country (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2012, p. 37, and at OT Online). Apparently the catholic sanity of Oxford had had little civilizing effect. I was, and am, appalled.

I trust that the tolerance of minorities will be a salient feature of Burma’s education curriculum being developed by Oxford University. This will help placate, not inflame, an already volatile South Asian region.

M Athar Tahir

Oriel College, 1974

Future of work

The study introduced in the ‘Future of work’ is fascinating for its insights on how notions of effort and leisure have changed over 150 years (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 20, also in fuller form online). But might professors Gershuny and Fisher also address child labour?

Consider, for instance, a factory that employs 12-year-old children. Except these wouldn’t be the grey-faced waifs enslaved to the looms of the nineteenth century. Rather they could be super-moppets in, say, Rockville, Maryland, suburbia who’re putting in some skill-forming hours from home or school as they virtually punch in to an automotive parts manufacturer in India. Or vice versa.

They would be learning in engaging, purposeful, and possibly saleable ways. No reason why not.

Derek Leebaert

St Antony’s, 1983

Class of 2012

My tutor Derrick Barlow (German, later Vice-Principal, when sadly for him, a confirmed atheist, he had to attend college chapel) described PPE acidly to us in a group tutorial as a ‘soft’ subject, ‘like English’ — I’m not sure, remember JRR Tolkien?

Anyhow, reading Jeremy Armitage’s highly amusing letter re A J P Taylor and Sir Isaiah Berlin (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 7), I wish I had read PPE and not Modern Languages

Tom Doak

Jesus College, 1971

Tolkien’s tree

I understand the power of trees, and how much their super/natural presence can bring comfort, solace, and a great sense of tradition and ancestral spirit. When I lived and worked on the campus of the University of the Philippines at Laguna, Los Banos, Luxon in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was grateful for the various tropical trees that graced my house in the Villegas Compound on Silangan Street. Decades later, when I returned there with my family, I was saddened to see a lot of those majestic trees missing; they were cut down, beloved landmarks and natural shade were gone, it was like losing old friends. My father-in-law, Dr Valentine Villegas, kept begging them to not fell his ‘friends’, but to no avail.

This is why I understand the loss of Tolkien’s black pine tree (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 12, and at OT Online here and here) in the University’s Botanic Garden. This tree is like the autograph tree – signed by the likes of William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory – near Gort, County Galway, Eire; full of literary allusion and priceless heritage.

In homage to such trees, I would like to quote Oxonian Father Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, who loved not only the spires of Oxford, but his

Binsey Poplars

Felled 1879

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
           Of a fresh and following folded rank
                      Not spared, not one
                      That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandered-weed-winding-bank.

Reynaldo Nera Obed

University College, 1966

The migration explosion

It is regrettably predictable that domestic tension about economic migration should be exacerbated by a xenophobic contribution (‘The migration explosion’). More surprisingly an expedient unconvincing response from the Conservative Government is the only conspicuous reply here, or within Europe?

However strongly we may support a general case for migration, it is reasonable that individual countries can decide how much economic migration to allow. Is there any intellectual rigour to underpin unrestricted freedom of movement as a sustainable economic ideology? It would be appallingly negative to reject economic migration purely because we are not good at absorbing different cultures (or because one female leader tells us that there is no alternative)!

Europe is a small and increasingly crowded continent, and the successful portion of our overall economy is mainly concentrated in densely populated countries. Within a closed Eurozone market there is an obvious risk that motivated, talented and entrepreneurial individuals will be attracted into the most vibrant sectors, which then have to prop up a depleted residue. If individual Euro countries get into difficulty, financial markets have shown clearly that they can respond much faster than political rescue plans can be negotiated.

Hence freedom of movement poses significant environmental risks. In the European Union the six most densely populated countries — excluding Malta — are Benelux, Britain, Germany and Italy. If we partition the European Union into two distinct groups, the totals are striking:

Six densely populated countries

Population: 46%

Area: 22%

GDP: 55%

Density : 232 per sq km

22 sparsely populated countries

Population: 54%

Area: 78%

GDP: 45%

Density : 78 per sq km

It is possible to be very positive about Europe in principle, without being confident that the European Union will always head in good directions. Rather than preparing to deal with inevitable challenges, it seems desirable to question this underlying economic dogma, by highlighting the potential environmental consequences.

Richard Hathway

Oriel College, 1971

The Germans in Oxford

Professor Lawrence Goldman’s description of the outbreak of World War I during the summer vacation at the University in August 1914 (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, pp. 36–43) stirred memories of a similar scene at Christ Church during Michaelmas term, 1945. At that time I was serving in the US Army. The War in Europe ended in May 1945, and I then went on to serve in the army of occupation in Berlin. I had been transferred to Berlin for the occupation as part of the US Third Army.

During this time the US Army provided an opportunity for those soldiers awaiting discharge to apply for transfer to a programme at Oxford.

My application to study at Oxford was accepted for participation in the PP&E programme while matriculating and residing at Christ Church. The highlight of this for me was a tutorial with Professor Roy Harrod, the distinguished economist, who had just returned from Bretton Woods where he participated with Professor John Maynard Keynes in the development of the International Monetary Fund.

My rooms at Christ Church were in Tom Tower, just under the large bell that struck each evening at a designated time. On one occasion I was offered access to the top floor of the Tower where the ropes were placed to ring the bell.

On that occasion I saw several large wardrobe cases which I was told had been placed there by German students who were then living at Oxford and who had to leave Oxford suddenly when World War II broke out to report back to Germany for service in the German army.

What happened to these cases (or to the students) I don’t know, but once again it was apparent that the more things change, etc.

Maurice S Spanbock

Christ Church, 1945

The Germans in Oxford

What a fascinating story of tolerance, compassion and cultural exchange! ‘The Germans in Oxford’ (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, pp. 36–43) is a brilliant account of the power of education to unite people, and in particular, German students with Oxford University, a proud tradition that continues today.

I would like to point out that the German presence in Oxford has always been fascinating and compelling. One very memorable anecdote:

During the rise of Nazism, Jewish scientists in Germany either lost their jobs or went abroad for university posts. One of these scientists was quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger, who wanted to work at Oxford, but one condition — he wished to live with two women at once, his wife and his mistress! College authorities frowned upon his open relationship and barred him from the University.

I wonder, if Schrödinger were to apply now, would Oxford still bar him?

While I am speaking about renowned scientists, let me take this opportunity to present a challenge to Oxford.

Why, fellow Oxonians, must you allow Cambridge to get all the credit for Stephen Hawkings’ education? I am talking about the current film, The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne as the young Hawking. This film (brilliant, by the way, and featuring Oxonian Felicity Jones, Wadham College, 2006), fails to give Oxford credit for providing a solid foundation for Hawking’s education (University College, 1959).

I am calling all current and would-be Oxonian filmmakers to create a film about Stephen Hawking’s time at Oxford. (He could possibly give Rob Lowe a run for his money in a funnier version of Oxford Blues!) It appals me that so many people here in New Jersey — and the rest of the galaxy — think that Hawking was solely a Cambridge man. Please, please tell the world the wonderful story of Hawking the Oxonian!

Reynaldo Nera Obed

University College, 1966

Shaping the World

Dr Cartright and Dr Leggett argue passionately for and against ‘fracking’ respectively (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, pp. 16–17). They both make good points, but this debate can be put on a more rational basis.

The first step is to use the right terminology. ‘Fracking’ is short for ‘hydraulic fracturing’ which is a technique for stimulating well production, which was developed by Haliburton in the 1940s. When campaigners object to ‘fracking’, people in the industry smile and even laugh, because it is just a technique which has been widely used for more than 60 years in both conventional and unconventional hydrocarbon production. The campaigners are objecting, not to the technique, but to the new industry to extract hydrocarbons from shale. This involves not only multi-stage fracking, but also horizontal drilling, with wells every 1.5 miles plus considerable infrastructure, and it industrialises the countryside.

An expert speaking on Radio 4 recognised that ‘fracking’ does not properly describe this industry, and proposed ‘horizontal drilling’ instead. But this is not very specific. We propose that this new industry should be called ‘shale fracking’ of ‘shracking’ for short. ‘Shale fracking’ is the industry to force hydrocarbons out of shale by unconventional means, as opposed to the conventional industry, where the hydrocarbons are pumped out.

The main driving force behind shale fracking in the UK is the economic argument, that since it has transformed the economy in the USA (with lower energy prices and increased industrial competitiveness), therefore it can do so here. We argue that this is unlikely to be the case. Conditions are very different.

Firstly, the US has 40 times the land area of the UK, and so they can afford to loose a few million acres. They have vast open spaces, relatively uninhabited, where the adverse consequences of this new industry (which the Government's chief scientific advisor recently warned could be on a par with thalidomide, asbestos, dioxins and many pesticides) will not affect many people. Furthermore, our population density is eight times theirs, so every square mile shracked affects eight times as many people.

Secondly, we use 2.5 times as much oil per square mile as they do. Thus to get the same economic impact as they have had, we would have to shrack proportionately 2.5 times as many square miles as them. Furthermore, this would affect eight times as many people per square mile on average as them, and so the total number of people adversely affected by shracking, to get the same economic impact, would be 20 times as great as in the USA. Some people might find this acceptable if one could achieve significant economic benefits, but even this is unlikely in the UK.

Supply and demand requires that one has to produce a surplus to get the prices to come down significantly, but in practice this is unlikely. For example, the recent British Geological Survey Report states that there are two billion to eight billion barrels of oil in the shale beneath the Sussex Weald, which sounds a lot. However, Professor Aplin of Durham University points out that shracking is notoriously inefficient at extracting oil and gas. The most one can expect, based on US experience, is to extract five per cent, which brings these figures down to 100 to 400 million barrels. In practice Aplin says the extraction efficiency is likely to be less, maybe only one per cent, because Weald shale contains clay which makes it harder to fracture. So if the Weald was shracked from end-to-end, it would produce 20 to 80 million barrels, which is about two to eight weeks supply for the whole of the UK (100 to 400 million barrels is only 10 to 40 weeks supply). This is unlikely to affect market prices. Furthermore many will ask, do we want to destroy the Weald for the sake of a few weeks supply of oil?

It seems highly likely that this is a financial ‘bubble’ where we are being asked to gamble the British countryside for the sake of long-term energy supplies which cannot be achieved.

An alternative, tidal power, has not received the attention it deserves, and as a maritime nation we could excel in it. Unlike shracking, tidal power does not produce CO2 or poison the earth. Furthermore, unlike shracking wells, which usually dry up after a year or two, tidal power will continue to be available as long as the moon goes round the earth, and so will produce clean energy for centuries to come.

Richard J Ellis

Corpus Christi College, 1962

Isis: a name with a problem?

Regarding Helen Massey-Beresford’s article on whether we should continue to use the name of the river Isis, my thoughts are that its name through Oxfordshire and Berkshire probably predates that of the Thames. The Isis meets the Thame just south of Dorchester, the confluence thereby logically being named Thame-Isis (Celtic Tamesis; see also Wikipedia here and here. Camden’s Britannia (1586) also notes that the stretch above Dorchester to the source was named the Isis. We should be proud that the river’s name has such antiquity and priority over the name of a probably soon-to-be-disbanded political faction.

Matthew Kaser

Linacre College, 1984

Tolkien’s tree

I was scandalised to see the following: ‘it sounds to me like this is for all the right reasons’ (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 12 and in fuller form online). Has Dr Lee Stuart never come across the words ‘as if’? I take it that when you refer to him as ‘an English academic. You are defining his school rather than his nationality; if so, pity the present undergraduates who are reading that subject.

            ‘It wouldn’t have done for the Duke, sir
            It would never done for His Grace’ —

and I don’t think it would have done for Professor Tolkien either.

Elizabeth Crague

St Anne’s College, 1950

Get it right

You write of ‘Reverend Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori’ (‘Encaenia celebrated’, Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 11). Since not only is she a bishop but the primate of the Episcopal Church (the US branch of Anglicanism), her title should be The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Justin Ivatts, Postulant for Holy Orders, Diocese of Virginia, Seminarian Class of 2015

Knitting in lectures

Musing, at the age of 86, on the now very distant days when I studied modern languages at Oxford, I fell to wondering whether, in this digital age, the old-fashioned lecture still goes on as it once did? This thought prompted my recollection of the occasions when, in addition to or instead of the usual paraphernalia for note-taking, a few of the bolder spirits among the female undergraduates had begun to bring along their knitting to certain classes at the Taylorian.

This, it seemed to me, demonstrated both women’s fabled skill in multi-tasking and the knitters’ adverse verdict on the potential value of the more tedious of the lectures they had been bidden to attend. This scepticism was implicitly encouraged by one of the dons, who told his audience that university lectures (including those which he himself was unfortunately obliged to deliver) had been rendered entirely obsolete by William Caxton’s introduction of the printing press in 1476.

D S Malkinson

St Peter's College, 1948

Entrepreneurial Oxford

I was delighted to read that there’s an increasing focus on entrepreneurial activities at Oxford  (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, pp. 29–30). In a world in which, civil service aside, there are no ‘jobs for life’ it’s increasingly valuable for us all to think entrepreneurially even if we won't all create new companies as a result. Also helpful is the creation and development of quasi-incubators in which people can learn to work in teams and subject new ideas to critical exploration.

It’s a bit worrying, however, to note that the emphasis with regards to faculty is still abstract and academic. Where are the real-world entrepreneurs who have gone through the grueling and brutal experience of moving from idea through execution to market? There is an enormous gulf between theory and practice, and an equally enormous gulf between those who watch from the sidelines and those who must somehow overcome formidable odds in order to keep the show on the road — especially when all the ‘experts’ are saying it can’t or shouldn’t be done.

I've started four companies since moving to California at the start of the 1990s and each one has taught me that great ideas are far less important than relentless execution and insane determination in the face of seemingly impossible obstacles. Being an entrepreneur means (for those of us not fortunate enough to be a Brin or a Zuckerberg) endless worry, stress, sleepless nights, 120-hour weeks year in and year out, and absolutely no guarantee of success anywhere in sight. Perhaps having a real-life entrepreneur or two involved in the various Oxford initiatives would bring a valuable additional perspective to what otherwise could end up being a series of superficial feel-good activities for most participants.

Allan Lees

Hertford College, 1984

Get it right

I enjoyed reading the letters from the Going Postal link in OT Extra November 2014. But where was this ‘Queen’s College’ which many of your readers seem to have attended?

Jim Gilpin

THE Queen's College, 1960

Address the big issues, please!

I enjoyed the recent issue of Oxford Today (Michaelmas 2014), and was impressed as ever by the quality of its production. But I do wonder whether the present style, of articles, news items, scenes from Oxford yesterday and so forth, is being sufficiently ambitious in engaging the attention and commitment of what must be a six-figure class of graduates all over the world.

In short, I would like to urge that, without losing its role as providing agreeable reading and visual matter, OT should also address serious major issues in the University as it is today. In my view, the vast majority of alumni, far from being out off by the presentation of current questions and developments, would be pleased to be taken, as it were, into the University’s confidence, and would feel more committed, not less.

I do not of course mean investigative journalism or much-raking, which would be inappropriate to OT as the voice of the University. But I see no reason why it should not include expressions of conflicting views on current questions, for instance, to take an obvious example, the Castle Mill flats beside Port Meadow. There has been a lot of negative publicity, local, national and even international. But the case for the building of these flats in this location has never been made publicly, either by the University or by any sympathiser. This case needs to be put.

Similarly, there is every reason for serious discussion of other major projects, such as the Andrew Wiles Maths Institute (or the ROQ in general), or the Blavatnik School. What developments the University is undertaking, what purposes they are designed for, how they are financed, and what the resultant buildings are like, are all questions which would interest a large proportion of alumni.

Another area of development which really needs to be expounded and discussed (but categorically not just in terms of bland publicity) is the huge expansion of Medical Sciences. An analysis of what elements the Division is composed of, where they are located (now largely in Headington), how it relates to the Hospitals and the NHS, what the balance is between teaching and research, and where its finances come from, are all issues of great interest, which require explaining not just to alumni but to members of Congregation.

Another very significant change in the nature of the University is the vast expansion of externally-funded short-term research posts (not least in medicine). The figures given in the Oxford Magazine in Noughth Week of Michaelmas 2013 are startling: 3,650 research posts as against 1,627 established academic posts. Most of the authors whose names go on research papers from Oxford are not members of Oxford University. This is a massive change in what the University ‘is’ and what it does, and our alumni are entitled to have the reasons for and the consequences of it set out for them to consider.

Related to this is the major change in the balance between undergraduates and graduates. Most alumni would, I believe, be amazed to hear that Oxford now awards more Master’s degrees and doctorates each year than BAs. Some might be appalled. Others might see this as a reflection of Oxford’s major role in the training of students from outside the UK.

The University’s concern over the problems created for students by the Government’s immigration policy, as set out by the Vice-Chancellor in his Oration, would also deserve a place here.

I need not continue — there are many other important and problematic issues over which the University could and should take its alumni into is confidence, paying them the compliment of their being capable and willing to attend to how the University is changing, and what problems it faces. To take this step would, in my view, evoke a higher, not lower, level of commitment. With apologies for the length of this, I would like to ask you to put it before your Editorial Advisory Board for their consideration.

Fergus Millar

Trinity College, 1955


I wonder if I am alone in regretting the passing of the old terms ‘Oxon’ and ‘Cantab’ for the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and their replacement by the unpronounceable ‘Oxf’ and ‘Cambs’. They appear now in material from or about both universities. Who was consulted about this — if anybody? Certainly not the alumni.

Oxford and Cambridge are ancient institutions and there is no reason to be ashamed of it (if that is the motive for the change). 

Gillian Harrison (née Morgan)

St Anne’s College, 1954

Tutes and tech

Ted Norrish (‘Letters’, August 2014) refers to the distinguished conductor Sir Thomas Beauchamp. I think Sir Thomas Beecham would have had a forceful riposte to this error. A northern industrialist would be most unlikely to emulate the Dukes of Rutland, whose Belvoir castle is invariably pronounced Beaver.

John Littler

Balliol College, 1954

Amalia, my bike

In 1946, though accepted, it was touch and go whether I could afford to go up to Oxford. My family were extremely poor. But somehow, with support from Hampshire County Council plus £50 per annum from the Government of Sarawak and £15 per term from my parents, I made it.

Ah. But another snag: I’d never owned a bicycle. However, my mother located a secondhand specimen for me. For £5. It was a beauty! 1926 Lady’s model, sit-up-and-beg, with a basket in front and a back carrier, a gear or two, and with strings radiating from rear mudguard to hub to prevent one’s skirts from getting tangled in the spokes. (Unfortunately I removed them, thinking my short wartime skirts made them unnecessary — and then the New Look came in with its ankle length garments.)

I christened it Amalia.

Amalia had several adventures. One day she had to go in to the bicycle shop in Broad Street for a minor repair. When I went to collect her she was nowhere to be seen. In vain we searched every room. Finally we went down to the cellar. There she stood, among the penny farthings.

Another time I bicycled with my cello on board to a rehearsal in the Music Room. It was a bitter cold night and snow lay in frozen ridges along the roads. Just outside Keble College, Amalia tipped over. My cello tobogganed ahead into the darkness. Miraculously, it was unhurt.

My most worrying time was when Amalia was stolen. Now I should mention that the handlebar had a tiny snib that one could switch up to lock it so that it could not turn to right or left. I habitually did so. I was very sad to lose my essential and beloved transport. But about a week later, lo! Amalia reappeared outside my college. In the basket was a note saying ‘This is the worst bicycle I have ever stolen. You can have it back.’

Amalia travelled many miles — even around the Dordogne on a family holiday. We five were a hybrid lot: two Moltons, one Raleigh, and Amalia with me on the saddle and our little daughter on the back carrier. Progress was leisurely, as by then the brakes were worn out and the rear wheel rim crumbling. We had to walk uphill and walk downhill.

In 1987 a house move necessitated an end to a happy relationship. That gallant old lady was for the dump. However, she was rescued by an antiques dealer who rushed to the rescue and who paid £5 to charity.

Alison Mallett

Lady Margaret Hall, 1946

Meat-free college meals

Your item about ‘Meat-free college meals’ at Wadham shows how much things have changed over the years.

When I, a life vegetarian (but not vegan), went up to Wadham in 1959 I went to see the chef about my diet. He didn’t really understand, or perhaps didn’t want to. For my two years living in college I was given eggs for breakfast, eggs for lunch and eggs for dinner! Fortunately I liked eggs and lived to tell the tale, but it must have been really tough for vegans.

Later, when my own three children, all vegetarian, went to university (Nottingham) there was a vegetarian option on every menu. Hopefully, when our six grandchildren, also all vegetarian, go to university — and the eldest is 17 this month so it is not far away — they will find it equally easy.

I might add that these grandchildren are the fifth consecutive generation of vegetarians in the family — I believe it started with my grandmother — so there can’t be much wrong with a vegetarian diet!

Congratulations to Wadham on leading the way forward.

Derek Lea

Wadham College, 1959

Get it right

According to Wikipedia, ‘The College’s official name, College of St Mary, is the same as that of the older Oriel College; hence, it has been referred to as the “New College of St Mary” and is now almost always called “New College”.’

But it shouldn’t ever be called ‘New’, as it is on page 23 of the Michaelmas 2014 issue of Oxford Today. I can cite no written authority for this, but when I matriculated in 1962 somebody eminent — it may have been Anthony Quinton, or possibly even Sir William Hayter, Warden at the time — was quite categorical about the college’s name.

Pedants of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your obsessions.

Teddy Moran

New College, 1962

Shaping the World

In his article defending fracking (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 16), Dr. Joe Cartwright says that ‘Europe’s largest onshore oil field, in Dorset, Wytch Farm’ is ‘nestled in the beautiful New Forest’.

As other readers have no doubt already pointed out, Wytch Farm is in the Isle of Purbeck, not particularly near the New Forest — which is in Hampshire, beyond Poole Harbour, Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch.

Rob English

Balliol College, 1954

Rochester’s Oxford (and other matters)

I have been inspired by some of the personal ads in Oxford Today to write my own personal profile for a dating agency. This is my first draft. Do you think it will have the desired effect? Suggestions for improvement (if possible) welcomed.

Prepare to be swept off your feet by this tall (but shrinking), blue-eyed, bald, slim, angular scarlet pimpernel. A suitable subject for those interested in the early evolutionary stages of the Darwinian theory. A misogynist whose understated virility has long gone, so unlikely to trouble ladies of refined taste.  A stranger to etiquette, good manners and dress sense, he is justifiably modest given his lack of achievement.

Ladies, are you looking for a challenge with few redeeming characteristics?  This could be just the opportunity you’ve been waiting for without knowing it.

I think this might need some polishing, but should have broad appeal. Second opinions welcome before I submit.

Sadly, not all recipients realized this was written as a spoof. Perhaps it was just too true to life!

P.S. I note in the article on the Earl of Rochester (‘Rochester’s Oxford’, Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, pp. 32–4) that lunchtime conversation was restricted to Greek or Latin.  Even in my day when Latin was a compulsory entry requirement, this would have made for a quiet and reflective lunch!

David Stanbury

Wadham College, 1960

The big junket

Being a carpenter’s son is no guarantee of success. Like the eminent 18th-century Oxonians William Crotch and William Crowe (‘Letters’, Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 7), I am the son of a carpenter and was a ‘poor scholar’ (albeit with few claims to scholarship!).

There, sadly, all resemblance ends.

David Stanbury

Wadham College, 1960

England’s first skipper

Your Michaelmas 2014 issue refers to Cuthbert Ottaway (BNC), England’s first football captain, but let us not forget R E ‘Tip’ Foster (Univ), the only man to have captained England at both cricket and football. Like Ottaway, he was a multi-blue.

In cricket, his innings of 287 against Australia in 1903 is still the highest on debut and the highest for England in Australia and was the highest in any Test at Sydney until Michael Clarke’s 329 against India in 2012. In football, when England beat Germany 12-0 in 1901 (those were the days!), he scored 6 of the goals.

In August 2014, a blue plaque, commissioned by Worcester Civic Society, was unveiled by a great grandson at the County Ground in New Road to honour his achievements and mark 100 years since his premature death from diabetes.

Nevill Swanson

St Edmund Hall, 1958

Rochester’s Oxford

Alexander Larman (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, pp. 32-4) blithely cites Wadham as ‘later … notorious for homosexual activity, revelling in its nickname of “Sodom”’. That refers to a notorious sex-scandal of 1739, which saw the hurried flight of the then Warden to Boulogne. There is no indication that the college was proud of the event; rather otherwise. What possible relevance can this event have to a discussion of possible homoerotic relations in Oxford in 1660, some eighty years earlier?

Rochester’s tutor Phineas Bury was fond of coffee and a too easy-going proctor, according to Anthony Wood. That does not make him ineffective, or the figure of fun depicted by Larman in his Blazing Star. His former Warden, John Wilkins, no mean judge of talent, gave him responsible positions in his diocese of Chester; while Hearne alludes to his work on Josephus. There is some truth in Larman’s picture of Restoration Oxford. But serious research, available for instance in vol. iv of the great History of the University, shows it to be drastically unbalanced.

Incidentally, Pembroke, not Wadham, was (just) Oxford’s newest college in 1660.

Cliff Davies (Emeritus Fellow)

Wadham College, 1956

Get it right

First I appreciate the great majority of features in the magazine (even the extra-reverent Dawkins-leaning bits); thank you.

But now, what’s this? (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 53), re Rowan Williams:

‘…. to appear to cave in to the anti-gay mob early on…’

If this tabloid-speak truly represents the boundaries of your grasp of the issues, events and personalities of this period, might it not be better to ask someone else to write reviews of books dealing with such matters?

Or is that your tutor was more lenient with student prose and perceptiveness than mine was?

Christopher Idle

St Peter's College, 1959

Rochester’s Oxford

‘Wadham ... At the time (1660) Oxford’s newest college….’ (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 32) Wasn’t Pembroke newer?

Gordon Dilworth

Worcester College, 1957

The Germans in Oxford

I am sure I will not be the only one to maintain the very moving memorial in the ante-chapel at New College (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, pp. 36–43). The memorial to UK members who died in the 1914–18 war is on the south wall and has a large number of names. But there is a smaller memorial on the east wall which lists several German names. My memory of it is that it read something like: ‘college members who came from a distant land — entered into the inheritance of the place — returned to their homeland … died in the Great War in the service of the Central Powers.’

I always thought that this was a wonderful thing for the college to have done soon after 1919. It is in keeping with Archbishop Robert Runcie’s insistence that in the Thanksgiving Service in the Falklands War, the Argentian dead and their families should be remembered as well as their own people.

Geoffrey Moors

New College, 1944

Shaping the world

The Shell protagonist, Dr Cartwright, in the debate on fracking in this country to obtain gas and oil (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 16) seems to have overlooked the one obvious drawback to this technology. It is merely a short-term expedient until the eagerly sought gas and oil are exhausted. The main issue is neither the cost nor the safety of fracking but the simple fact that once the gas and oil have been extracted and used up there is no more. Exhausting irreplaceable reserves, whether coal, oil or gas, is typical of the blinkered thinking of exploiters ever hoping for some new discovery that will save their profits. Even the protagonist for solar energy, Dr Leggett, fails to notice the continuing supply of wind and wave power with which this country is amply supplied. Had the vast funds devoted to the physicists’ job creation scheme been used instead to develop wind, wave and solar energy sources, there would be no need for fracking, extracting oil from tar sands, etc., all at great expense and all resulting in contamination and pollution.

Perhaps I should explain this job creation scheme devised by astute physicists to attract public funding. Theoretical physicists tax their brains to invent new abstruse unobservable particles in their efforts to explain how matter holds together so that experimental physicists can then construct enormous high-energy accelerators in their efforts to discover these particles by taxing the public to provide the funds for their experiments. A small fraction of the funds frittered away on this scheme would be enough to develop sustainable sources of energy.

Dr Cartwright has somewhat stretched the New Forest to reach Wytch Farm, which is located south of Poole Harbour in Dorset. I rather doubt whether fracking was used initially to enable oil to be recovered by the nodding donkeys there.

Allan R Mears

Wadham College, 1954

Margaret Thatcher

It seems Lord Walton has missed the point in his letter about the fuss over Mrs Thatcher’s (non-)degree in 1983–4. Universities normally don’t make such awards to serving British politicians — mine, indeed, has this very proper principle enshrined in the rules. If someone had put their foot down about it before Congregation, the whole undignified argument could have been stopped in its tracks (anyhow until 1991!)

Robin Milner-Gulland (Emeritus Professor, University of Sussex)

New College, 1956


As a postscript to Professor Goldman’s article on Germans in Oxford in 1914 (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, pp. 36–43), it is worth remembering, as Jan Morris in The Oxford Book of Oxford reminds us, that the great Dr Spooner himself, Warden of Queue Knowledge, intervened to have a plaque erected in his chapel ‘In memory of the men of this college who ... fought and died for their country in the war 1914-1919’, followed by German names which included a prince and a freiherr (baron).

Ellen Kenny

St Hugh's College, 1982

Get it right

In the article ‘Molecular marmalade’ (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 59), you refer to Bon Maman (marmalade). Quel horreur!

Ian Fyfe

Trinity College, 1966

Margaret Thatcher

John Walton seems overawed that Thatcher was a female. Half the country has managed that.

Chris Blackmore, MSc Computation (failed)

Molecular marmalade

At last, something really interesting and useful in your magazine (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 59)! I now know why my London marmalade is clear, and my Nice marmalade is ‘slurry’-like; a perfect description. Pity about ‘Bon’ Maman though.

Dr Grace Kenny

St Anne’s College, 1961

Shaping the world

The Shell Professor of Earth Sciences at Oxford is incorrect in saying (Oxford Today, Michaelmas, p. 17) that only local communities can judge whether the disruption of fracking is justified by the privileges of living in a highly developed society. Anyone can be a judge of that. But to have any relevance to the fracking debate in which the professor was engaged, such judges must be equipped with sentencing powers — as to whether local fracking may proceed or not. Local communities are denied that.

The relevant question is whether or not fracking is a necessary condition of a highly developed society. And of course it is not. Moreover, such a democratic deficit throws doubt on whether our society is highly developed or not. So what point was the professor trying to make?

Peter Lanyon

New College, 1953

Tolkien's tree

I note that the author of the article about ‘Tolkien’s black pine tree’ (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 12) apparently believes the myth that there are things that ‘have’ to be done (and probes even further into the realms of make-believe by alleging that accepting ‘the advice of experts’ is one of them).

I refer to the assertion in that article that the ‘University’s Botanic Garden has had to fell the famous black pine …’

No, not ‘had’ to fell: chose to fell. A wise and laudable choice, no doubt, but a choice, nevertheless.

N J E Harrison

St Peter's College, 1975

The Germans in Oxford

As a postscript to Professor Goldman’s article on Germans in Oxford in 1914 (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, pp. 36–43), it is worth remembering, as Jan Morris in The Oxford Book of Oxford reminds us, that the great Dr Spooner himself, Warden of Queue Knowledge, intervened to have a plaque erected in his chapel ‘In memory of the men of this college who ... fought and died for their country in the war 1914-1919’, followed by German names which included a prince and a freiherr (baron).

James Leigh

Keble College, 1958

Shaping the world

In the current Michaelmas edition of Oxford Today you have adjacent articles on fracking.

On p. 17 (‘Fracking’) I read ‘...but production from all shale gas regions save the Marcellus has peaked already, and many of us watching the detail see little prospect of the gas industry delivering growing production far into the future.’

On p.19 (‘Power to disrupt’), also talking about natural gas production in the USA, I read ‘The majority of that rise [of natural gas] has come from sources such as fracking, and it’s estimated that those yields will continue to increase.’

Both cannot be right. This is an important area of activity with large potential economic and environmental implications. Perhaps you could continue the debate in your next edition.

Edward Lavender

University College, 1961

Cooking better on gas

I write to associate myself with Dr Mellish’s views (above) as to the needlessness of the music added to your website film clip ‘Cooking better on gas’ about the ‘flared pan’ finned saucepan invented at the Dept of Engineering Science. No music at all was needed for this factual item, the music added nothing, and it distracted from the content.

Peter Neville

St Catherine’s College, 1965

Margaret Thatcher

I cannot let pass Colin Alexander’s assertion that the hypothesis of human-induced climate change may not be correct as we don’t know what caused warm periods in Roman and medieval times (Oxford Today, Trinity Term, Letters, p. 8). This assertion is wrong in logic as well as in science.

In logic, we may not know what ‘A’ was that previously caused ‘B’, but that does not imply that we cannot know that ‘C’ causes ‘B’ today. This is a logical fallacy known as a non sequitur.

This is one of 176 myths perpetrated by those who deny that climate change is happening and largely man-made according to The link between man-made emissions and recent global warming is based on basic principles of Physics discovered in the 19th century and uncontroversial until the implications started to be realized.

Robin Tucker

Wadham College, 2013

Michaelmas 2013

This issue was, to my mind, the best ever.

Women at Oxford never received such good coverage before, with Margaret Thatcher, Barbara Pym, and Jennifer Cole featured. Now, if we only had more than one woman out of ten musicians in ‘The sound of changing music’; Elizabeth Eva Leaches was sort of lonely there.

Men at Oxford received a brilliant linking together of disparate individuals in ‘Rendezvous with death’, on the deaths on the same day of Aldous Huxley, CS Lewis, and JF Kennedy. I think Oxford Today does the same thing in every issue, bringing disparate topics together in a single issue. ‘Eye of the beholder’ on Oxford architecture and ‘Varsity wine-tasting’ may well bring more letters to the editor than all the ones which particularly attracted the attention of an English Language and Literature student.

John Willoughby

Wadham College, 1952

Class of 2012

The Trinity 2014 number of Oxford Today (Tom Doak, Letters, p. 9, and below, November 1913) reflects ongoing concerns about the teaching of modern languages at Oxford.

I can’t speak for the present, or for the 1970s, but in the 1950s the regulations held out the Oxford modern languages course to be an introduction to the language, literature and culture of the subject society.

As I recall, no societal or artistic context to the literature was taught, there was no literary analysis and the language teaching was vestigial (‘If you want to learn the language, go to Berlitz’). It was in fact a scramble through a thousand years of literature (in 72 weeks!)

No wonder the lectures were unsatisfactory. The tutorials had moved on before the lecturers had got into their stride.

Oxford in those days offered a good fellowship and a useful degree, but it was not a serious course of academic study.

It seems that the course was fundamentally for boys with bilingual backgrounds (‘You know all this, of course’) wishing to add an Oxford degree to their foreign school studies.

How far do these attitudes persist?

RH Morris

Jesus College, 1958

Farewell, Tolkien’s tree

Please press for the felled tree (15 August 2014) to be handed over to Isis Innovation and/or a good woodworker for conversion into artefacts for sale on eBay to Lord of The Rings fans, then you won’t need to keep badgering impecunious old vets for money quite so often.

J Leigh

Keble College, 1958

For what it’s worth

There is much talk in the United States about universities being graded. One of the apparent fears is that a student might end up with a worthless degree. I scraped through my time at Oxford and ended up (in 1959) with a Pass Degree, as academically ‘worthless’ as any degree could be. But what it brought me in terms of appreciation of education and desire for knowledge was priceless. Unless you are deliberately job-hunting, is there such a thing as a worthless degree?

Jay Heale

Brasenose College, 1956

Cooking better on gas

My grandmother used to say of certain things that she disapproved of, ‘It’s so unnecessary’. For me, that applies to music added to the soundtracks of what would otherwise be interesting videos, such as ‘Cooking better on gas’.

It is indeed not merely unnecessary but counterproductive. Though often referred to as ‘background’ music it is typically at a similar volume level to the speech one wishes to hear and thus an annoyance and a distraction. That certainly applies to the above instance.

I can understand why music was played in cinemas in the days of silent films. I can even understand why it has continued to be used for ‘atmosphere’ in sections of films where there is no dialogue or other sound important to the action. But superimposing it on speech is nonsensical, especially in the context of a serious technical talk (albeit in the above instance one that is only a series of brief soundbites).

So, on to a query: Why do you do it? Is it just because ‘everyone else does’?

Richard Mellish

St Catherine’s College, 1965

Petraeus in conversation

It is hard to understand why Oxford Today would run Oliver Lewis’s naively adoring interview with former general David Petraeus (11 August 2014). This puff piece, replete with references to the hero’s glorious military career, his presidential demeanor, and his devotion to higher education, reads like nothing so much as a Petraeus for President ad, viz:

‘As the two generals sat in the debating chamber of the Oxford Union the affection and respect between them created an atmosphere of intellectual challenge and honest answers. At times it felt as if they could have been back in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Sir Nick was the deputy to General Petraeus as the commander. But occasionally we broke free of the intimacy and saw glimpses of Petraeus’s presidential demeanour, the humour and self-deprecation of the military leader coupled with the confidence and certainty of an American political heavyweight.’

Please, give us a break! Wading through this treacle, one would never guess that many responsible analysts consider Petraeus’s command of US forces in Iraq a long-term strategic disaster, his political ideas dangerously shallow, and his leadership ambitions regrettable. A serious journal would not have published this sort of school yearbook encomium without recognizing the complexity of the issues glossed over by the starry-eyed interviewer.

Richard E Rubenstein

Balliol College, 1959

Tutes and tech

I was at BNC from 1953 to 1958, and I read Classical Greats, with Maurice Platnauer as my tutor, a fine experience. In your last issue (Trinity 2014) I read three versions of My Tech Diary. Here is my own version:

6am. I rose (in digs in Juxon Street — I was in college for my first two years). 1–1½hours of work (prose, essay or text) followed by breakfast.

8am. Breakfast & cycled to BNC.

8.30-9.30am. In college JCR. I read Daily Telegraph and Racing Post (occasionally followed by a visit to 30 George Street – my bookmaker, Fred Bailey)

10–11am. Usually work in the BNC library or in the Sheldonian, or early lecture.

11am–1pm. I cycled to lectures

1–1.30pm. Lunch — usually in college hall

2–4pm. Athletics training. In winter for cross-country (we won Cuppers for 3 successive years — Olympic athlete Ian Boyd was our captain). In summer for athletics at Iffley Road. My coach was Franz Stampf, the coach of Emil Zátopek, Roger Bannister, my orienteering friend Chris Brasher and Christopher Chataway.

4–5pm. ‘Recovery’ — usually tea and dripping toast in Oxford Market!

5pm–7pm. Work usually in college or the Sheldonian

7pm–8pm. Dinner — either college, where I read grace in my turn and enjoyed beer our silver tankard; or in the Stowaway café (south of the High Street).

8–9pm. With friends in Turf, Turl, King’s Arms, Bird & Baby or Gardener’s Arms (max. 2 pints).

9–12am. Work in Sheldonian.

12–1am or later. Further work at Juxon Street.

Once a week I enjoyed a cello lesson in Norham Gardens; and once or twice a week rehearsals with the Oxford Bach Choir (B Minor Mass and Judas Maccabeus) instead of the pub. About every month I went to Snowdonia to climb with friends for a weekend, and in the long vacations mountaineering with our Oxford University Mountaineering Club in the Alps and elsewhere. I also enjoyed concerts (especially under Sir Thomas Beauchamp) and occasionally films (I remember The Wages of War, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, and we all liked Brigitte Bardot!).

I cannot help thinking that in some ways our lives were more interesting. Your three writers make no mention of music or sports, and their lives are much taken up with emails and their computers — necessarily I realise. I achieved a good ‘Second’, and enjoyed myself immensely.

Ted Norrish

Brasenose College, 1953

Oxford cricket

I read with enjoyment the recent article on Oxford Cricket (Oxford Today, Trinity Term, p.57) recounting the batting exploits of Sam Agarwal for the blues last season — that is until Sam was described as a ‘materials science engineer’. I am sure that our Department of Engineering Science has produced many distinguished sportsmen and women, but the Materials Department is proud of our own roster of blues over the years. The collective noun for alumni from the discipline is Materials Scientists, and we are pleased that Sam is the latest of those to make such a major contribution to Oxford’s sporting success.

Chris Grovenor

St Catherine’s College, 1973

Get it right

An advertisement on page 46 of your Trinity issue offers paintings of the ‘principle Oxford colleges’. Oh dear!

John Harrison

St Edmund Hall, 1957

How to rewild Oxford

The article, ‘Re-wilding Oxford’ (Oxford Today, Trinity 2014, pp. 28–32) hit home: here in Hamilton, New Jersey, we have Grounds for Sculpture, an innovative, world-class outdoor museum that makes use of once-abandoned Hamilton Fairgrounds. GFS is an amazing place! Here is an interactive, please-touch museum where the giant sculptures integrate a five-star French restaurant, Rat’s, named after one of the lovable characters from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. May I suggest that Oxford, being the innovative, ground-breaking place that it is, give Grounds for Sculpture some serious competition! Bring out your inner Mr Toad and ride the yellow roadster! Consider John Ruskin, Slade Professor of Art, whose Hinksey Road Campaign — involving Oscar Wilde — combined the principles of art, environment/conservation and social justice — I can just imagine him digging up dirt in an abandoned plot of land, to create something similar to GFS…..

Reynaldo Nera Obed

University College, 1966

How to rewild Oxford

There is a distinct whiff of Oxford yesterday around your Oxford Today report on the Hogacre Common Eco-Park. Why else would you insist in both your Editorial and your cover feature (Trinity 2014, pp. 28–32) that the site was formerly known only to those who ‘played rugby or cricket’ at Corpus? Why ignore so pointedly those of us who happily played our football on those now abandoned pitches? It’s true that our plebeian pleasures were never likely to attract armies of talent scouts from Anfield or Old Trafford, but our sometimes makeshift team played a full part in the University football league of the time.

Your atavistic attitude reminds me of a conversation I had with the College chaplain when I was secretary of Corpus soccer in the 1967/8 season. For some obscure reason, the chaplain was responsible for a college fund to support its sports teams. Having learned that he had bought a full set of shirts for the rugby players, I went to see him to ask the same favour for the footballers. He flatly refused. I forget his exact reasoning but it was along the lines that his support was limited to proper chaps who played the more noble sort of sport.

The chaplain soon became a bishop, leaving me to reflect that unfair and irrational decision making is no barrier to career success, provided you’re on the side of the Establishment.

Ken Reynolds

Corpus Christi College, 1966

Class of 2012

I read Tom Doak’s letter (Trinity 2014) in ‘Class of 2012’ and can completely support his views on the lectures and tutorials in Modern Languages. I read Classical Honour Mods in 1957/8 and had excellent lecturers and a great tutor at Jesus, John Griffith, who later became Emeritus Professor of Latin. I then transferred to read Russian, and both the syllabus (which included etymology, phonology, etc.) and the lecturers were awful. There was a shortage of transcripts from the Cyrillic bible, Dr Unbegaun was a distinguished but uninspiring lecturer and the majority of the tutors — scattered at various homes in the Oxford area to which I had to travel — were more interested in writing books on aspects of Slavonic language and literature than inspiring their students. It was with an enormous sense of relief that I escaped with a decent degree into the working world.

Jack Jagger

Jesus College, 1957

Going sub-four

When, in 2006, Peter Hennessy’s book Having it so Good — Britain in the Fifties came out, the publishers, wanting to catch the optimistic spirit of the decade, decided to place on the spine the image of Roger Bannister crossing the line at Oxford in 1954, at the breaking of the four-minute mile (‘Going sub-four’, OT Online, 13 May 2014).

In order to display his whole body as he breasted the tape, it was necessary to include his outstretched right hand. This meant that the semi-focused image of a spectator was incorporated into the principal picture. The man fate had selected was Roger Pinnington (Pinners to his friends), a middle-ranking distant runner, wearing his Lincoln scarf (it was a chilly evening) who was teased about it at the time. He was, probably, not entitled to be inside the track — but that was a different age.

It is to be hoped that no attempt will be made to airbrush him out in the future years: he is essential to the complete image. One look at the expression on his face is enough to confirm the rapture experienced by all of us who were enormously fortunate to be at the Iffley Road track that evening in May 1954.

Yes; a great day for the Rogers!

Roger Shakeshaft

Lincoln College, 1953

Get it right

According to the second paragraph of the very interesting article ‘The big junket’ (Trinity 2014), the great dinner occurred 13 June 1814. How then can the day after, when ‘there was more to come’, (p 40) have been Wednesday 15 May?

Lester O’Shea

Pembroke College, 1959

The rise of lab-lit

As I read Dr Maxwell’s article about laboratory literature (Trinity 2014) I was disappointed not to see reference to a couple of very old friends. I was assigned in my science-oriented high school to read Sinclair Lewis’s Pulitzer-awarded 1925 novel Arrowsmith (Harcourt, Brace & Co). The anonymous writer of a Wikipedia article on this book says, ‘Arrowsmith is arguably the earliest major novel to deal with the culture of science.’ Although required to read and comment on it, I found it tragically compelling. And then, while in college, I read voluntarily CP Snow’s The Affair, a 1960 (MacMillan) member of his Strangers and Brothers series. Although the series was structured around the human conflict as seen in an Oxbridge college, the main plot device in The Affair was an investigation into alleged scientific fraud. Timely then and timely now.

LW Saperstein

Queen's College, 1964

Get it right

I’m a bit late with catching up on reading Oxford Today, but I wanted to let you know that I was surprised to read in the Michaelmas issue 2013 that ‘a weather vane shows a member of the college peddling a bicycle’ (p 55). I’m used to such confusion in less erudite publications — but in OT? I’m disappointed.

Angus Johnson

Christ Church, 1976

The big junket

Your account of Blücher’s visit to Oxford (Trinity 2014) offered a highly amusing portrait of Regency England and also evoked a personal association stemming from my time as an undergraduate in Modern Languages. In 1963–4 I took a year out to teach as an English assistant at a German Gymnasium in the town of Lippstadt, Westphalia. There I lodged with the family of a Lutheran minister, a dispossessed nobleman by the name of Graf von der Schulenburg, whose family was implicated in the plot against Hitler. His countess turned parson’s wife was a member of the Blücher family. As refugees from the Russian occupation at the end of World War II, the Schulenburgs had managed to bring with them a few treasured artefacts from their mansion, including a portrait of the illustrious Fürst Blücher von Wahlstatt, which hung incongruously on the wall in their modest new home.

My landlady spoke with pride of her family connection but did not, as I recall, mention the behavioural and mental excesses noted in your article! A few years ago I self-published a translation of this lady’s memoirs which contain a chapter on the Blücher family. During my follow-up research I discovered more about the Marshall’s immense popularity in England, including the fact that George Stephenson named a locomotive after him and that there was in fact a ‘Blücher boot’, which rivalled the species of footwear named after his ally the Duke of Wellington. If the former had prevailed no doubt we would now be talking of taking our ‘bluchies’ with us on inclement days.

On an unrelated topic, but one which has also come up in a recent edition of Oxford Today (‘Rendezvous with death’, Michaelmas 2013), Countess Schulenburg (geborene von Blücher) brought me the news of the assassination of President Kennedy and remained convinced that the Russians were behind it!

Norman Diffey

Queen's College, 1961


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

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

Get It Right

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

Get It Right

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.


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

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

Rendezvous with death

I very much enjoyed John Garth’s article ‘Rendezvous with death’ (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2013, and here at OT Online). 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

Get It Right

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

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


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

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

Rendezvous with death

I have a particularly clear memory of the evening of 22nd November 1963, when the news of the assassination of President Kennedy reached Oxford (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2013, and here at OT Online). 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

Get It Right

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

Appropriate Architecture

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


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

Get It Right

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

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

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

Goin' to the Chapel?

I enjoy reading Oxford Today, but was taken aback by the reference to “Christ Church chapel” on page 27 of the Trinity 2013 issue. Is this a clever new Oxford vernacular way of designating the Cathedral?

Nicholas de Lange

Christ Church College, 1962

What makes the British

I was particularly interested to read the article What makes the British? Do you know if the underlying research by Profs Donnelly, Robinson and Sir Walter Bodmer has been published in full yet? If so, where might I look?

Roger Holehouse

St Peter's College, 1967

Ed: The research is indeed available, and you can find out more on the Royal Society's website.

Bulganin and Khruschev

I'm not sure that Keith Tunstall has got quite right the chronological relationship between Bulganin's and Khrushchev's visit to Oxford in 1956 and the denunciation of Stalin.

My one memory of the visit is of the Soviet leaders emerging on to the steps of the Sheldonian and the crowd packing the Broad raising a chorus of ‘Poor old Joe’.

Alan Harding

University College, 1952

Green Energy

It was with great interest that I read about the success of the residents of Osney in harnessing the flow of the Thames to provide clean, sustainable energy to dozens of homes nearby. Most satisfying of all is the use of the ancient Archimedes Screw technology, which has provided a reliable, renewable source of power for homes throughout the world for centuries.

Certainly, one influential Oxford man would have been delighted to read how simple, small-scale and sustainable technology is still relevant in modern Britain. Unfortunately, the great EF Schumacher is no longer with us.

But the economic philosophy he developed as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and expounded in his seminal book Small is Beautiful still plays a huge role in the world. It influences politicians – David Cameron has acknowledged its continuing relevance to his thinking – and the work of Practical Action, the International charity he set up nearly 50 years ago.

Practical Action uses very similar technology to that employed by the good people of Osney to provide power to those who are most in need in throughout the world. Happily, Schumacher’s philosophy not only helps 40-odd people in Osney, but a million people throughout the world every year.

Amanda Ross (nee George)

St. Hugh’s College, 1973

Memorable Dons

Graham Chainey lists many of the famous Oxford Dons of his time (Letters, Oxford Today, Trinity 2013). I came up in 1973 and owe my Oxford education, and most memorable experiences, to one individual on his list: Sir Isaiah Berlin.

When my American academic advisor asked with whom I most wanted to study, I replied that I had not really found any theorist that I really wanted to study with, for a variety of reasons. He then prodded me to think harder and I said “Isaiah Berlin”.

He asked where he was based. I responded, “I think Oxford.” He suggested I applied. My response was: “How do I do that?” My advisor suggested I wrote to Berlin, then President of Wolfson College, so I did.

He replied to my letter and told me how to apply. Berlin also advised me that, because of his duties, he could only supervise graduate students. We exchanged letters and I answered his query regarding why I wanted to study with him.

When I got the application materials, Instead of applying for the Dphil – being unsure if I would be accepted – I decided to apply to read PPE as a second degree instead. After reviewing the materials, I really wanted to experience the tutorial-based Oxford education. It was a difficult choice because this meant I wouldn’t have a chance to work with Berlin.

So, imagine my surprise when Berlin reached out after I arrived and invited this young American to meet with him. I was invited to tea and conversation with him in his office; he invited me to meet him in his home in Headington, and then to walk with him, through the University Parks. On the journey he of course spoke in his inimitable way: producing a fast-paced torrent of words and thoughts, sentences as long as paragraphs, packed with observations, analysis, history, paradoxes, and questions – questions surprisingly directed at me! – all of which rolled out in such brilliant fashion that I was spellbound and fascinated each step of the way.

I felt guilty, however, in taking up Berlin’s time and offering him so little in return for what I was receiving. Regrettably, I did not make the most of this opportunity by seeking regular meetings. I was indeed privileged, however, to have this uniquely Oxford experience because of the graciousness of Berlin, who took the initiative and time to tutor this young American. I still read his essays and continue to admire his thought.

B Nelson Ong

Lincoln College, 1973

Meaningless Master's

Would anyone like to join me in creating an effective campaign to stop the granting of discretionary degrees to Oxford and Cambridge graduates? The practice is grossly unfair, (possibly) devalues other genuinely studied-for masters qualifications, and (certainly) devalues the reputations of Oxford and Cambridge.

Ideally, all the essentially bogus degrees granted over the years would be retrospectively removed – but if that proved cumbersome, what would help is a wide information campaign to inform the public at large that an MA from Oxford or Cambridge essentially means nothing, has no extra study or knowledge behind it, and is, essentially, valueless.

So, shall we stop this now? Who will join me?

Hilary Bichovsky (Little)

Somerville College, 1981

The storyteller

Thank you for a most interesting article about Alan Garner ('The Storyteller’, Oxford Today, Trinity 2013, pp. 44–7, and here online). The reference to the local legend of sleeping knights in a cave in the Edge, waiting to save Britain from peril, reminds me of a very similar legend I heard as a boy in Germany. In central Germany there is a mountain called the Kyffhaueser in which there is a cave where Frederich Barbarossa and his knights sit around a stone table, through which Barbarossa's beard is growing, waiting for a circling raven to awaken them when they will ride out and save Germany from catastrophe. Somehow, the raven missed 1945!

Robert Hennemeyer

St Edmund Hall, 1960

Goin' to the Chapel?

It is surely a little unusual, although technically not incorrect, to refer to the Cathedral as “Christ Church chapel”?

Stephen Green

Brasenose College, 1962

Home Fires Burn

I agree with Harriet Wilson ([Letters, Oxford Today, Trinity 2013). I don't think that I missed the point; rather, I think I didn't explain it properly. My observation is that government is increasingly trying to interfere in the administration of UK universities. I sense that many young people share my concern and are increasingly considering going to foreign universities, thus depriving the UK of their talents.

Hugh Quick

Merton College, 1950

Bulganin and Khruschev

As Keith Tunstall says, it was a couple of months after the visit of Khruschev and Bulganin to Oxford that the text of Khruschev’s speech denouncing Stalin was published in The Observer. However, the general contents and nature of the speech were known in the West well before the time of the visit. When the Soviet leaders were driven along Broad Street some of those watching started chanting ‘Poor Old Joe, Poor Old Joe (in unison, and the chant was quickly taken up by a large part of the crowd, perhaps most of it). The visitors, who presumably had no idea what was being chanted, looked delighted. If my memory isn't at fault, at least one of them waved his clasped hands above his head vigorously in acknowledgement.

George Mandel

Balliol College, 1955

Sexist Society

The Oxford and Cambridge Club in Pall Mall discriminates against men by insisting they wear a tie, a rule not applied to women. The Club, which sports the coats of arms of both universities, has rebuffed my suggestion that it change its rules by saying it wants to maintain the standard of dress for both sexes. The Club Secretary, Alastair Telfer, does not recognise that the tie is obsolescent and dismisses the fashion sense of the Prime Minister who frequently appears in public without one. The Club does not even acknowledge there is the question of equality for men or that the tie cannot be made a requirement in national or local government.

Where are you Emily Davidson and Sylvia Pankhurst? Tieless men need you at this hour to chain yourselves to the Club rulebook until this symbolic change is affected and men can expose their necks at 71 Pall Mall without shame.

With apologies to both Milton and Samson.

Keith Hindell

University College, 1954

Memorable Dons

Graham Chainey may have revelled in the shooting sticks of brilliant talk during his time at Oxford, but his circle was somewhat restricted: nine historians, five philosophers, five dons of literature, two classicists, and an Anglo-Saxon. Perhaps it is just a further illustration of the two cultures that – nearly 50 years on – I recognised only 11 of his “22 household names”, but think that I would, in 1966, have recognised only six, and one of them only because he wrote two best-selling fantasy novels. The world of the science laboratory is a long way from shooting sticks along Parks Road.

Neville W Goodman

Magdalen College, 1966

What makes the British

I found the people of the British Isles article (Oxford Today, Trinity 2013, and here online) fascinating, but am puzzled how the research by Donnelly, Robinson and Bodmer links to that by Bryan Sykes and his team over many years, to which no reference is made. They all appear to a layman to have been covering the same ground. Is it a case here of academic rivalry over some some issue too arcane for a mere historian to grasp?

Roger Broad

The Queen's College, 1951

Bulganin and Khruschev

When the Russian leaders came to Oxford in 1956, as described by Michael Tunstall, (Oxford Today, Trinity 2013) I photographed them on the steps of the Sheldonian from the Blackwell’s side of the Broad.

It only occurred to me later that I could easily have changed the course of history. I was using a telephoto lens on my Leica, with a pistol grip, and could easily have been an assassin as far as their bodyguards had been concerned if they had spotted me. A few months later, and in almost exactly the same location, I photographed the anti-Suez protest march.

Murray Glover

Lincoln College, 1954

Digital Discrepancies

Your Editorial for the Trinity Term 2013 issue of Oxford Today concludes with reference to something called a “website”. Since it is inaccessible in print, it thus creates an objectionable discrimination between the haves and the have nots, an unacceptable social division. I resent being considered a second-class citizen because I do not have whatever equipment is related thereto. I have raised this issue with others, for on this basis there is being created another class of people in a society riddled already with such divisiveness. Please make available your products to all of your readers, and not limit them to a selected group thereof.

J W Babb

Brasenose College, 1948

Ed: We're sorry not everyone has access to the internet. But with 52,731,209 people in the UK – 84.1% of the population – using the internet in 2012, we hope it won't be a social division that lasts for long.

Questionable Architecture

It is a good job Marcus de Sautoy is Professor of the Public Understanding of Science and not of Architecture if he thinks the new Mathematical Institute (pictured on page 32 of Oxford Today, Trinity 2013) is “beautiful”. Like the new China Centre, it would probably enhance Liverpool John Moores University’s Birkenhead Docks Campus--but in Oxford? The University may have the best academic brains in the country but it clearly does not have the best architects if this sort of instantly forgettable mediocrity is the best that can be done.

David Favager

Brasenose College, 1979

Cash for Questions

Professors Daniels and James have unenviable tasks (Oxford Today, Trinity 2013). Education, as all your readers know, is the most important of all human activities, as most of our behaviour is learned. Medicine may be second, as it maintains the machine that education has built, even though it has so dangerously interfered with natural population control mechanisms. The Home may be the most influential stage in education but the top is what the education practitioners look up to. Professors should be paid very much more in this money oriented society of ours.

In 1964 a Cambridge Colloid Science professor told me that, were it not for his very satisfactory private income, he would be working with ICI for a salary at least twice the size of his university salary. Salary differentials mattered then in 1964; they matter even more now.

Our current politicians seem to have minds so befogged with facts that they have no idea of where they really are nor where they should be trying to go. I hope Professors Daniels and James manage to penetrate these dull minds so that they come to realise how vital is the contribution which Oxford and Cambridge make to our future. These obtuse politicians should appreciate their responsibilities and do something useful for a change.

Alexander Hopkinson-Woolley

Balliol College, 1955

Bulganin and Khruschev

Keith Tunstall's comment on the reception given Bulganin and Krushchev when they came to Oxford in April 1956 is interesting. He says their visit to Magdalen “aroused curiosity rather than any enthusiasm”, adding that he “politely clapped as they went by”.

The reception given elsewhere in the city was very different. I was part of a vast throng of students standing outside Blackwell’s, blocking the whole of the Broad. As Bulganin and Krushchev emerged from the Sheldonian opposite, and, surrounded by square-shouldered bodyguards, came down the steps towards us, someone from the back of the crowd lobbed a brown-paper package over everyone’s heads, and it landed near the Russians. Amid jeers from the mass, bodyguards swooped on the apparently dangerous brown object and rushed off with it, while the jeers turned to the raucous singing of ‘Poor Joe is Dead’, in memory of the recent death of Joe Stalin.

Bulganin and Krushchev, I remember, stood there grinning and clapping, their hands high above their heads, presumably thinking that ours was a song of welcome.

After that, the beer in the White Horse nearby tasted especially good!

Paul Cannon

Trinity College, 1955

Proper Spelling

I thank Simon Horobin for an intelligent and pleasantly straightforward article on the need or otherwise for standards in spelling. He lists three reasons why he believes people want to maintain these standards. I believe there is also a fourth reason. The vast majority of well educated people have little difficulty spelling accurately, whether it took them years to master the skill or it came easily. For these people, bumping up against an incorrectly spelled word in the course of reading can be jarring, and – however much you want to gloss over it and move on – it interferes with the process of comprehension. If you're reading something long or complex, the last thing you want is to be hijacked by a spelling mistake, or a grammatical error, or any other form of non-standard expression. The basic purpose of all of these standards, however dumb many of them are, is to not get in the way of communication.

Jeremy Hyland

St Catherine's Collge, 1963

Memorable Dons

Graham Chainey mentioned the great names of the necessarily narrow English literary world. In my time I learnt under the greats of the much wider world of Natural Philosophy including Nobel Prize winners and many FRSs’. Oxford in the mid 1950s was indeed world class

John Pope

Keble College, 1955

What makes the British

Many will have read with interest Judith Keeling’s account of the Oxford DNA project (What makes the British?) which can offer new answers to the question of “what happened to the Romano-British population when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded following the fall of the Roman Empire in Britain?”

Those interested in this question can profitably re-read the books and articles of AW Wade-Evans (Jesus College, 1893), and especially his conclusions in The Emergence of England and Wales (2nd. ed., Cambridge, 1959). Over many years Wade-Evans had maintained that the Brythonic population of what became England was neither extinguished nor driven westwards. He might well feel vindicated if he could read about the “substantial amount of ‘ancient British’ DNA” in the modern population of England.

Wade-Evans wrote as a nationalist who wanted his fellow-Welshmen to see themselves as essentially a political or civic community and not, as the age-old tradition had maintained, a racial group that had been displaced. That tradition has shaped the relationships of the peoples of Britain, and of all its outcomes the most decisive was the Battle of Bosworth.

Reading Wade-Evans we may, at certain important junctures, wish he would present more concrete evidence for what must have been, to him, certainties. But he deserves respect for his independent approach to some fundamental issues.

D Glyn Jones

Linacre College, 1964

Bulganin and Khruschev

I was interested to read Keith Tunstall's memories of Bulganin and Kruschev in Oxford in 1956. He says that Kruschev's denunciation of Joseph Stalin was published two months after their visit; however I remember being in a crowd of undergraduates outside the Sheldonian, serenading them to the strains of Poor Old Joe. Were we prescient, as well as — we thought — extremely witty?

Gillian Wilson

Lady Margaret Hall, 1953

Wonderful Wytham

Colonel Raymond Ffennell, who gave Wytham Abbey and estate to the University, would have been pleased to see the notice in Trinity 2013's Oxford Today about the video series on Wytham Woods. He had originally hoped that the Abbey itself would be used for agricultural educational purposes, but would have rejoiced to know that his woods, in which his daughter Hazel had such happy times, are now one of the most researched areas of woodland in the world.

Michael Steen

Oriel College, 1965

Take the Power Back

I was intrigued by the item in the Trinity 2013 edition of Oxford Today describing Prof. Trefethern's reconfiguring of the calculation for working out one's BMI. Would you be able to explain to me – I read History – how, with an ordinary calculator, one computes one's “height in metres raised to the power of 2.5”? It is not, I assume, the same as simply multiplying it by 2.5.

Richard Hopton

Magdalen College, 1981

Ed: You assume correctly. On a scientific calculator this is easy: simply type your height in metres, followed by the 'power' button, usually denoted yx, then 2.5. On a normal calculator, you need to multiply your height in metres by itself, and then once more by the square root of itself – which is exactly the same as raising it to the power of 2.5.

Bulganin and Khruschev

A curious sidelight on the British visit of Bulganin and Khruschev reveals one vast difference between then and now. As they sped out of Portsmouth Dockyard at the start of their journey, the sole security accompaniment for the supreme leaders of Communism was one Riley police car, leading the way. Bulganin, seated on the right in the limousine, peered out at the unappealing vista of the deserted railway station and ferry point, possibly hoping to wave to cheering crowds, but alas all he saw was a single schoolboy with better use for a lunch hour than idling in the school quad. Contrast that with, for instance, the huge security operation in 2010 – complete with a no-fly zone over much of Long Island – for the wedding of the daughter of a president, ten years out of office.

D Connor Ferris

St John’s College, 1958

No Justification

If the Humanities ever have to be justified on economic grounds, you are reaching the bottom of the moral pit. If governments meddle in university affairs, trying to influence the direction or justification of certain studies, the meddlers should be told in no uncertain terms to get lost, no matter what the consequences. It seems to me, and to some of my fellow-Oxonians in Vancouver, that Oxford is suffering adversely from American influences. Oxford has nothing to learn from Harvard or CalTech – except perhaps in the enterprise of fundraising.

Jack E G Dixon

Merton College, 1949

The Student Press

I enjoyed Chris Baraniuk’s ‘Who Guards the Guardians?’ in your Michaelmas issue, and look forward to his book. Lack of space, I expect, meant he wasn’t able to give full weight to the fundamental change that took place in Hilary term 1953, when two New College undergraduates, Clive Labovitch and Earl White, purchased Cherwell and transformed it from nondescript magazine to tabloid newspaper.

Similarly, although Cherwell journalists’ proposal to survey undergraduate sex in 1956 may, as Baraniuk writes, have tickled Fleet Street’s palate, that ever-interesting topic had been in the public domain since Norman Longmate (Worcester, 1947) in his 1954 book Oxford Triumphant calculated, on what it would be flattering to term flimsy evidence, that one in three female and one in five male Oxford undergraduates were enjoying active sex-lives; one wonders if Fleet Street’s successors would express a flicker of interest today?

2013 will of course mark Cherwell’s Diamond Jubilee as a tabloid: those familiar with student journalists confidently anticipate a party of some sort.

Cherwell, 1954

C Sladen

Christ Church College, 1953

Michael Korda

It was interesting to read of Michael’s memories of Magdalen (‘My Oxford’, Oxford Today, Trinity 2012, p. 66, and online here). I would guess most of his contemporaries would remember how his facility in Russian gave him a leading role in welcoming Bulganin and Krushchev to the college in April 1956. Stalin was dead but the Cold War was well under way and the visit of Bulganin and Krushchev aroused curiosity rather than any enthusiasm. I remember we politely clapped as they went by.

The duo had arrived on a Russian warship which docked in Portsmouth harbour. The mysterious disappearance of Commander Crabbe, while apparently investigating the hull of the ship, was perhaps the public's main memory of the visit. A headless body was found a year later and the coroner said he was satisfied it was him.

It was a couple of months after the visit that the Observer published Krushchev's denunciation of Stalin. I remember my initial disappointment that Sunday morning in the JCR to find the paper had omitted all their usual articles to make way for the speech.

Keith Tunstall

Magdalen College, 1953

Michael Moritz

Mr Garth (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2012, pp. 28–9, and online here) writes that Mr. Moritz’s parents “were welcomed into England as Jewish refugees in the 1930's”. Mr Moritz's father lectured at Cardiff University and Mr Moritz himself was born in Cardiff, attending a state comprehensive school in the city. Mr Garth makes the erroneous, prevalent assumption that England is synonymous with, sometimes, Great Britain and, at other times, with United Kingdom. I can recall Jewish refugees, and indeed other child refugees from the Spanish civil war, arriving in South Wales in between 1936 and 1938. It was not England alone who opposed the Nazis: it was the UK, including Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. All four constituent parts of the UK have their own identity. Each part carries this distinct identity proudly.

Howard Williams


I had no school qualifications on admission to Oxford University. I had studied two years at Ruskin College for a University Diploma in Social Studies, and before that been a shipbuilding shop steward, a community activist and volunteer over my 15 years since leaving school. One of my tutors at the Institute of Economics came from a similar background in the railway industry. After Oxford I went on to be a College Principal in Manchester.

Harry Quick seems not to understand one of the implications of what being a University means – that it is to do with broadening, widening and deepening; his notion is narrow, shallow even. Quick says he wants nothing to do with “making universities instruments of social policy”; I wonder what the University’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention has to say about that?

Andrew Cole wants to “resist left-wing extremists” and to “not dilute standards of admission'. There is no need to dilute standards. But we did need to change them over the last 30 years, to make them more appropriate for adults with a range of experience in industrial, community, social and family developments.

David Browning

Magdalen College, 1973

Indian Oxonians

It was very disappointing that the list of Famous Indian Oxonians made no mention of Professor Bal D. Tilak (1918-1999), who obtained his DPhil via Queen’s and 20 months in the Dyson Perrins Laboratory in 1946. He was a great patriot, and his father – of whom there is a statute in Pune (Poona) – was one of the early founders and organisers of the independence movement which was continued and later led by Ghandi. He stayed in India despite very attractive offers abroad, and was Director of the National Chemical Laboratory in Pune from 1965-74. He completely changed the emphasis of that laboratory from 100 percent academic research, encouraging his staff to take consultancies and do contract research for industry. This was very successful, enabling the country to be less reliant on chemicals from abroad, and led to a number of valuable patents. He led Government delegations to some countries, and was a member of others. On retirement he founded the Centre for the Application of Science and Technology for Rural Development, which led to the production of cooking stoves which were very economic in fuel use, and water purification methods for rural inhabitants. He received many honours, including the third highest civil honour in India, the Padma Bhusan (which can only be held by one person at a time), for his services to India and his achievements in chemical research.

R M Acheson

Magdalen College, 1942

Free to a Good Home

There have been enormous improvements in Oxford Today in recent years. From humble beginnings it has become a magazine for which one could expect to pay at least £3 on the market – and I get it free. The only sadness is that I must now wait longer for the next issue. My thanks to you all.

Alan G Draper

The Queen's College, 1947

Conscientiously Objecting

I went to Oxford in October 1939 just after war had been declared. In my first week I set out, with some friends, to a meeting, when suddenly the air raid alarm sounded, a new and frightening noise. We hurried back to college thinking there would be a devastating raid, but nothing happened and we got to our meeting. Oxford was never bombed, because we were told German air crews often included Oxford graduates who would not damage their alma mater.

I was called up with the first recruitment summons, but we were allowed to stay and continue our courses. As a lifelong member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) I had registered as a Conscientious Objector. Tribunals were very fair to Quakers COs, respecting their peace testimony and refusal to take part in all outward wars and strife but, understandably, we were open to the accusation of cowardice at times. At one of our college JCR meetings a third-year student stood up and inveighed furiously against COs as “lilylivered cowards who ought to be reviled and punished”. At a church service I attended the preacher exhorted all young people in the congregation to join up and fight for King and country. But the college, the University and people as a whole were outstandingly tolerant and even sympathetic.

All I could do to reconcile my pacifist convictions with my desire to remove Hitler was to work in hospitals and homes for the elderly during vacation and during the blitz. Not very glorious – but marginally useful, I hope. And now, aged nearly 92, I am very grateful to receive the help and affection of my family and of friends – one or two of whom came up with me in October 1939!

Edray Allott

St. Hugh’s College, 1939

Michael Moritz

Thank you for your latest copy of Oxford Today which my husband David and I find so absorbing. Particularly, I am interested in the article on Michael Moritz (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2012, pp. 28–9, and online here), as I knew his father, Alfred, very well when he was in Oxford in the late forties of the last century.

He had digs in Divinity Road at the house of my friend Margaret Hornsey. We spent many happy evenings together, and I remember what an interesting man he was and what a wonderful sense of humour he had. We spent most of the time laughing at his wisecracks. I met Doris once, but then I moved away to Norfolk having married in 1950.

I regretted losing touch with them and often wondered where Alfred was and what he had made of his life. Now I know.

Beryl Rees


Like Andrew Cole I came from modest origins to Hertford – but did not then, and do not now, assume that opportunities to reach Oxford are therefore fair and equal for all, regardless of socio-economic and educational background.

It is surely in Oxford's interests, as well as those of able and well motivated pupils, to encourage applications from all backgrounds and schools, and if necessary support financially those who gain entrance.

Beyond that, it seems important to seek out potential for academic success at Oxford by considering applicants in the round, including not just their high A-level achievements but also the road they have trodden to achieve them. His and my College, and doubtless many other colleges, are putting substantial and increasing time and effort into trying to asses such potential. I hope they will be successful.

Gordon Davy

Hertford College, 1956

Indian Oxonians

India’s first woman barrister was, in fact, Miss Mithan Ardeshir Tata and not Miss Cornelia Sorabji, as mentioned in the Michaelmas Term 2012 issue of Oxford Today. Miss Tata was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in February 1923 and Miss Sorabji was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in June 1923. However, Cornelia Sorabji was the first woman ever to practice law, as a pleader, in a court in India. This was long before women in Britain were allowed to do so practice – a precedent set by Ivy Williams, the first British woman called to the Bar in 1922.

Kusoom Vadgama


Your correspondent Harry Quick completely misses the point I made regarding elitism and the disruption of the boat race. His confusion seems to lie between academic and financial elitism.

Oxford, and other high class universities, exist to create an academic elite and a centre of learning. To achieve and maintain standards requires the selection of the very best students. If financial assistance can be given to our brightest young people from poorer backgrounds – how very welcome is the Moritz donation – we will all benefit from fine minds. Certainly, academic standards should never be compromised, but nor should excellent candidates be frightened away by either cost or the thought that it's 'too posh'. I am not interested in making any university an instrument of social policy, but I am very interested in getting the best possible students.

The man who swam across the boat race had a very different agenda. He mistakenly believed that Oxford and Cambridge provide an education for the financial elite. Happily, he is way behind the times.

Harriet Wilson

Somerville College, 1969

Michael Moritz

John Garth’s piece about Michael Moritz’s gift (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2012, pp. 28–9, and online here) began with a quotation from the donor: “I would not be here today were it not for the generosity of strangers.” I can say the same. In my case those strangers were the ratepayers and the taxpayers of my country, whose contributions enabled me, a boy from a low-income, working class household, to enjoy a university education. I applaud Moritz’s generosity, but I would rather be part of a society in which students from poorer families are supported by the consenting, collective actions of their better-off fellow citizens than one in which they are dependent upon the fortuitous and random philanthropy of super-rich individuals.

John Weeks

Brasenose College, 1967

Degrees For Women

Phillida Bunkle may well be right to suggest that many of the discriminations suffered in the past and currently by women are the result of men having power and being reluctant to give it up. Such generalisations are easy to make but difficult to test. Where she is wrong is in at least one of her facts: it is not true that Oxford was the last university in Britain to allow women to be awarded degrees. Women were admitted to full membership of the University in 1920. A year later, Cambridge voted not to follow suit: it was not until 1948 that women were fully admitted there. This detail may be trivial but unless we are precise about the facts our generalisations cannot be taken as sound.

Jeremy Greenwood

St Catherine's Collge, 1961

Great Dons

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?

Graham Chainey

Exeter, 1965

Lady Thatcher

The decision by the University in 1985 not to award Lady Thatcher an honorary degree now looks even poorer, in the light of the generous tributes that have been paid to her, from all over the world and including many from political opponents. The University’s decision stands in marked contrast to the attitude of Lady Thatcher's old college, which appointed her an honorary fellow. In an interview with the Times on 13th April, its Principal, Dr Prochaska, commented that Lady Thatcher "will come to be seen as one of Oxford's greatest alumni".

Rather than displaying the detachment that one would expect of it, the University seemed concerned mainly about its own interests. According to the Guardian (30 January 1985), “The scale of the Prime Minister's defeat was due to a huge turnout by scientific and medical dons, who rarely take part in academic debates but have been roused by the effects of government economic cuts on their research.”

So what were these “cuts” in research funding? Between 1978-79 and 1984-85, the grants-in-aid provided by Lady Thatcher’s governments to the five Research Councils increased by 93 per cent in cash terms, and by nine per cent in real terms (reply to a Parliamentary question by Mr Brooke, Secretary of State for Education and Science, on 26 February 1985 (Hansard Volume 74, columns 106-107).

Then, as now, alleged “cuts” did not always refer to reductions in funding, but to smaller increases than the recipients hoped for, or felt they deserved.

Having failed to honour Lady Thatcher with an honorary degree, does the University now have any plans to honour her in some other way?

Nicholas Owen

University College, 1961


I grew up in a severely cash-limited working class household in Hackney, inner London. My father worked as a ‘packer’ in the East End rag trade. But my parents did not suffer from the worst form of poverty – namely poverty of aspiration – and in 1962 I won an Exhibition to read Modern History at Oxford. Had anyone suggested that the entrance requirements might be lowered simply because of my socio-economic background I would have been deeply insulted and offended.

Geoffrey Alderman

Lincoln College, 1962

Indian Oxonians

I realise that any list will be incomplete, biased or simply not have the necessary information – but I noted the absence from the list of famous Indian oxonians of my father, Prof. Samuel Mathai, who was a distinguished academic, Secretary of the UGC & Visiting Distinguished Professor at London University & Kansas, USA, ending his career as the Vice-Chancellor of Kerala University. He was at Hertford College from 1937 to 1939.

Manorama Mathai Moss

St Hugh's College, 1958

Sir David Butler

I have been asked by Nuffield College to write a biography of Sir David Butler, the eminent psephologist and historian, who many of you will have seen on television, especially on the late-night general election results programmes between 1950 and 1979. I am having a fascinating time interviewing David, who is now 90 and still lives in Oxford.
I would like to speak to anybody who has interesting recollections of meeting, being taught by, or working with David.
Please email me on or phone 07762 601173.

Michael Crick
(New College, 1978)