The first member of my family to go to university was my uncle Tony Rivett. He was born in 1914 and educated at Hammond’s Grammar School in Swaffham. In those days the school took boarders and both he and his brother Eric attended although the family were living at Wolverton in Buckinghamshire. At the age of 16 Tony was sent to Hailebury School in Hertfordshire as Hammond’s did not have a sixth form. From there he gained entry to Pembroke College in Cambridge. He read Metallurgy; nowadays this is a branch of Materials Science. He graduated in 1935 and this picture shows him on graduation day with my mother (his sister) Joan. He later went on to a career in business before dying at the relatively early age of 57.
The first Degree ceremony that I personally attended took place in October 1958 when my sister Christine took her BA degree. She had passed with a second in English which she had been studying at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford. She was still there spending an extra year doing a Dip Ed to qualify as a school teacher. In fact she has not done very much school teaching during her career although she was for many years a professor of Rhetoric at Calgary University.
My parents went to Oxford for the ceremony as did my father’s sister Olive Anderson. I went too and I suppose I must have sat through the ceremony in the Sheldonian Theatre, but I don’t remember anything about it.
The next Degree ceremony to involve my family took place in 1971. I had been studying history at St Peter’s College Oxford and I also a got a second. Neither my sister nor I can claim to have got an upper second or 2:1 as at Oxford in those days second class degrees were not sub-divided into further classes. The individual papers were marked with the Greek letters alpha, beta, gamma and delta corresponding to First, Second, Third and Fail.
I remember this occasion rather better, but what I have forgotten may be reconstructed from the diary I was keeping at the time.
Friday 10 DECEMBER 1971
A bright and clear day. Dad and I were hoping to catch the 12:20 train to London. Because Dad had a rather long sight test to do at 11 o’clock we did not get to the station until one. I left Dad with the cases and took the car round to the garage in Recorder Road. Dad informed me there was a problem when I got back to the station. A ship had run into the swing bridge at Trowse and all the London trains were being diverted via Lowestoft. We did not want to reach London at rush hour so we decided to drive after all.
I went and reclaimed the car and we filled her up with petrol. The weather couldn’t have been better. We stopped in Attleborough to have lunch at the Rumbing Tum. By the time we had got to Bedford it was dark; from Buckingham to Oxford the continually approaching headlights became rather tiring. We got to the Randolph Hotel at 6 p.m. and I phoned my old landlady Penelope Jepson. The Lounge was occupied by a private reception so we had coffee in the Ox in the Cellar. I collected Penelope and we had dinner at the Randolph; her cats have been in the wars.
Saturday 11 DECEMBER 1971
Another sunny day. It was hot in the hotel last night and Dad did not sleep well. We were woken at 8 with a cup of tea and copy of the Times. We had breakfast at 9:30. We walked across the road to the Ashmolean Museum and saw the Alfred Jewel. Did some shopping in Oxford and then down to the Sheldonian Theatre to spy out the land. Called in at Blackwell’s. Back to the Randolph and had a coffee while we waited for Bill to arrive. (He was still a student and studying at Buckland.) Some wedding guests were there busy getting on each other’s nerves. Bill arrived at noon and I left him with Dad to go to St Peter’s to meet the Dean of Degrees (the chaplain). He told me that I was the only member of college to be receiving my BA that day. I had two glasses of sherry and had my lunch in hall. I sat on the High Table next to Henry Mayr-Harting – he is as talkative as ever. Had tomato juice, pork chop, an apple, cheese and biscuits and all washed down with a glass of beer.
At 2:50 all the degree recipients processed down to the Sheldonian. The ceremony went on rather a long time. Then out for photographs although it was rather dark by then. Bill’s girlfriend Val had arrived by train and Dad took a rather dramatic photo of us all in the Broad with a very colourful sunset. I later turned this into a painting complete with me wearing my BA hood and gown. All four of us went to the Randolph for tea – we had to wait a bit as they were busy so Bill took some more photos. At ten to six we left to return to Norwich after filling up with petrol. It only took 3½ hours to drive home (there were not so many speed limits then and you could do 70 most of the way although there were no dual carriageways on the route). Mum was surprised to have supper with us. They took some photos of me and then we went to bed, home once more.
Coming forward almost forty years Molly and I attended the ceremony at Sheffield at which both our children received their baccalaureate degrees. Polly continued the family tradition of getting a 2:1 in Geography while Peter rather spoilt things by getting a first with distinction in Polish and French. He certainly didn’t get his language ability from me.
Of all the degree ceremonies at which members of my immediate family have been involved I am sure the most impressive was the one at which Peter got his master’s in European Studies from Natolin in Warsaw. The College of Europe was housed in a former residence of the Polish Royal Family, so as you may imagine the surroundings were palatial. The high point of the day was the ball held in the evening. The students are our future top bureaucrats in the EU, so as you may imagine they do not do things by halves! My wife and daughter attended but I stayed in England with our dog Wesley.
MEMORIES OF ACADEMIC LIFE