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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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