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Michaelmas Term 2016 ~ Volume 29 No 1 ~

Oxford’s 27th prime minister But what does Brexit mean for the University? 38 Richard Dawkins

Extending the selfish gene on its 40th anniversary 35 Timothy Garton Ash

Defending free speech at Oxford 31 Felix Yusupov

The Oxonian who assassinated Rasputin

40 years on, the selfish gene has borne fruit, Oxford tops university world rankings says Richard Dawkins

10 News

With a cruise to Mandalay on the Irrawaddy River



Join trip scholar Dr Matthew Walton, Aung San Suu Kyi Research Fellow in Modern Burmese Studies at St Antony’s, on a breath-taking seven night river cruise up the Irrawaddy from Bagan to Mandalay. Along the way there will be specially arranged talks with unique insights into the complex history, religion, and politics of the region, as well as opportunities to explore thousands of temples at Bagan.



EDITOR: Dr Richard Lofthouse DIGITAL EDITOR: Olivia Williams ART EDITOR: Christian Guthier HEAD OF DESIGN AND PUBLICATIONS OFFICE: Anne Brunner-Ellis SUB-EDITOR: John Garth PICTURE EDITOR: Joanna Kay ART DIRECTOR: Paul Chinn


Oxford Today Welcome


Anne Brunner-Ellis, Head of Design and Publications Office, University of Oxford Tom Dyson, Director, Torchbox Liesl Elder, Director of Development, University of Oxford Christine Fairchild, Director of Alumni Relations, University of Oxford Tom Hockaday, technology transfer consultant Nicolette Jones, author and journalist Martin Leeburn, PR consultant and former journalist Seamus Perry, Professor of English Literature, Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford Dr Richard Lofthouse, Editor, Oxford Today Jonathan Ray, Head of Communications, University of Oxford Alan Rusbridger, Principal, Lady Margaret Hall Ceri Thomas, Director of Public Affairs and Communications, University of Oxford Sue Unerman, Chief Strategy Office, MediaCom Dr Helen Wright, Member, Oxford University Alumni Board



The Cherwell River

The University congratulates Theresa May (St. Hugh’s, 1974) on her appointment as Prime Minister. We consider Oxford’s continued dominance of British politics, in respect of the Prime Ministers it has produced, and May’s current Cabinet. We also consider what BREXIT means for the University - an altogether less certain matter. Unbelievably, it is 40 years since Richard Dawkins published The Selfish Gene. The bigger story, told here, is how his original enquiry has been vindicated by new genomic knowledge. It is a matter for even greater celebration that the emeritus fellow of New College has recently triumphed over a minor stroke and published, with former student Yan Wong, a history of universal life, as well as The Extended Selfish Gene. The modern twist is that the OneZoom software developed by James Rosindell allows anyone to view the tree of life, at It is simply incredible. Elsewhere in this issue we consider the future of personal transport and whether the private motor car can be sustainable in any true sense. It isn’t yet – far from it – but could be, argues engineering alumnus and visionary Hugo Spowers, founder of hydrogen car company Riversimple. Timothy Garton Ash defends free speech at Oxford in the wake of the anti-Rhodes protests of the past year; Chris Danziger unearths the tale of Prince Yusupov, a student at Univ who later had a hand in bumping off Rasputin, and Peter Whitfield writes about the history of Oxford in prints. Finally, consider our caption competition on page 61. All details of the competition are online owing to constraints of space, and entries are by email only, please.

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Oxford Today is published in October and April. It is free to Oxford graduates. It is also available on subscription. For further information and to subscribe, contact Janet Avison (see details above). © The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford. The opinions expressed in Oxford Today are those of the contributors, and are not necessarily shared by the University of Oxford. Advertisements are carefully vetted, but the University can take no responsibility for them. All information contained in this magazine is for informational purposes only and is, to the best of our knowledge, correct at the time of going to press. The University of Oxford accepts no responsibility for errors or inaccuracies that occur in such information. If you submit material to this magazine, you automatically grant the University of Oxford a licence to publish your submissions in whole or in part in any edition of this magazine and you grant the University of Oxford a licence to publish your submissions in whole or in part in any format or media throughout the world. Any material you submit is sent at your risk and neither the University of Oxford nor its employees, agents or subcontractors shall be liable for any loss or damage. No part of this magazine may be used or reproduced without the written permission of the University of Oxford. Printed by Headley Brothers, Ashford, Kent.

Michaelmas Term 2016 ~ Volume 29 No 1 ~

Email: Oxfordshire

The text paper in this magazine is chlorine free. The paper manufacturer has been independently certified in accordance with the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council.

EDITOR: Richard Lofthouse



Front cover: Theresa May, July 2016. Credit: Ben Cawthra/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

Oxford’s 27th prime minister But what does Brexit mean for the University? | | 38 Richard Dawkins

Extending the selfish gene on its 40th anniversary


35 Timothy Garton Ash

Defending free speech at Oxford

40 years on, the selfish


Oxford Thinking The Campaign for the University of Oxford

If you left a gift in your will, what brighter future would you create?

The Francis Napier Fund is a legacy that helps students with disabilities advance their education. Sophie Wedlake is a talented fifth year medical student with partial hearing difficulties. Sophie found it challenging to take in the teaching in the noisy hospital environment. With the extra support of the fund, Sophie bought new hearing aids and a new stethoscope, which uses Bluetooth to transmit sound.

"I am now able to participate confidently in bedside teaching at the hospital and I am on an equal footing with other students. This has had an enormous impact on my studies."

Find out how to make a gi-ft in your will or call Caroline Reynolds, Legacies and Projects Officer, on +44 (0)1865 611520

The exquisite square shaped by three deaths, p52

In this issue‌ RICHARD DAWKINS

Your voice 6 Letters

OT digital

9 Web, email & apps

Inside Oxford 10 News

Shaping the world 14 The big picture 17 Research 22 Oxonians


Alumni diary

24 Baroness Shephard


26 Redefining A to B

A new roadmap for sustainable cars?

31 Killing Rasputin

Oxford connection to a momentous murder

35 Why speech must be free Defending the University’s role




38 Gene genius

Dawkins reboots an evolutionary classic

42 Image and ideal Oxford seen through prints

Common room



Etch a sketch


Meet the Oxford student who killed the Mad Monk and hastened a revolution

Prints through the centuries have come to define the University

Win a bottle and a book of evocative Oxford photos by Paddy Summerfield

The assassin | |



49 Books 52 Architecture 55 Music 57 The good sport 59 Food and drink

Oxonian lives 60 Portrait 63 Obituary 66 My Oxford


Your voice Letters

Your voice Letters

We welcome letters for publication, but may edit them to fit. Unless you request otherwise, letters may also appear on our website. Write to us at: Oxford Today, University Offices, Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JD

Brexit and grammar schools


The next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will have to include all the new words that can be formed by adding br to ex: brexcess, brexclude, brexchequer, brexcoriate, brexcuse, brexecrable, brexecute, brexempt, brexercise, brexile, brexistence, brexodus, brexotic. brexpect, brexpedient, brexpel, brexpense, brexperiment, brexpedient, brexpert, brexpletive, brexplode, brexploit, brexpose, brextinct, brextort, brextract, brextreme, brextricate, but not brexpand nor brextrovert. Michael (online) Michaelmas Term 2010 Volume 23 No 1







Why has Oxford produced so many?

OXF01.cover 1

8/10/10 3:37:5 pm

I was so very proud of my University when it declined to award the customary honorary degree to Margaret Thatcher, after her damaging tenure of 10 Downing Street. She will always have the distinction of being the first Oxfordeducated prime minister not to be so honoured. I trust that David Cameron will be the second, on the grounds that he gambled the long-term prospects of the UK and Europe in exchange for his continued occupancy of


No 10. It would have been a bad enough policy if he had won, whereas his defeat makes his decision seem even more foolhardy. David Holdsworth Oriel, 1961

Theresa May’s new cabinet is another Oxford Varsity victory I was shocked by the use of sporting metaphors to describe the changes that have taken place at the top of the Government. Politics is not a game between Oxford and Cambridge, and any allusion to this is offensive both to those who rule and those who are governed. Oxford Today might consider that so many Oxonian ministers and prime ministers are a marker of the University’s success. For others, they are nothing more than a sad indictment of just how inaccessible a career in politics remains, and demonstrate how our ruling classes still come from as narrow a section of society as they did two hundred years ago. Even as an Oxonian and a historian, I found the parochialism of this article alienating and inward-looking. Clare Makepeace St Hugh’s, 1997 As grammar schools are a live political subject, I do think that you should try and be accurate. For most of the life of grammar schools since 1944, failing the 11-plus meant that one went to a Secondary Modern school NOT a Comprehensive School. At a Secondary Modern school

one would not have the opportunity to take the same subjects to the same level as a child at Grammar School. In other words one’s life chances were severely constrained by a formal exam taken at age 10 or 11. Unsurprisingly, many people saw this as grossly unfair and very probably extremely economically stupid in a world where increased skills were required across the workforce. Hence grammar schools, secondary moderns and the comparatively rare technical schools, were largely superseded by comprehensives. Gerry Boyle (online) By the early fifties the educational establishment had decided that the new secondary system was failing even though the first children to start it had not even completed their education. The move towards very large comprehensives started which eventually led to the disappearance of the majority of grammar schools. As someone who benefited greatly from a grammar school education (which led to my reading PPE at Balliol) along with many others from a relatively poor background I have always believed that the destruction of the grammar schools was one of the worst decisions made in Britain in the post war period. David Kingston (online) We so often hear the cry: ‘Bring back the grammar schools!’ How often do we hear the cry: ‘Bring back the secondary moderns!’? There’s a reason for that... David Martin (online)

Cecil Rhodes Wilfred Attenborough’s letter about Cecil Rhodes was mostly very sensible. But the opening sentence stuck in my craw (‘Cecil Rhodes will be a hero to few of the citizens of this country’). As it happens, I am not much given to hero-worship. Worshippers of Gandhi, for example, always seem to me childish. Nor do I care whether many or few agree with me. The few are so often right. But whatever Rhodes’ faults (I prefer people who have faults), I admire his vigorous and visionary life, passed under the constant threat of imminent death. I sympathise with his aims if not always his attitudes. Conversely, I deplore the well-meaning creatures who in effect handed over Southern Rhodesia to Robert Mugabe and, through weakness or ignorance, congratulated themselves on a job well done. However, I remember that in the Boer War most liberals were on the side of the Boers, and I allow myself to smile.

R P Taylor Jesus, 1956

I have not been involved in the Rhodes Must Fall movement and therefore cannot speak for those behind the recent campaign to remove Rhodes’ statue from Oriel College. However, Wilfred Attenborough’s letter in the last issue of Oxford Today compelled me to write. Mr Attenborough makes the analogy that those behind this most recent campaign are like ‘an unrepresentative group... [campaigning] fanatically for the removal of ... reminders of the colonial enslavement of ancient Britons and | |


Letters Your voice

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Anglo-Saxon English’. This comparison is symptomatic of a lack of understanding towards the struggles that Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students face at Oxford University and in universities around the world. Many of these students are the direct descendants of those enslaved, exploited and mistreated in the building of the British Empire. The overwhelming majority will have experience of overt and covert forms of discrimination prevalent in our society. They are confronted with reminders all over the University of a painful colonial legacy which continues to affect their lives (and the lives of their families) on a daily basis. To compare them to a long-dead civilisation which has distant relevance to our modern society is spurious at best. Elinor Landeg St Hilda’s, 2003

The moral complexity of history is a fascinating topic. ‘Rhodes must stay’ (Trinity term 2016) invites a constructive debate about the darker parts of our past we choose to retain, honour, disdain or discard. I offer a suggestion from Thomas Carlyle, that curmudgeonly, eccentric, surprisingly modern (old-fashioned) poet-historian of the Victorian era: ‘History is the essence of innumerable biographies.’ Perhaps it is the more disturbing aspects of Rhodes’ imperialism that makes our politically-correct selves uncomfortable: he invites us to examine (and not project onto others) those parts of our own personae that are the very human, albeit


fatally flawed aspects of our ‘innumerable biographies’. Reynaldo Nera Obed Univ, 1966

Cecil the Lion I read with interest the feature article in Trinity 2016 on Cecil the lion and wish to congratulate Professor Macdonald for the excellent work he and his colleagues are doing for the betterment of wildlife and in particular for the lions of Zimbabwe... I urge the professor to use his good offices to request a total ban and a severe fine for ‘trophy killing’ of wild animals anywhere in Africa.

Dr Y Wickramasinghe Trinity, 1984

John Gray Let us give John Gray his due. He speaks as he finds, that is all. The Quaker academic and writer Wolf Mendl once spoke in the 1974 Swarthmore Lecture of the contrast between two types of people whom he called ‘prophets’ and ‘reconcilers’. John Gray is clearly a prophet, in the Old Testament sense – pinning down with a fierce and analytical eye the shortcomings of his hearers and warning them in no uncertain terms exactly where they are falling down on the job of being human. The question this raises is: what response can we make to this challenge? Can we find a better way? Peter Bolwell Wadham, 1974


transport between Oxford and Cambridge. She suggests a minibus service which would be more ecological than the use of cars. However, a restored rail link would be even more environmentally friendly and would offer a more comfortable and possibly a faster journey. And help is at hand! The old railway line between the two cities was closed on New Year’s day 1968 in the aftermath of the infamous Beeching Cuts. However, great strides are being made to reopen the line as a through route. Oxford to Bicester has been reopened and upgraded, and the section from there to Bletchley is being reinstated. Bletchley to Bedford never closed, but the link from Bedford to Cambridge will be more problematic. Even here, though, a decision is to be made shortly as to exactly which route the line will take. David Alison St Catherine’s, 1959

See online feature:

French intellectuals In 1801 Oxford introduced the idea of class degrees, which was developed into four classes of degree and a pass degree. Were the Grandes Ecoles in France to award class degrees rather than the undifferentiated diplômes, the effect might revolutionise the style of study and reinvigorate French academic thinking. Alexander Hopkinson-Woolley Balliol, 1955

Oxbridge transport Daphne Hampson, in your Trinity 2016 edition, bewails the lack of direct-line public | |


For full versions of these letters and to read further alumni correspondence, visit www.oxfordtoday.

The salvation of France lies in la francophonie. France has to encourage and foster closer links with its former French-speaking colonies, including Québec, just like l’Alliance Française in the 19th and 20th centuries. French and English rivalry is alive and well and French intellectualism and Gallic culture are neither tossed nor sunk. Léon Benbaruk Keble, 1972

Scholar refugees The entries on notable émigrés who studied or taught at Oxford were illuminating, but I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that Leszek Kołakowski had been ‘dismissed from his post in Poland in 1968 on account of his successful debunking of Marxism’. Does that mean that Marxists throughout the world – historians, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, political and social activists alike – have been operating under the delusion all these decades since, that their critical analyses have advanced knowledge and their actions have more often than not made a difference for the better? How is ‘success’ measured in this case? Who decides? Seems to me that the nameless compiler of this particular bio was exercising a bit of legerdemain both uncharacteristic and unworthy of Oxford Today. Lewis Siegelbaum St Antony’s, 1976


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YOUR GUEST SPEAKERS INCLUDE DR STEVE KERSHAW As a Classics Tutor for Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, a lecturer for the V&A, and as leader of the European Studies Classical tour for Rhodes College and the University of the South, Steve has travelled extensively in the world of the Greeks and Romans. He has recently published ‘A Brief History of the Roman Empire’. Steve will be joining ‘MEDITERRANEAN ICONS and the CORINTH CANAL’.

Minerva, Tower Bridge

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PROFESSOR CAROLE HILLENBRAND OBE FBA and PROFESSOR ROBERT HILLENBRAND FBA Carole was educated at Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh Universities. She is Professor Emerita of Islamic History at Edinburgh University and is now Professor of Islamic History at St Andrews University. In 2005, she was awarded the King Faisal International Prize in Islamic Studies, and she has published seven books and many articles. Robert was educated at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He is Professor Emeritus of Fine Art at Edinburgh University and is now Professor of Islamic Art at St Andrews University. He has written nine books, some 170 articles and has taught Islamic art and architecture throughout his career. Robert has published on Mughal architecture as well as earlier Muslim buildings in Rajasthan and the Deccan. Carole and Robert will be joining ‘COLOURS of INDIA and INDOCHINA’.

Chalong Temple, Phuket, Thailand

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1. From South Sea Bubble to Bernie Madoff Chris McKenna talks about the unexpectedly rich subject he’s researching on white-collar crime through the ages. 2. Theresa May Piece about the 27th Oxonian prime minister and her state school and Oxford-dominant Cabinet. 3. Volkswagen Scandal laid bare Who doesn’t want to hear Matthias Holweg explain what really went wrong at VW and why the car maker defrauded the public over emissions?

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5. Oxford’s booming airport It’s now London Oxford Airport, to avoid any confusion, and it’s a gateway for rich people in private jets.

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Inside Oxford News

Inside Oxford

Brexit and Oxford The University has sought to assure existing and incoming EU citizens of their status


he UK’s referendum on EU membership held on 23 June resulted in a vote to leave the European Union, generating immediate concern among non-UK EU citizens at Oxford, who comprise 15% of the University’s student body and 17% of its staff. In a public statement on 24 June, the University reminded everyone that the formal process for leaving the European Union would take at least two years, adding: ‘In the short term, we anticipate no disruption to employment or study.’ On 4 July, the University sought to reassure EU students arriving for the 2016–17 academic year that they would continue to be charged the home rate for tuition fees for all subsequent years of their programme. Where EU students are in receipt of University funding, the University is committed to the provision of this support. Currently 12% of Oxford’s research funding, or £66 million in 2014-15, is from EU sources. While the future of this funding is 10

uncertain, there is no immediate change to the UK university sector’s ability to participate in EU research and innovation programmes, such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+. The Russell Group of UK universities, to which Oxford belongs, has long had a European working group, but its focus has now swung to the implications of the Referendum. Representing Oxford on the group is Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) Professor Ian Walmsley. The Vice-Chancellor addressed a packed audience of University members at the Sheldonian Theatre on 21 July. A variety of concerns and hopes were expressed by the audience, and the ViceChancellor emphasised the need for the University to increase its global outlook. For Oxford’s own contribution to the debate around Brexit – from views of University members on the ‘Leave’ verdict to forwardlooking consideration of legislative and constitutional issues, go to:

Oxford takes top slot in uni rankings In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2016–17, Oxford came first. It is the first time in the thirteen-year history of the rankings that a UK institution has been number one, a position previously held by Harvard and the California Institute of Technology, currently 6th and 2nd respectively. Rankings editor Phil Baty notes that Oxford has made ‘modest but significant improvements across the board’, adding that a change in database partner had added half a million books to the citation impact analysis, and that this may have helped Oxford due to its strength in this area. Oxford’s reported income and number of international faculty also rose. Oxford Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson said, ‘This wonderful news recognises the extraordinary talent and dedication of all who work and study at Oxford. We are delighted with this affirmation of our global success and will be working hard to maintain our position.’ In last year’s rankings Oxford was second, and in the year before it was third. It has always been in the top ten and always slightly ahead of Cambridge, now in 4th place. Apart from Oxford, Baty noted that the rest of the UK is ‘stagnating’. Asked about Brexit impact, Baty noted that all the data for the assessment pre-dated the referendum vote on 23 June, adding ‘there is no question that Brexit casts a shadow over the sector.’ OXFORD UNIVERSITY IMAGES/WHITAKER STUDIO



Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2016-17 2 016–17 2015–16 1 2 2 1 3 3 4 4 5 5 6 6 7 7 8 8 9 9 =10 13 =10 10

University of Oxford California Institute of Technology Stanford University University of Cambridge Massachusetts Institute of Technology Harvard University Princeton University Imperial College London ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich University of California, Berkeley University of Chicago | |



News Inside Oxford

Oxford’s 27thprime minister UK HOME OFFICE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The recently appointed British Prime Minister studied geography at St Hugh’s College


he Prime Minister, Theresa May, is an alumna of the University, having read Geography at St Hugh’s, matriculating in 1974. She is the 27th Oxonian prime minister, her three immediate predecessors being David Cameron (Brasenose, 1988, PPE); Tony Blair (St John’s, 1972, Law) and Margaret Thatcher (Somerville, 1943, Chemistry). She is Britain’s second female prime minister. May’s Cabinet includes six further Oxonian ministers appointed in July, following the Referendum on EU membership held on June 23. They are: Philip Hammond (Univ, 1974, PPE); Boris Johnson (Balliol, 1983, Classics); Damian Green (Balliol, 1974, PPE); Jeremy Hunt (Magdalen, 1985, PPE); Liz Truss (Merton, 1993, PPE) and David Gauke (St Edmund Hall, 1990, Law). Much has already been said about the meritocratic nature of the talent represented in May’s Cabinet, dubbed by some ‘May’s state-school Cabinet’. Of the seven Oxonian ministers now in government, five went to state school, the two exceptions being Johnson and Hunt. Two have local connections to Oxford: Truss, the Justice Minister, was born there, while May partly grew up in nearby Wheatley, the village where her father was vicar. May’s appointment adds to a rich history of Oxonian Prime Ministers stretching all the way back to Spencer Compton (Trinity, 1690), who was briefly Prime Minister in 1742–3. Cambridge has produced 14 prime ministers to Oxford’s 27. If this contest morphed into the boat race, Oxford would be ahead by several lengths and still pulling away. Varsity tongue-in-cheek aside, there are historical reasons that may explain why Oxford has dominated British politics. One reason the current Prime Minister would approve of, is geography. Historically there was a magic corridor of power and patronage at a time when the River Thames was the watery equivalent of the M40: it threw a westward trajectory of royal patronage, which spread from St James’s Palace to Christ Church. Another answer is Oxford’s excelling in law and classics and history. Finally and controversially, there is the role of the Oxford Debating Union – although it must be said that as many Oxford Prime Ministers had nothing to do with the Union as embraced it. Theresa May’s husband Philip (Lincoln, 1976) was President of the Union in 1979. | |

The other notable Oxford themes of May’s Cabinet are the continuing dominance of Balliol College (Johnson and Green); but more so the dominance of PPE, or Politics, Philosophy and Economics, (Hammond, Green, Hunt and Truss). Often imitated but seldom equaled, this curio degree emerged at Balliol in the 1920s, its author and principal champion Alexander Lindsay (Master of Balliol, 1924–49). Six out of nine Oxonian Ministers in David Cameron’s first Cabinet were also PPE-ists, so this subject is on a roll. The greatest disappointment is no historians, (although Home Secretary Amber Rudd read history at Edinburgh, and Philip May was an historian). May’s second class degree (at a time when the second class wasn’t sub-divided) puts her in good company – Thatcher, Heath and Blair all earned second-class degrees. Of the schools attended by the new Oxonian ministers, May’s is noteworthy for having been at the time a surviving grammar school, Holton Park Girls. Today a secondary school Academy, it shed its grammar status while May was a pupil. Following May’s appointment as Prime Minister, a news story circulated that she was considering lifting a ban on new grammar schools dating back to the Labour party government led by Tony Blair. Grammar schools are state schools which select their pupils on the basis of academic ability, and have recently been the object of fierce debate among Oxford alumni on the Oxford Today website. @oxtoday

Theresa May: Oxford has produced 27 prime ministers to Cambridge’s 14

ONLINE For the full story and online comment see: pmcabinet


Inside Oxford News

Andrew Wiles twice honoured Sir Andrew Wiles, Royal Society Research Professor of Mathematics and fellow of Merton College, received the top international prize for mathematics, the Abel Prize, ‘for his stunning proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem by way of the modularity conjecture for semistable elliptic curves, opening a new era in number theory’. This 2015 portrait of him was recently unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery.


In May, HRH the Duke of Cambridge visited the University to open formally the home of the Blavatnik School of Government. He also unveiled a plaque to mark the redevelopment of the Bodleian’s Weston Library (where he is pictured above with Bodley’s Librarian Richard Ovenden, and Senior Book Conservator Sabina Pugh) and visited students at Magdalen, where he opened the new Longwall Library. Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University, said: ‘We are delighted that the Duke has been able to visit Oxford today to see some of our most ancient libraries as they are redeveloped for the 21st century, as well as our newest School in its wonderful futuristic building. The challenges facing the world today require sound public policy, good governance and creative thinking if they are to be tackled successfully. Thanks to the generosity of Mr Leonard Blavatnik, new generations of smart and ambitious students from around the world will receive the academic, professional and practical education necessary to improve public policy and global governance.’


Prince William visits Oxford




Merton charms the bees Following a ‘bee summit’ held at the University in April, Merton has announced that it will actively manage Music Meadow and Great Meadow, the area near St Catherine’s College, to increase biodiversity. Merton head gardener Lucille Savin explained that the college would cultivate a wildflower meadow and a copse of Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) with an anticipated lifespan of 300 years. Left to right: Susan Thomas, Joseph Ssentongo, Rafat Ali Al-Akhali, Dr Thomas Hale, The Duke of Cambridge, Dean Ngaire Woods

12 | |


News Inside Oxford



Queen’s Birthday Honours


Nine honorary degrees were conferred by the Chancellor of the University, Lord Patten of Barnes, at Encaenia on 22 June 2016.

Above from left: Doctor of Music, honoris causa: Mr Arvo Pärt, composer. Doctor of Science: Sir Jonathan Ive, Chief Design Officer of Apple. Doctor of Civil Law: Professor Kazuyo Sejima, architect. Doctor of Civil Law: The Right Hon the Lord Mance, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. Doctor of Science: Dr Cornelia Bargmann, neurobiologist.

Doctor of Divinity: Monsignor Professor Tomáš Halík, priest, philosopher and theologian. Doctor of Civil Law: Professor Paul Krugman, economist, author and columnist.


Doctor of Science: Professor Mildred Dresselhaus, physicist.

Head of House

Doctor of Civil Law: Mr Pedro Almodóvar film director

2016 Distinguished Friends of Oxford

Recipients were honoured on 18 June in a ceremony at Harris Manchester College

Eight volunteers have been recognised for their exceptional contributions to Oxford in a ceremony on Saturday 18 June held at Harris Manchester College. Presented by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, each recipient received an award for making an enduring contribution to the University. This year, the recipients included Ms Shahnaz Batmanghelidj (Somerville College, 1975),

Dr Frances Lannon, who last year retired after serving as Principal of Lady Margaret Hall for 13 years, has been made a Dame of the British Empire for services to higher education. Professor David Clary, President of Magdalen College and Professor of Chemistry, was knighted for services to international science. Professor Roger Scruton, Senior Research Fellow at Blackfriars Hall and Visiting Professor in Philosophy at the University, was knighted for services to philosophy teaching and public education. Dr Larry Siedentop, Emeritus Fellow of Keble College, was knighted for services to political science. Professor Maggie Snowling, President of St John’s College and Professor of Psychology, was appointed CBE for services to science and the understanding of dyslexia. Professor Georgina Born, Professor of Music and Anthropology and Professorial Fellow of Mansfield College, was appointed OBE for services to musicology, anthropology and higher education. Professor Edward Melhuish, research professor at both the University of Oxford and Birkbeck, University of London, was appointed OBE for services to social science. Mr David Palfreyman, the Bursar of New College, was appointed OBE for services to higher education.

Mr Michael G McCaffery (Merton, 1975), Mr Gabriel Moss QC (St. Catherine’s, 1968), Dr Jin Park (St Antony’s), Professor Nicholas Steneck, Mrs Terry Slesinski-Wykowski (Pembroke, 1982), Mrs Nancy Brown (Somerville, 1980), and Dr Tan Yang (Templeton, 2005). Photos and further details at: | |


Carole Souter, Chief Executive of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and Heritage Lottery Fund, took up post as Master of St Cross College.

Senior administrative appointments Humanities Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Principal (Education) and Professor of English Literature at King’s College London was appointed Head of the Humanities Division.

Academic registrar Emma Potts, Director of Student Administration and Services at Oxford, was appointed Academic Registrar with effect from January 2016. She will continue as a fellow of Kellogg College.

Oxford Martin School Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, was appointed Director of the Oxford Martin School.

Public affairs and communications Ceri Thomas, Editor of the BBC’s Panorama programme, was appointed Director of Public Affairs and Communications. A full version of honours, awards and appointments can be found at


Shaping the world Orchid cuckoo bee

The big picture

Orchid Cuckoo Bee This Brazilian bee (Exaerete frontalis) is one of the most spectacular in the world, in respect of its size, colour and behaviour. Instead of collecting pollen and constructing their own nests, females trespass in other bees’ nests and lay their eggs in the host’s brood cells. This particular image features alongside the actual specimen at an exhibition in the University’s Museum of Natural History, called Microsculpture: The Insect Photography of Levon Biss, which runs until 30 October. The exhibition displays examples from the Museum’s insect collection alongside giant photographic prints showing the same insects, up to three metres across. A huge transformation of scale captures the microscopic form of insects in ultra-high resolution. The bee image was created using more than 8,000 individual microscope photographs. The entomology collection of the Museum includes thousands of insects collected by Victorian explorers, including Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.



Orchid cuckoo bee Shaping the world | |



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Research Shaping the world

Friends in need



Research Massive number-crunching of six billion phone records uncovers the patterns of sociability that rule our lives


ow many friends do you have? Professor Robin Dunbar, from the Department of Experimental Psychology, probably knows. He famously found that humans maintain relationships with 100 to 230 people, and typically around 150. It’s been seen in ancient army units and companies – but there’s now more modern data to prove it. Dunbar’s analysis breaks social groups into layers: people have five ultra-close friends, 10 cozy companions, 35 at more distance, then 100 in an outer circle. Dr Pádraig Mac Carron, from Dunbar’s research group, has investigated those numbers by studying six billion phone call records made by 35 million people. Using the frequency of calls between people as a measure of closeness, he clustered the data to predict real-life layers. The data shows 4.1 friends in the first layer, 6.9 in the next, then

18.8, and 99.1. ‘Those numbers are smaller than theory because you don’t call everyone you’re friends with,’ explains Mac Carron. Interestingly, the results show that many people have slightly fewer than five close friends, but a small number of outliers have as many as 20, dragging up the average. Another study from Dunbar’s group shows that people with larger social groups have a higher tolerance for pain. Katerina Johnson had participants perform a wall-sit, a (painful) squat against a wall. Irrespective of fitness level, she found that people who hold the position for longer tend to have larger social groups. ‘Endorphins serve as our body’s natural painkillers, but some studies also suggest they help ease social pain when we become disconnected and reward us when we interact,’ explains Johnson. ‘This may ensure that we seek social company and stay close to others.’ | |


In October 2015, Islamic State destroyed the Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, Syria. Now, the Oxford-based Institute for Digital Archaeology – a joint venture between Harvard, Oxford, and Dubai’s Museum of the Future – has built a two-thirds scale model. Photos were used to create 3D models and then the replica, with a final arch in Egyptian marble. The 11-tonne monument is being displayed in Trafalgar Square and in New York and Dubai. Ultimately it will stand in Palmyra as a tribute to those who lost their lives there last year. See how the arch was built: SHUTTERSTOCK


Rebuilding Syria’s fallen history

New research suggests that the more friends you have, the higher your tolerance of pain

Bubbling up


Read the papers: PhoneFriends PainFriends

Researchers from the Institute of Biomedical Engineering have created a drink containing millions of microscopic oxygen bubbles to boost the efficacy of cancer treatments. The blood vessels in tumours grow tortuously and are difficult for drugs to penetrate. Previous research has shown oxygenation can help chemotherapy and radiotherapy kill tumours more efficiently. Professor Eleanor Stride’s Oxford team believes the oxygenated drink could provide the same effect while cutting the side effects of other approaches.


Inspiring young minds!

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Research Shaping the world


Counting killer cats Rigorous new technique reveals data critical for survival of endangered species estimating population sizes at small scales. This approach involves photographing animals in the wild, then identifying them based on the patterning of their coat. The unique identification and location data are fed into a statistical model of large-cat ecology, allowing the team to determine where the centres of activity of different animals lie. ‘The statistical model ensures that we don’t over-count resident animals, and takes into account that some may have been missed during sampling,’ he explains. ‘It more realistically mimics biology on the ground.’ Working with Kenya Wildlife Trust, the team applied the technique to cheetah numbers in the Maasai Mara. The results suggest that there are only 30 of the big cats across the entire park – about half of previous estimates.

Tale of two greenhouse gases There may be a better way to measure methane’s impact on climate change. Currently, climate scientists consider the effects of the gas by directly comparing it to carbon dioxide. But while methane is more potent than CO2, it dissipates over time while the latter accumulates. That means the importance of reducing the emissions of each gas varies by timescale. In Nature, researchers from

the Environmental Change Institute suggest that a new metric, which predicts temperature rises based on emissions of a metric tonne of a specific gas, could take those timescales into account. It could allow policy makers to determine more effectively where emissions priorities ought to be focused. Read the paper: SHUTTERSTOCK


t’s hard to spot large cats in the wild: they’re rare, camouflaged, and keep themselves to themselves. That’s problematic for conservation organisations which need to know their numbers, but researchers from the University’s Department of Zoology have developed a new way to keep tabs on the creatures. Dr Arjun Gopalaswamy led on a paper last year identifying serious flaws in the most common technique used to estimate population sizes of large cats at regional scales. He found that the technique, which uses accurate smallscale surveys to build a model that can extrapolate the data over larger areas, may provide erratic results. ‘The model can report an increase in wildlife abundance, but it may not be true,’ says Gopalaswamy. ‘At different locations and different times we observe more animals not because there are more, but because they may become easier to count.’ He and his team have devised a more accurate method for


Read the paper:

Aye, robot


Oxford academics have developed a way to stop artificial intelligence systems from breaking rank. Many artificial intelligence (AI) devices learn through reinforcement: when they complete a task properly, they’re rewarded. But like us, they learn to avoid interruptions in order to receive that reward – even if it involves ignoring human commands. Now, researchers from the Future of Humanity Institute and Google Deepmind have developed a framework to maintain the upper hand. Their research suggests that it is possible to ensure machines do not learn to avoid such interruptions. This makes it feasible to create AIs where an ‘off’ button can always work – ensuring AI doesn’t circumvent human control. Read the paper: | |





Shaping the world Research


Mind over matter

London’s oldest texts decoded

Research from the Department of Psychiatry shows mindfulness can prevent recurrence of depression as effectively as some antidepressants. The largest meta-analysis so far shows 38% of people receiving Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy had a depressive relapse within 60 weeks, compared to 49% of people not receiving it. Those who received MBCT were also 23% less likely to relapse into major depression than those who simply took antidepressants. ‘Mindfulness is not a panacea, but it does offer those with a history of depression a new approach to staying well in the long term,’ says Professor Willem Kuyken.


Read the paper:

Fish face A species of tropical fish can distinguish between human faces, according to researchers from the Department of Zoology. In a series of experiments, the team found that archerfish – studied because they are able to provide clear feedback by spitting jets of water – can learn and recognise human faces. First trained to choose one of two faces using their jets, the fish were then presented with a familiar face and a series of unfamiliar ones. In tests, they discriminated the face they had initially learned to recognise, reaching an average peak performance of 86%. ‘The fact that archerfish can learn this task suggests that complicated brains are not necessarily needed to recognise human faces,’ explains Dr Cait Newport. Read the paper:


Preserved in the silt of a lost river, ancient wooden panels yield up vivid details of forgotten lives from Roman Britain


hen construction workers tore down a 1950s office block in London to build new headquarters for Bloomberg, archaeologists were exceptionally excited. Their optimism, based on items revealed in the area during post-war regeneration, was rewarded: amongst the artefacts recovered were the oldest handwritten documents ever unearthed in the UK. These tablets are panels of fir wood, once coated in wax, upon which were incised words and sentences. Perhaps counterintuitively, the sodden mud in which they sat – the sediment of the lost river Walbrook – preserved them. Amazingly, many panels were in good enough condition for Dr Roger Tomlin, from the University’s Faculty of Classics, to inspect and read. Using high-resolution photography and a binocular microscope, Tomlin was able to distinguish between the

deliberate incisions and the mere damage, and painstakingly to piece together letter-forms, words, and sentences. ‘The tablets provide interesting glimpses of the very early history of London,’ explains Tomlin. ‘Perhaps the most important is a formal acknowledgement dated 8 January 57 AD, in which an ex-slave called Tibullus writes to another called Gratus that he owes him 105 denarii in respect of goods sold and delivered. It is the City of London’s earliest financial document. ‘Historically the most important, although less well-preserved, is a contract dated 21 October 62 AD, for the transport of twenty loads of provisions from Verulamium (St Albans) to London by 13 November,’ says Tomlin. ‘Since both cities had been destroyed by Boudica in 61 or 60 AD, with the loss of 70,000 lives according to Tacitus, this is striking evidence of quick recovery.’

Photo: Roger Tomlin examines one of the Bloomberg tablets


Read the paper: | |


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Shaping the world Oxonians



Fox chases rabbit (and pangolin) Justin Fox

Brasenose, 1991

When DPhil graduate Justin Fox set off to find some of southern Africa’s rarest creatures, he was motivated by childhood animal stories, family trips to national parks in his native South Africa, and a long-standing dream. ‘Even as a child I would always be looking for the pangolin,’ he says. Douglas Adams’ Last Chance to See – a search for endangered animals – reawoke the urge. With a shortlist including pangolin, Cape mountain leopard, aardvark and white lion, Fox set off to find the riverine rabbit – Africa’s most endangered mammal. Giving himself a month for each animal, he spotted four and a half – the latter a Cape mountain leopard seen by his companion, but which slunk behind a rock before Fox could glimpse it. ‘The riverine rabbit – that sighting was


just so unlikely,’ he says. After weeks of fruitless night hunts, one of these elusive creatures simply popped up by the roadside as Fox was about to head home. ‘It looks just like any old bunny; it was massively disappointing at first glance,’ he laughs. ‘But it had very pretty eyes and a charming, almost smiling mouth and a fine auburn colour, so you gradually start to get seduced by its charms.’ With the book now published – The Impossible Five – Fox hopes to reinvent the animal quest for younger readers, and to seek out another five creatures, such as the king cheetah or the Kalahari’s black-footed cat. ‘The thing I took away from the three years trying to chase these animals was that they are totem figures for the fragility of our ecosystem. They are part of something so threatened, and something it’s so important to preserve.’

Writer Justin Fox’s search for the rarest of the rare was sparked by a passion for African wildlife stemming from childhood | |


Oxonians Shaping the world


Criminal intent

Game of Cabinets

St John’s, 2000 In the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, history graduate Tom Gash analysed crime issues for political decision-makers. His book Criminal: The Truth About Why People Do Bad Things (Allen Lane) dispels popular myths. ‘I assumed poverty was a big driver,’ he admits. ‘But most crime isn’t rational; it’s not about economic need.’ Rather than harsher sentences, Gash – now a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Government and a Visiting Fellow at LSE’s Mannheim Centre for Criminology – believes in reducing temptation. Late-night crime can be cut at taxi ranks by providing more taxis. ‘When you look at how and why situations occur, it’s easier to see surprisingly simple solutions.’

Megan Sclater


Kellogg, 2011

Rowntree Reform Trust, Fantasy Frontbench has been nominated for an Open Data Award. The team is bursting with plans for the future. ‘We’ve got ideas for new educational tools aimed at schools, then there’s the Scottish and Welsh elections, plus the possibility of changing the format for future American elections’.

Fantasy Frontbench, devised by Megan Sclater, aims to make political data both accessible and appealing

Whisky a-go-go Beanie Espey Oriel, 2000

Not many 11-year-olds would choose Scotch whisky as the topic of a school project, but Beanie Espey’s father James contributed to the creation and development of brands such as J&B Rare, Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal. ‘I had always found the intricacy and craftsmanship of the whisky industry really fascinating,’ she says, ‘although my choice of subject did raise a few eyebrows!’ Beanie read modern languages and until two years ago was working for L’Oréal in Hong Kong and running her own marketing agency. Having completed the Wine and Spirits Trust accreditation, she returned to London as a marketing consultant for clients including The

Last Drop Distillers, co-founded by her father. Now she is its sales and marketing director. With co-founder Tom Jago, her father sources whiskies still lying in casks in Scottish and European distilleries because they did not match the industry strategy of the moment. ‘They felt there would be a market among connoisseurs for these very old, rare spirits that were not mass-produced,’ says Espey. | |


Coral conservation TOBY SAWDAY

Approached to develop a website making political information more accessible, Megan Sclater – who read sociology and politics at Newcastle University and material anthropology as a post-grad at Kellogg – saw it as a perfect fit. ‘We now have a team of eight volunteers working on Fantasy Frontbench, and it all stemmed from the idea of attracting young people and those not normally interested in politics,’ says Sclater, who works as a press officer for Zaha Hadid Architects as her day job. To present public information in a more engaging way, the team borrowed the popular concept of fantasy football. ‘When putting together your political dream-team, the site reveals where they stood previously on issues such as tuition fees or gay marriage,’ she explains. ‘It’s very absorbing. You can experiment with putting together an all-female Cabinet, for example.’ With a grant from the Joseph

Tom Gash

After working in the Far East for L’Óreal, Beanie Espey has returned to the family fold with her marketing expertise

Alasdair Harris Mansfield, 2002 Alasdair Harris set up marine conservation organisation Blue Ventures with fellow graduate student Tom Savage while still at Mansfield, commercialising marine research trips to fund Indian Ocean conservation efforts. It recently won the £910,000 Skoll Award for social entrepreneurship. In Madagascar it persuaded coastal communities to boost octopus yields by closing small areas of coral reef on rotation. Now it also supports networks of women community health workers serving around 25,000 people, with big improvements in fertility planning. Harris hopes to scale up its health and conservation schemes across the western Indian Ocean.


Alumni diary Baroness Shephard on BREXIT

Alumni diary

Resources and events

On Brexit, Oxford and a life in politics The retiring Chair of the Alumni Board and Oxford alumna Baroness Shephard of Northwold speaks to Guy Collender in a wide-ranging interview spanning her hopes for Oxford and the implications of Brexit for UK universities


s a former Secretary of State for Education, Baroness (Gillian) Shephard is no stranger to fast-paced politics, but even she has been surprised by the speed of dramatic developments at Westminster this summer. ‘I was always sure that Leave would win the EU referendum, and was deeply apprehensive of the leadership vacuum at the top of government which would inevitably follow’, says Shephard. ‘Fortunately the whole question was rapidly settled, with the appointment of Theresa May. While the underlying anxieties remain, in Theresa we have someone with the wisdom, experience, toughness and application needed right now. Yet again, an Oxford alumna has made history. She was by far the best and most convincing candidate, and I wish her all the luck in the world.’ Regarding Brexit, Shephard – a Remain voter – is concerned about the ‘fallout’ caused by the EU referendum. ‘I think there will be a diminution of trust in the political process as a result, unless those who led the Leave campaign deliver on the promises that they made,’ she adds. She anticipates that both the Conservative and Labour parties will take time to recover their confidence. But she also sees a silver lining, suggesting that there could be interest in more ‘coalition-type arrangements’ in future. Shephard adds: ‘If, as a result of the huge upset we are just currently seeing in British politics, there is more collaboration, I think it would be welcomed by the electorate.’ Similarly, she is not completely disheartened by the implications of Brexit for universities, although it points towards less funding and fewer opportunities for students to share experiences in Europe. Shephard is positive that scholarship, including international work beyond Europe, will ‘triumph in the end’. The views of voters are never far from Shephard’s mind (she mentions the ‘doorstep’ repeatedly) and her intuition helps explain her success as a politician. Gillian Shephard became an MP for South West Norfolk in 1987, joined the Cabinet only five years 24

Opposite: Baroness Shephard with Lord Patten, Chancellor of the University


To listen to a podcast interview with Baroness Shephard visit

later as Secretary of State for Employment and the first Minister for Women’s Issues, and was elevated to the House of Lords in 2005. She fondly recalls the creativity of formulating new policies and legislation, and working with colleagues, and also remembers the 18-hour days and hectic schedules that left little time for reflection. Of all her years involved in politics, she regards the years of the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition (2010– 2015) as particularly rewarding and interesting. She says: ‘I greatly valued the rough edges being knocked off some of the government’s policies by the coalition partners. It was a good period.’ Our conversation takes place, appropriately, on a red leather bench in the House of Lords only days after the controversial EU referendum. With the division bell ringing in the background and parliamentarians greeting her as they hurry down the corridor, the experienced and accomplished Tory peer is very much in her element. One of her other favourite places is undoubtedly Oxford. She credits studying French at St Hilda’s as an undergraduate from 1958 to 1961, with broadening her horizons in unimaginable ways following her upbringing in rural Norfolk. Singing in choirs, attending concerts, and forging lifelong friendships, Shephard made the most of her time at the University. She says: ‘Going to Oxford transformed my life in a way that I could not have believed possible. It was everything I hoped for and much more.’ Her career developed rapidly after leaving Oxford, and not only towards national politics. She was a schoolteacher for a couple of years, became a senior schools inspector and education administrator, and also worked as a lecturer for the Workers’ Educational Association. After marrying in 1975, she worked for Anglia Television, became a senior county councillor in Norfolk, a justice of the peace, a Mental Health Act commissioner, and chair of her local health authority. Today, her strong links with | |


Baroness Shephard on BREXIT Alumni diary



Careers in advertising 10 November 2016, 6.30–9.30pm, BNY Mellon, Queen Victoria Street, London Join fellow Oxonians and a panel of experts from multinational and independent advertising agencies to find out how to get ahead in advertising. From current trends to the implications of emerging technologies, this event will provide an exclusive opportunity to share ideas and make connections while enjoying refreshments, canapés and a wonderful view over the Thames.

Fed power: the politics of central banks after the US presidential election 17 November 2016, 6.30–9.30pm, Oxford and Cambridge Club, Pall Mall, London

education remain. Until 2015 she was chair of the Council of the Institute of Education. Today, she is a visiting professor at King’s College London. In 2009 Shephard became Chair of the University’s Alumni Board – a position from which she has just retired. Her time at the helm has seen the Alumni Weekend grow from strength to strength, and other alumni relations activities expand into online mentoring and professional networking events. Christine Fairchild, Director of Alumni Relations at the University, says: ‘It has been an honour to work with Baroness Shephard. She has led the Alumni Board with a steady hand and a clear and experienced eye over these last few years. Much of what we have accomplished can be attributed to the support and guidance we have received from the Board under Gillian’s thoughtful leadership. Her dedication and commitment along with her delightful sense of humour have made working with Gillian an absolute joy. We’ve all benefitted.’ Baroness Shephard commented: ‘Chairing the Alumni Board has been enjoyable and worthwhile, and has given me yet another insight into the great institution that is Oxford. To Christine Fairchild, and my successor, Nick Segal, I send best wishes and thanks for all their dedicated hard work.’ Guy Collender (Keble, 1998) is Deputy Director of Alumni Relations. The new chair of the Alumni Board is Nick Segal (St Peter’s, 1976). Alumni recently invited to join the Alumni Board are James Dancer (Keble, 1994), Baroness Jay of Paddington (Somerville, 1958), Corinne Pluchino (Christ Church, 1991), and Amanda Pullinger (Brasenose, 1984). | |

Curriculum Vitae 1958–1961 Modern Languages at St Hilda’s 1963–1975 School teacher, senior schools inspector and education administrator, lecturer for the Workers’ Educational Association 1975 Senior county councillor, JP, Mental Health Act commissioner and health authority chair 1987–2005 MP for South West Norfolk 1990–1992 Minister of State at the Treasury 1992–1993 Secretary of State for Employment and UK’s first Minister for Women’s Issues 1993–1994 Secretary of State for Agriculture 1994–1995 Secretary of State for Education 1995–1997 Secretary of State for Education and Employment 2005 Elevated to the House of Lords 2013–2016 Deputy Chair, Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission 2016 Visiting Professor, King’s College London Policy Unit


Find out what the new US administration will mean for the Fed, and if the US could be heading into the next financial crisis without an effective central bank. Listen to Professor Desmond King, Andrew W Mellon Professor of American Government at Nuffield College, and coauthor Professor Lawrence Jacobs, University of Minnesota, as they explore the themes of their book Fed Power: How Finance Wins.

Alumni Weekend in Asia 24-26 March 2017, Singapore Meet alumni and University academics in the beautiful garden city for a thoughtprovoking programme, college events, a black-tie University gala dinner, and Sunday brunch. Hosted in Singapore, the second Alumni Weekend in Asia will be preceded by receptions in Hong Kong on 22 and 23 March. For more details, visit:

Please visit for the most up-to-date information about the professional networking events.


Feature Hydrogen cars


A to B

Richard Lofthouse goes for a futuristic spin with a man who claims he has a new roadmap for building the environmentally sustainable car


ou know when you’ve been in the company of a visionary, because clever words are uttered that have to be discreetly looked up later. Today’s word is pessimise, its guardian Hugo Spowers (Oriel, 1978). He stops me in my tracks by saying, ‘If you optimise the parts, you risk pessimising the whole…’ The OED classifies the verb pessimise as rare, and says that it means making the worst of something. Nothing could be further from mind in the company of Spowers, however. Originally an engineering graduate from Oxford, he oozes ebullience and energy, with a shock of untidy hair and sparky bright blue eyes. He’s on a mission to change how we get from A to B sustainably, and believes that the entire car industry needs overhauling. As Einstein is reputed to have said, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. I’ve just arrived at Spowers’ company, called Riversimple, in a modern unit on the edge of an industrial park in Llandrindod Wells, Wales. The location reflects a grant from the Welsh government, whose role a grateful Spowers describes in glowing terms. We’ve climbed into a very pretty, very futuristic car called the Rasa (after tabula rasa) and Spowers is talking nineteen to the dozen as he flicks a switch, at which point a compressor whooshes up, sounding like a miniature jet engine. Then we each pull down an exotic gull-wing door, which clicks shut before the Rasa pulls away powerfully with a gentle whirring noise into country lanes and May sunshine. The Rasa, Spowers claims, is the most eco-friendly car in the world, owing to its tiny weight, remarkable lack of drag and ultra-efficient powertrain – all the components delivering power to the wheels. Avoiding the internal combustion engine and bypassing heavy batteries, the car weighs just 580kg and extracts electricity from hydrogen in a fuel cell, sending it to

supercapacitors that deliver the energy directly to four in-wheel electric motors. Behind Spowers is an impressive team of designers and engineers drawn from top car companies, from Formula 1 and from aviation. Chris Reitz, who designed the Rasa, also designed the Fiat 500. For now, there is just this single working prototype Rasa that we’re driving in, but a crowdfunding campaign is under way and a beta-trial of 20 cars is planned for next year, ahead of a more ambitious manufacturing goal. The first impression of the car, pure and simple, is not of an eco-statement but of an incredibly nimble, fleet-footed craft reminiscent of a Lotus, whose founder Colin Chapman had one mantra: ‘Simplify, then add lightness.’ The connection turns out to be real – Spowers’ own career began in motorsport, and one of the current team members once worked with Chapman at Lotus. ‘The car is not an eco-car aimed at Greens because it is green,’ enthuses Spowers. ‘The car is aimed at everyone.’ And yet Riversimple’s declared purpose as a company is ‘to pursue, systematically, the elimination of the environmental impact of personal transport’. Spowers admits to another fundamental influence behind the Rasa – Amory Lovins (Magdalen, 1967) the highly influential American physicist who was a junior research fellow at Merton in 1969 and went on to found the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado. Lovins published the 1994 blueprint for what he termed a hypercar. This vehicle would have ultra-light construction with an aerodynamic body using advanced composite materials, low-drag design, and hybrid drive, and it would be three to five times more efficient than a conventional car. Honda’s 1999 Insight, Volkswagen’s 2013 dieselhybrid XL1 (both to which the Rasa bears some resemblance) and BMW’s electric i3 all contain

‘The car is not an eco-car aimed at Greens; the car is aimed at everyone’


Hugo Spowers believes the ‘whole-system’ thinking behind the hydrogenpowered Rasa gives it a decisive edge over rivals | |



elements of the hypercar. Spowers’ Rasa, however, is lighter than both and far more revolutionary, owing to its hydrogen-sipping fuel cell. Instead of storing electricity in batteries, fuel-cell vehicles generate electricity by converting hydrogen and oxygen into energy at the point of need. This reaction produces no air pollution and no global warming pollution – only water. This absence of emissions at the point of use is one reason why many sages in the car industry think hydrogen is the ultimate destination for cars – though the production of hydrogen is more complex (see sidebar on page 28). Other advantages include fill-ups that are for practical purposes no different from the existing forecourt routine – you roll up at a pump and connect a hose for about three minutes. It has a driving range from one tank comparable to a petrol car today and therefore superior to any electric car. There are already two fuel-cell vehicles on sale today, the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai ix35, but Spowers points out that they are not hypercars because they are stuck in conventional architecture, the consequence of which is excess weight and inefficiency. | |


This, as it turns out, is the point in our conversation where the vocabulary gets interesting. ‘Above everything else, I’m a believer in whole-system thinking,’ Spowers says, as we get nearer to the lake where photos will be taken of the watery-blue Rasa. ‘If you optimise each part of a car, the result is not necessarily the best car. That incremental approach will pessimise the whole…’ Whole-system thinking starts with the big picture, which is why the stated purpose of Riversimple is to eliminate the environmental impact of personal transport. As such, Riversimple will never sell a car. Instead, it will offer customers a performance contract that takes care of maintenance, insurance and fuel – the latter is crucial, given the general absence of hydrogen filling stations. ‘This aligns the company’s interests with product longevity and efficiency,’ he adds, ‘whereas the car industry as it operates currently rewards obsolescence and resource consumption.’ Riversimple’s corporate governance is also unfamiliar. Shareholders have indirect rather than direct voting rights, while six custodians represent the respective interests of the investors, the 27

environment, the staff, the customers, commercial partners and the community. ‘The company exists to maximise the goodwill from all six groups, turning sustainability into a competitive advantage instead of an inconvenient cost,’ says Spowers. ‘Being less unsustainable is not the same as being sustainable,’ says Spowers more than once – it has become a mantra at Riversimple. The Toyota Mirai boasts thirteen times more power than the Rasa, yet accelerates no faster (although it does have a higher top speed). ‘That’s because they’ve started with the status quo and tried to change it incrementally. That approach will never deliver actual sustainability – it is merely less unsustainable than what we already have.’ I counter that surely, if true sustainability is the goal, we’d be better off with public transport and bicycles. ‘There are far too many cars,’ Spowers responds, ‘but I don’t think the answer is no cars, particularly in rural areas where car dependency is a fact.’ He adds that the Rasa is not a zero-emissions vehicle (except at the point of use) owing to the fact that most industrial hydrogen is currently produced from natural gas, a fossil fuel. The long-term goal is to get away from so-called ‘brown hydrogen’ to ‘green hydrogen’, but that hasn’t yet happened. ‘The goal right now is to recognise that the existing car industry is based on a mid-20th-century premise, where there is no shortage of fossil fuels and no climate change.’ Though it can’t be done overnight, he says, we have to move away from that model.


British sports car maker Morgan, based in Malvern, lends weight to Spowers’ claim that the British West Midlands and Wales is a concentration of car making know-how. The hydrogen fuel cell prototype shown below (never produced) was unveiled in 2009 as the Morgan LIFEcar (LIghtweight, Fuel Efficient car). Oxford had input, along with other universities and companies.


Feature Hydrogen cars

Matthias Holweg, Professor of Operations Management at the Saïd Business School, shares some views on future fuel for cars All discussions about transport lead back to the ultimate source of energy – as do most issues facing global society in the 21st century, from what to cook for your evening meal to whether you can justify flying when you go on holiday. As more nations aspire to Western living standards, the energy intensity of our lifestyles is increasingly unsustainable. In terms of mobility, the petrol-powered internal combustion engine that dominated the 20th century is yielding to a wide variety of alternatives. These include other fossil fuels such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and natural gas; serial- and parallel-hybrid engine technologies (which are part-electrification of the petrol or diesel drivetrain), plug-in hybrids (battery component) and pure electric vehicles (no internal combustion engine). These are, in my view, interim solutions. The energy-intensive process of digging up lithium in Chile and China and making batteries out of it, plus their considerable weight, means cars that use them are little better than their existing petrol and diesel counterparts. Hybrids and electric vehicles have a decisive advantage in heavy traffic, where their efficiency is optimised – but it’s perverse to admit that a technology is at its best where driving is most inefficient, i.e. in a traffic jam. While pure electric cars belch no fumes, carbon emissions from generating their electricity can match that of the internal combustion engine. The hydrogen-powered fuel cell is also promising, but there is no guarantee that hydrogen will be ‘green’, as so far most hydrogen is produced by steam reforming fossil carbohydrates. A key problem for battery and hydrogen vehicles is that the energy density of a tank of gasoline turns out to be pretty good. One litre of petrol has an energy density of 34.2 megajoules (MJ). The comparable figure for electro-chemical energy in a rechargeable lithium-ion battery is 0.9–2.63 MJ/L, depending on the battery quality, while for a litre of gaseous hydrogen, compressed to the current automotive standard of 700 bar pressure inside a special fuel tank, it is 5.6 MJ/L. So the fuel tank in a hydrogen car remains pretty bulky, while compressing the gas robs the process of further energy. There are alternative ways of storing and releasing hydrogen, in substrates or carrier liquids, but so far none makes a convincing case. We are still waiting for the new ‘dominant design’ to replace the internal combustion engine. Using alternative energy to generate hydrogen could be one way, and emerging metal-air batteries may provide a breakthrough. Yet irrespective of which technology will prevail, someone has to pay for this energy revolution. So for economic reasons alone the internal combustion engine will be with us for several decades to come, and in my view will remain a dominant form of propulsion until mid-century. The internal combustion engine will have to fund the costly development of its successor, or successors. Matthias Holweg’s latest book, co-authored with Nick Oliver, is Crisis, Resilience and Survival: Lessons from the Global Auto Industry (Cambridge UP, 2016).

28 | |


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The murder of Rasputin Feature

The prince, the spy and the

Mad Monk Christopher Danziger looks at the part an Oxford friendship played in the assassination of Rasputin a century ago


t seems like an episode from medieval legend, but it was actually only 100 years ago, in December 1916, that one of history’s most celebrated assassinations took place. The victim was Grigory Rasputin, the so-called ‘Mad Monk’ who had acquired a Svengali-like influence over the Russian royal family. The perpetrator was Felix Yusupov, heir to the richest private fortune in Imperial Russia. It was a major step on the road to the Russian Revolution. It is time that the vital but little-known role that Oxford University played in the gestation of this event was aired. How Yusupov and Rasputin’s arcs came to intersect is a highly complicated story which will be well known to some and unknown to others. Perhaps the best place to begin is with the Tsarina Alexandra. After giving birth to four girls, in 1904 she produced a boy. This was particularly significant because Tsar Paul had so hated his mother, Catherine, that in 1797 he had decreed that henceforth only males could succeed to the imperial throne. Jubilation was soon succeeded by tragedy when it was discovered that the Tsarevitch had haemophilia, for which there was then no cure or treatment. However, hope reappeared when it seemed that a slovenly, debauched peasant mystic from Siberia could stop the attacks of bleeding. Alexandra fell totally under the spell of this miracle worker. He soon began to influence matters which had nothing to do with healing. If he told Alexandra that anyone was ‘a bad man’ she would immediately have him dismissed. In 1916 he was responsible for dismissing four prime ministers, five ministers of the interior, three foreign ministers, three war ministers, three ministers of transport, and four ministers of agriculture. His machinations began to disrupt Russia’s already faltering war effort. The combination of Rasputin’s known anti-war sentiments and the Tsarina’s perceived pro-German sympathies made him a natural target for | |


accusations of treachery. Plots began to proliferate to assassinate him in order to preserve Russia’s ability to wage war. One of them was hatching in the head of the heir to Russia’s richest private fortune. Felix Yusupov could trace his descent to Tartar Khans who, it is said, had achieved power through murder, rape and pillage. One member of the family gained huge land grants from an alliance with Ivan the Terrible, and his grandson, Khan Yusuf, was created Prince Yusupov when he converted from Islam to Christianity. In the mid-19th century, Princess Zenaida became the sole heir to the family fortune. She could have had her pick of any suitor in Russia but chose a handsome but dull cavalry officer from an undistinguished family, Count Felix SumarokovElston, and married him in 1882. The Tsar gave the family a special dispensation to pass the Yusupov title through the female line. Felix and Zenaida had four sons, of whom only two, Nicholas and Felix fils, survived infancy. Nicholas was killed in a duel over an officer’s wife in 1908, leaving his 21-year-old brother as the sole heir to the Yusupov fortune. The younger Felix Yusupov has been the object of fascinated scrutiny for over a century. Both Nicholas and Felix recorded that their relationship with their father was limited to kissing his hand every morning and evening. Instead they developed an unhealthily close relationship with their mother. Felix later claimed that his mother had been so disappointed that her second child was a son that she had dressed him in girl’s clothes until he was five. That was not exceptional at the time. However, in his teens Felix went on dressing as a girl, allegedly to gain access to places like the opera which would have been barred to a teenage boy. Predictably he is said to have taken the fancy of Edward VII – but then what good-looking young woman did not? Felix recorded that he began to live a double life: by day he was 31

a schoolboy and by night an elegant woman. Not surprisingly, young Felix became increasingly unmanageable. He exhausted teams of tutors. He developed a heterodox taste for the company of gypsies. It became harder and harder to keep his sexual escapades with partners of both sexes out of the press. Sending him away seemed an obvious solution, but Felix claimed later that his parents fought tooth and nail to prevent him leaving. In London he stayed at the Carlton Hotel. There he was taken in hand by a sister of the Tsar’s and by the Bishop of London. They urged Felix to study at Oxford University. Where else would he call, therefore, but at University College, on the assumption that it was the oldest college in the University? Felix records that the Master received him kindly. It so happened that at this point, 1909, there was a vacant set of ground-floor rooms, the largest of which – no matter who occupied it – was known as ‘the club’ because the undergraduates were in the habit of meeting there to drink their whisky. It is hard to know whether Felix would have seen this as an attraction or a deterrent, but he signed on for the following winter. Felix later admitted that ‘studying was never my strength’ and finding a suitable degree course for him posed an obvious problem. Eventually, on the college rolls, ‘Elston, Count F.’ was enrolled to read Forestry and English. Later his course listing was emended to Fine Arts. The name ‘Elston’ has been variously attributed but was possibly a contraction of Elphinstone, a Scot who may have married into another fabulously wealthy family, the Soumarokoffs (as the surname was then spelt). Felix reported that his day at Oxford began with a cold shower, which he hated, and a hearty breakfast, which was apparently ‘the only decent meal of the day’. There was no heating in his bedroom and the temperature was the same indoors as outdoors. Water froze in his washbasin, and in the morning his carpet was so damp that it was like ‘walking through a marsh’. He advised Prince Serge Obolensky, also due to come up to Oxford: ‘No one pays any attention to you.’ It may come as a surprise therefore to read that Felix wrote, ‘The three years I spent among the English were perhaps the happiest of my youth.’ He liked the outdoor life, not the ‘violent’ games but hunting, polo and swimming. He rowed and even applied himself to learning cricket. He told Obolensky: ‘After the first term they get accustomed to seeing you around and then you will get to know them.’ He was even elected to the Bullingdon Club. After a year in college, undergraduates were allowed to move into digs, and Felix set up in what he called ‘a very ordinary and unattractive little house in the town’. Ordinary it may have been, but it seems to have had room for the ‘good chef’ he had brought from Russia as well as an English valet, a married couple who kept house for him and tended his three polo ponies, and a French chauffeur to drive the Delaunay-Belleville car – possibly the first car owned by an Oxford undergraduate. There are stories that he used to scatter coins on to the street from an upstairs window because he enjoyed watching the ensuing scuffles. However, Felix admits: ‘Although I went on 32


Feature The murder of Rasputin

studying at Oxford, I became more and more absorbed in the amusing and frivolous life I led in London.’ He was a regular guest at London’s most fashionable occasions. Diana Cooper, the pre-eminent London socialite and diarist, met him frequently and described him as ‘breathtakingly beautiful’. Another socialite recorded: ‘Seldom have I met such a wonderful figure, such extraordinary eyes and a mouth that turned up at the corners. Certainly he was the best-looking man I have seen.’ Undergraduates were expected to spend every night of the term in residence. Felix had no problem circumventing this regulation. His friend Sebastian Earl reported that he had two macaws which his valet would take into his bathroom for his morning bath, where they immediately started screeching so loudly as to be heard up and down George Street. If Felix were detained in Mayfair overnight, ‘his valet would run a bath and bring in the macaws, whose screeching provided the owner of the digs with sufficient evidence that the Count had been present the previous night.’ However, even Felix reported ruefully that ‘for a few months’ he had to abandon his ‘frivolous life’ to prepare for finals. ‘How I succeeded in passing them is still a mystery to me,’ he said. In fact he asked Sebastian Earl’s brother Austin to coach him for his schools as ‘other interests had interfered with his reading’. Austin agreed, but after a fortnight

Prince Felix Yusupov in the Cossack uniform he famously wore at the Eglinton Ball in London 1912. This uniform is to be auctioned at the Hotel Drouot in Paris on November 4th | |



The murder of Rasputin Feature

respectfully asked Felix if he should not start doing some reading. Felix replied, ‘I do not think so, my dear Austin. I shall do what I do in St Petersburg. I shall invite the examiners to breakfast, and I shall put an envelope with £100 on each one’s plate.’ Felix returned to Russia in 1913. He was not really a political animal but his family was so close to court circles that he could not help becoming involved. Within 18 months Russia was at war with Germany. From the start it went very badly for Russia, resulting Notoriously, in a search for scapegoats. The likeliest culprits were Grigory Rasputin the Tsarina, widely known as ‘the German woman’, survived massive and the Mad Monk at her side. doses of poison, The Tsarina was implacably resistant to any three bullets and a suggestion of removing Rasputin. Two converging vicious beating views arose. In Russian court circles, the feeling grew before finally that the only way to save the Romanov dynasty was drowning in somehow to eliminate Rasputin. The Allied secret St Petersburg’s Moika Canal services, meanwhile, began to think that to keep Russia in the war, Rasputin might need to be killed. Rasputin was not unknown to Felix. In 1909 Felix recorded that Rasputin had walked up to him, said ‘Good morning, my dear boy,’ and attempted to kiss him. Felix drew back instinctively. ‘There was something about him which disgusted me,’ he said. In 1912 an Oxford friend who had been invited to stay with Felix wrote that his host had to pay ‘a visit to a mysterious hypnotist whose power Felix is trying to defeat in a very clever way of his own’. We can only guess that this was Rasputin. However, by the time Felix returned to Russia from Oxford, he noted: ‘Rasputin has much changed since the time I had first seen him. His face had grown puffy and he had become quite flabby. He behaved in a highly familiar manner. He kissed me.’ This time he does not say that he recoiled. The prince and the monk, whose sexual appetites were notoriously eclectic, began to see more of each other. Felix recorded that in a drunken rant, Rasputin once said to him, ‘Enough of this war. It’s time to end the slaughter. When we’ve settled this matter, we’ll make Alix regent during Alexei’s minority. As for him, we’ll send him to [the Crimea] for a rest. The Tsarina’s a second Catherine the Great. She’s promised to begin by sending away those chatterboxes in the Duma [parliament].’ One of the grand dukes commented that Rasputin was ‘growing ever more infatuated with Yusupov’. It put Felix in a unique position to win Rasputin’s trust. Felix now rose to the call of tsar and country. ‘It was no longer a matter of whether Rasputin ought to disappear but only of whether I was the right person to kill him,’ he later said. Eventually Felix was persuaded. Two others were co-opted, a vehemently anti-Rasputinist member of the Duma and the Grand Duke Dimitri, a cousin of the Tsar’s. A plot was hatched to lure Rasputin to the fabulous Yusupov Palace on the Moika Canal. They settled on 30 December because that was the first night on which Dimitri was free of social engagements. What happened that night a hundred years ago has long

‘What claim can Oxford make to have influenced the Russian Revolution?’ | |


lain in the borderlands between history and legend. Rasputin was first administered enough poison to kill a hundred men, then shot three times, then clubbed with chains, and finally tipped into the canal. An autopsy recorded the cause of death as drowning. What claim can Oxford make to have influenced the Russian Revolution? When Felix returned to Russia, his Anglophilia was well known. It made him an obvious contact should the British Secret Service take an interest in Russian politics. Naturally the British have always denied that they had any part in Rasputin’s murder, However, one of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) agents in St Petersburg at the time was Oswald Rayner, who had been a close Oxford friend of Felix’s when reading modern languages at Oriel. After leaving school Rayner had spent a year in Finland – then part of the Russian Empire – and they probably met through the Oxford University Russian Club which Yusupov founded in 1909, and which still flourishes today as the Russian Society. Rayner’s deputy, Stephen Alley, had actually been born in one of the Yusupov palaces, where his father had been one of Felix’s tutors. The diary of Rayner’s chauffeur confirms that in December 1916 he took Rayner and Alley to the Yusupov Palace on six occasions, the last being the day after Rasputin’s murder. Some witnesses report that Rayner had been at the Palace on the night of the murder. Rayner himself is said to have later shown some cousins a bullet acquired at the murder scene. No one seriously doubts that there was communication between Felix and the SIS. What is not known is whether the SIS positively approached Felix or whether they heard about his plot and sought to exploit it for their own ends. Was British interest merely to observe discreetly that the job had been satisfactorily completed? A week after the murder, Alley wrote to another SIS colleague: ‘Although matters have not proceeded entirely to plan, our objective has been clearly achieved.’ Even if British involvement amounted to no more than stiffening Felix’s resolve, it was certainly an important ingredient, and at the roots of that lay Felix’s association with Oxford. Rayner christened his only son John Felix Rayner, and made the first English translation of Felix Yusupov’s book Rasputin: His Malignant Influence and Assassination, published in 1927. There is clearly more than an incidental connection to all these links, but Rayner burned all his papers before he died in 1961, so we will probably never know the truth. The causal link between Rasputin’s death and the Russian Revolution is infinitely debatable. Asked by a journalist if Rasputin’s murder had brought on the revolution, Felix replied unhesitatingly: ‘The revolution happened because I didn’t kill him in time to stop it.’ Whether Oswald Rayner played a part in the assassination will probably never be known for sure. If indeed he was involved, then Oxford University – by introducing him to Felix Yusupov – has the ambiguous honour of unwittingly forging a link in the chain which led to Rasputin’s death. Chris Danziger is an Oxford-based writer and teacher. 33


For sale from a private collection: an eighteenth-century painting of Oxford

Michel Angelo Rooker (1746-1801) Oxford: a stonemason’s yard, with the chapel of Merton College beyond oil on canvas 22½ x 27¼in (57 x 69cm) with antique English carved and gilded frame PROVENANCE

With John Mitchell & Son, London, 1966

Rooker studied under Paul Sandby and was one of the ablest and neatest of British topographical artists in the eighteenth century, working in watercolour, in oils and as an engraver. Although his sketching tours encompassed much of England and Wales, he was particularly familiar with Oxford, continuing to supply the annual illustration for the Oxford Almanack for twenty years. His oil paintings are all unique and, as far as is known, do not exist in other versions, so the re-emergence of this unpublished canvas is significant. Our view, probably dating from the 1770s, shows a yard on the corner of Merton Street and Magpie Lane, and the dilapidated buildings would not in fact be demolished until 1884. In the artist’s apparent interest in these ruins, there is a hint of the influences of Panini, Hubert Robert and other picturesque painters of the age. Another, more precise view of Merton by Rooker is in the Yale Center for British Art in Connecticut.

As third-generation London art dealers, James Mitchell and William Mitchell provide specialist advice on the buying and selling of British and European art from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Valuations for insurance and taxation purposes, and expert guidance on the conservation and framing of pictures are also available. John Mitchell Fine Paintings, 17 Avery Row, Brook Street, London W1K 4BF Tel. 0207 493 7567

Free speech Feature

Is free speech under attack at Oxford?.. In an era when legislators and activists alike seek to interfere with open discourse, Timothy Garton Ash defends the University’s role as a vital venue for informed and critical thinking



hodes Must Fall! Trigger warnings! Microaggression! Safe spaces! No platform! Challenges to free speech inside the University are now the subject of spirited discussion at Oxford, as they are at leading American universities, and to understand them you may need to acquire a whole new vocabulary. I have spent the last 10 years writing a book and developing a multilingual website about free speech across the globe, based at what I have always considered to be one of free speech’s safest citadels and lighthouses: the University of Oxford. Little did I imagine that free speech would be challenged in the very heart of this citadel. We at Oxford now face threats to free speech from outside and inside the University. From outside, the British government’s new counter-terrorism legislation, and the Home Office’s deeply illiberal interpretation of it, impose on universities (as also on schools) a so-called ‘Prevent’ duty to ban and/or inform upon speakers and students who support terrorist groups or merely share their goals. In the original, draft Home Office guidelines, we were even supposed to exclude proponents of ‘non-violent extremism’. As I pointed out, this would cover some of the most celebrated radical thinkers in the history of the West, including Jesus Christ. For who can doubt that Jesus was a non-violent extremist? Fortunately, the whole higher education sector in Britain has mobilised to see off this threat. Lord (Ken) Macdonald, a former director of public prosecutions, has been instrumental in crafting Oxford’s response. As a Liberal Democrat peer, he introduced an amendment to the legislation which makes it clear that the ‘Prevent’ obligations are subordinated to the primary duty, enshrined in the 1986 Education Act, to ensure freedom of speech in educational institutions. As Warden of Wadham College, he has led the exercise of developing procedures by which the | |

University and its colleges can comply with the law while fully preserving freedom of expression. And needless to say, we all recognise that preventing radicalisation that leads to violent extremism is an important task. Our new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, has from the outset commanded public attention by her outspoken defence of the central value of free speech for a university. In this, she has been very much informed by her own academic research on counter-terrorism. The best way to counter extremist political and religious views that might lead young people towards terrorism is to bring those views out into the open, where they can be robustly challenged. ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant’ is not just a liberal commonplace; it is also an empirical finding. While I fear that the Home Office interpretation of this legislation will have a chilling effect on many schools and perhaps on less secure universities, I’m confident that free speech at Oxford is once more safe from government interference. However, we also face a more complex, subtle, diffuse set of challenges to (or at least about) free speech from inside, especially from a minority of our own students. Every university teacher worth her or his salt knows that you can learn from @oxtoday

Threats from the Home Office and from legislation have been seen off, protecting a robust tradition of protest



Feature Free speech

students as well as teaching them. So in the context of our Free Speech Debate project I have organised several panel discussions on this topic with a wide range of formidably articulate students (you can watch them at What emerges is a more nuanced picture than you find in some popular newspapers. For example, my own conclusion is that the Rhodes Must Fall movement, as it has played out so far at Oxford, is not a threat to free speech but in some ways actually an enrichment of it. The statue has stayed up on the facade of Oriel College, as I am sure it should, but the students have sparked an important debate about the way we treat Britain’s colonial history and legacy in our curricula. Similarly, I do not think the idea of ‘trigger warnings’ – warnings that certain textual or visual material may be distressing to some students, for example those who have suffered rape or other sexual violence – is to be dismissed out of hand. After all, we do not think it an infringement of free speech when television news announcers warn us that viewers may find images in the next item distressing. There have been wildly over-the-top examples: some students at Columbia University even suggested that Ovid’s Metamorphoses required a trigger warning. But in strict moderation this is not an unreasonable idea. Where we must very firmly draw the line, however, is at the practice known as ‘no-platforming’. For example, two speakers invited to debate abortion at 36

an event at Christ Church were no-platformed (to use the activists’ beautifully elegant verb). In plain English, this means that one group of students prevented another group of students from hearing speakers that they wanted to hear. In effect, its student-on-student censorship. And some of my student debaters argued that the right-wing nationalist Marine Le Pen should not have been invited to address the Oxford Union. I believe this practice is inimical to one of the essential purposes of a university: that young people should be confronted with the widest possible range of views and arguments, in a framework of what I call robust civility (a key concept in my book). Where those views are extreme, controversial or offensive, we should ensure that they face qualified, well-informed challenge on the platform and open questioning from the floor. This is how we enable students to work out for themselves what they think is true or false, right or wrong, and prepare them to be citizens in increasingly diverse societies, where they will certainly be confronted with such views. In short, far from no-platforming Donald Trump, I hope the Oxford Union will invite him at the next opportunity. A peaceful but loud protest outside the Union would continue a great tradition, while inside that hallowed hall I would confidently expect our students to give him a thorough grilling.

Campaigns such as the Rhodes Must Fall movement, above, should be recognised as an enrichment of free speech, argues Timothy Garton Ash

Timothy Garton Ash (Exeter, 1974) is Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College. | |


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38 | |


40 years of The Selfish Gene Feature

Richard Dawkins, whose groundbreaking book The Selfish Gene appeared 40 years ago, bounced back from a stroke this year to publish an expanded edition of his Ancestor’s Tale – a history of all life on earth, and The Extended Selfish Gene. Matt Ridley unravels the code that has made him into a world famous scientist

Gene genius




nsofar as anything was the making of me, Oxford was,’ writes Richard Dawkins in the first volume of his memoirs, published in 2013. The tutorial system taught him how science often has deep questions with no right answers. The world’s ‘top thinker’ – an accolade he won in a poll of 10,000 people from 100 countries in 2013, organized by Prospect magazine – has spent the majority of his life in Oxford, the exceptions being a childhood in Africa, teenage years at Oundle school in the 1950s and an assistant professorship at Berkeley in California in the late 1960s. It was at his home in north Oxford on 5 February this year that Dawkins, then 74, collapsed with a stroke, to the horror of his many friends and admirers. He has made a remarkably full recovery, complaining only of an occasional croaky voice, a little loss of sensation in his fingers and some unsteadiness on his feet early in the morning. He gave up Twitter for the sake of his blood pressure, but is resuming travel, speaking and writing. Indeed, his latest book, published at the end of April with his co-author and former student Yan Wong, is in some ways the most ambitious yet: a history of all life. It is a new edition of his groundbreaking The Ancestor’s Tale (2004), but with so much new material as to be almost a different book, 769 pages in length. One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is how new genomic knowledge vindicates in detail the argument in his very first and most famous book, The Selfish Gene, published 40 years ago this year and now re-issued with a new epilogue. The Selfish Gene was based on a series of lectures that Dawkins gave half a century ago, in 1966, standing in for his supervisor, the Nobel prize-winner Niko Tinbergen. At the time Dawkins was a graduate student, doing a series of experiments to show that chicks preferred to peck at images of items lit from above rather than from below, even when they had been reared only seeing things lit from below: implying that the understanding of solid objects as lit from above was instinctive. In his 1966 lectures, however, Dawkins explored a much more general idea: a new way of looking at | |


evolution, inspired by recently published papers by the theoretical biologist Bill Hamilton. Hamilton had argued that the reason worker ants (for example) devote themselves to raising their sisters (and people to raising their children) was because this had in the past furthered the survival of their genes, sometimes at the expense of the individual. The implication, to Dawkins, was that natural selection is not mainly choosing among species, or groups, or even individuals, all of which are transient aggregations, but among genes. In his 1966 lecture notes, rediscovered many years later, Dawkins had typed: ‘Genes are in a sense immortal. They pass through the generations, reshuffling themselves each time they pass from parent to offspring… Natural selection will favour those genes which build themselves a body which is most likely to succeed in handing down safely to the next generation a large number or [sic] replicas of those genes… Our basic expectation on the basis of the orthodox neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is that genes will be “selfish”.’ This gene’s-eye view proved to be a fruitful insight, stimulating both empirical research and philosophical rumination in multiple directions – and furious criticism too. As the philosopher Daniel Dennett would later write, ‘Many laypeople and even some biologists may fail to appreciate how bountiful this shift of attention has been.’ Indeed it even has practical applications: it explains the repetitious nature of most non-coding DNA (the key to forensic genetic fingerprinting), and is behind the idea of ‘gene drive’ to spread a gene through all mosquitoes rendering them unable to carry diseases such as malaria or Zika. In the new version of The Ancestor’s Tale, thanks to Yan Wong’s incisive understanding of genomics, you can see just what Dawkins was getting at. An individual with blue eyes may live for the best part of a century, but the gene that makes her eyes blue is thousands of years old. It has thrived in Northern Europe in many different bodies because it gives its owners some very slight survival advantage (possibly reducing vitamin-D deficiency in sunless climes by also making skin paler). 39

Feature 40 years of The Selfish Gene

If the individual has, say, the A blood group, that gene – we now know – is not thousands but millions of years old, which means that for that particular stretch of DNA she more closely resembles a certain monkey or ape than she does, say, her B-blood-group brother. Some genes are probably more similar in a person and a plant than in two different people. So different parts of the genome tell different stories. Each species alive today is a shuffled deal from a giant deck of DNA cards. For instance, it is generally true to say that as a species we have two closest living relatives – the warlike chimpanzee from north of the Congo river and the peaceable bonobo from south of the river. Wong has calculated that for about 96% of their genomes, it is true to say that chimpanzees are more closely related to bonobos than they are to humans. But for about 1.6% of the genome, humans and chimpanzees are closer than either is to bonobos; and for about 1.7%, humans and bonobos are closer than

either is to chimps. At the level of the genes, the world looks very different. Likewise, when the first edition of their book was published, Dawkins and Wong were unfashionably cautious about the prevailing consensus, based on mitochondrial DNA, that Neanderthals and modern human beings were distantly related branches of the hominid family tree with no interbreeding. Sure enough, when the rest of the Neanderthal genome was sequenced, it emerged that about 1.2% of the Neanderthal genome is present in the average European, thanks to some rare hybridisation that must have occurred when Europeans’ ancestors first left Africa and met Neanderthals in the Near East or in Europe. But because it is not always the same 1.2%, about 40% of the Neanderthal genome therefore survives inside our species. One species half-survives, genetically, but as a set of features in another species. The same is true of the newly discovered ‘Denisovan’ hominid, identified by its DNA from a fossil finger bone and two teeth in a Siberian cave, but now known to have contributed up to


The branchings of life on earth have long defied visualisation, but the interactive spiral tentacle at the OneZoom tree of life explorer website can be zoomed to reveal further nested spirals. It’s an incredible achievement. You can explore the interactive tree by visiting:

40 | |


After 12 years of rapidly evolving research, Dawkins and Wong’s classic The Ancestor’s Tale is now out in a second edition so greatly updated that it is effectively a new book. The same can be said about The Extended Selfish Gene, which was published by OUP in October following an event in the Sheldonian in which Richard Dawkins was in conversation with Lord (John) Krebs, the zoologist and until 2015 Principal of Jesus College

8% of the DNA of any individual person native to New Guinea and other parts of Oceania. This poses an intriguing puzzle for anthropologists and archaeologists, but it also reinforces the lesson that evolution is the differential survival of genes and vindicates Dawkins’ gene’s-eye view. Species, tribes and individuals are not irrelevant, but they are survival machines built by and for genes. One reason for Dawkins’ success is that he is not just a thinker, but a fine and persuasive writer too, an artist with words. His arguments have sizzle as well as steak. Whether you agree with him about genes, about his passion for Darwinism, or about his uncompromising atheism – The God Delusion (2006) was a three-million-copy bestseller and brought him even more fame than The Selfish Gene – it is hard to deny that he is a wordsmith of the first order. He knows more poetry by heart than anybody I know and his work is riddled with literary allusions, lightly worn. To explain: The Ancestor’s Tale is modelled loosely on Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, in which pilgrims converse as they converge on the road to Canterbury. The converging pilgrims in Dawkins’ and Wong’s tale are species, starting with us. Imagine that you are walking back up your family tree meeting the other descendants of your ancestors as you go. First, you meet your close cousins, then more distant cousins and so on, a gathering crowd along the road. For most Europeans the number of ancestors thins dramatically as you approach 60,000 years ago, where you reach a genetic bottleneck caused by the fact that a relatively small population emigrated from Africa around then. Neatly, Wong discovered the signature of this 60,000-year bottleneck very clearly in the sequence of Dawkins’ own DNA. Modern Nigerians have nothing like such a dip in population size among their ancestors. At roughly six million years ago, you reach the first ‘rendezvous’ with the ancestors of other living species, the chimpanzees and bonobos. The common ancestor of both branches is labelled Concestor 1. A bit further on, you meet the gorillas’ ancestor, Concestor 2, then the orang-utans’ ancestor and so on. At 65 million years you meet the ancestor of all primates. Surprisingly, Dawkins and Wong discovered that there are just 40 such rendezvous, and 40 concestors, before you reach Canterbury, the origin of life itself. Some of the concestors were large animals, some tiny. Respectively, they resembled modern apes (no 3), rats (12), lizards (16), newts (17), fish (18), worms (26) and so on. At some of the rendezvous, just a few modern species join. Rendezvous 18 brings in just three species of lungfish, 19 brings just the coelacanth, 22 brings just the lampreys and hagfish. At others you meet a vast crowd of other species. Rendezous 11 | |


brings all the rodents, 16 brings all the birds, lizards and tortoises, 26 brings all the insects, spiders, crustaceans, snails, squid and clams, 34 brings the fungi and 36 the plants. Concestor 40, if you’re wondering, is where we meet bacteria. At each stage in the book, ‘pilgrims’ join to tell their tales to illustrate particular themes of evolution and genetics. It’s a book to take to a desert island. How to depict this vast tree of life in a single diagram has long baffled scientists and artists alike. Including the whole tree of life in one diagram would require a sheet of paper larger than the solar system. Wong’s colleague James Rosindell has solved the problem in a most ingenious way with his ‘OneZoom’ software, adopted in The Ancestor’s Tale. While walking with Luke Harmon along the famous ‘sandwalk’ at Down House, where Charles Darwin did his thinking, they had the idea of representing the tree of life in ‘fractal’ form – so it looks similar at different scales. OneZoom is a spiral tentacle, where you can zoom in on any part and find smaller spiral tentacles at many scales. As you zoom towards the branch between the animals and the plants, you find the sub-branches of animals, and the sub-branches within each group of animals. It is salutary, given our egocentricity as a species, to find that you have to take a minor side branch to reach the primates, another minor side branch from the monkeys to reach the apes, and then mankind appears as just one little twig. You can choose an obscure species and sponsor it for a fee, so its picture gets included, but be warned there is a ban on sponsoring a hagfish for your ex. Mention of computers reminds me of how I first met Richard Dawkins. It was 1976. I was an 18-yearold first-year undergraduate; he was a 35-year-old lecturer. I had just read his exhilarating new book The Selfish Gene, but he was standing in front of me giving a lecture not on evolution, but on how to program computers. Among his many other talents, Dawkins was a pioneer of computer simulation, as a way of testing Darwin’s idea of natural selection. A poetry-reciting, computer-programming, bestselling, word-coining, game-changing, deep-thinking evolutionary biologist made in Oxford – that’s Richard Dawkins. Matt Ridley (Magdalen, 1976) is an author of non-fiction books on science and a columnist for The Times. He sits in the House of Lords as Viscount Ridley. His degree at Oxford was in zoology. 41

Feature Oxford in prints

Image and ideal Peter Whitfield charts Oxford’s changing visual imprint on the page


imaginative. He constructed bird’s-eye views that enable us to see into the quadrangles and appreciate the layouts of the hall, the chapel, the lodgings and the gardens. Some views were taken from nearby towers, but others must have been built up from the artist’s imagination. His view of Christ Church is particularly magnificent, and had to be double-sized to fit everything in. Nevertheless it is noteworthy in one respect – it does not show Wren’s Tom Tower, for


or almost three centuries Oxford inspired a number of artists who published high-quality engravings of all its important buildings and sites. The series begins with the famous Oxonia Illustrata, published in 1675 by David Loggan, which contains some 40 views of the colleges and University buildings. Loggan’s line-work was meticulously captured in these copperplate engravings, and his artistry was highly

42 | |


Oxford in prints Feature

the simple reason that this was not built until 1681–2. Loggan’s engravings are enlivened by wonderful details of horse-drawn carriages, street pedlars, barking dogs, grave dons and early tourists. Oxford in the seventeenth century was largely a city fashioned by Tudor rebuilding of medieval fabrics. This process resulted in what we may call the standard ‘Oxford Gothic’ style, modelled on the monastic community idea, seen in colleges such as Exeter, Balliol, University, All Souls and so on – although most of these were again restored in the nineteenth century. The major single event in Oxford’s architectural history was the rage for rebuilding in the neoclassical style, which took place in the first half of the eighteenth century, epitomised by the Clarendon Building and the Radcliffe Camera, now the iconic symbols of Oxford. Together with the Schools Quadrangle and Bodleian Library, these new structures created a distinct, fully-fledged

University Quarter within the city. The neo-classical transformation of much of Oxford is best traced in the longest series of published images that we have, the Oxford Almanacks, which began in 1674 and have continued almost without interruption. In function a broadsheet calendar of the University year, the upper half of the page was adorned with a sizeable engraving, which after 1700 was used to show the striking and beautiful new buildings by Wren, Hawskmoor, Gibbs and others. This vogue reached its culmination in the total rebuilding of the medieval Queen’s College in the neo-classical style. By the early years of the nineteenth century, a distinct change had come over the style of these Almanack pictures, which reflected the tastes of the time by becoming more and more romantic. The buildings were now shown among wind-blown trees, against backgrounds of sunset skies, or seen across the river; the natural, atmospheric setting became almost


Evening view of the city, from the 1822 Almanack, by Frederick Mackenzie, and below, a view of Lincoln College and chapel, with characteristic picturesque figures by W A Delamotte | |



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Oxford in prints Feature


An image by Frederick Mackenzie of the Divinity School, with an oral exam in progress, from the 1814 History of Oxford

as important as the architecture. These romantic views were carried further in the innovative 1814 work by Rudolph Ackermann, The History of Oxford University, where the text was really a framework on which to hang the images – an impressive series of Oxford views, now published for the first time in colour. In place of the severe classical grey images of Oxford’s buildings, we now have an array of rich colours, in stones, in skies, in foliage and in costume. In Ackermann’s hands Oxford was brought to life, perhaps even sentimentalised, which made his book a perfect souvenir for the departing graduate or the visiting tourist. This frank appeal to sentiment was carried still further in 1843 in William Delamotte’s Original Views of Oxford, which, wherever possible, added to the colleges and the streets an array of elegant Victorian figures, local children, flowered borders and pastel skies. In 1832–7 however, between Ackermann and Delamotte, there appeared a very different series of pictures in Memorials of Oxford by James Ingram, President of Trinity College – a book illustrated with scores of delicate uncoloured views, small enough to be called miniatures, showing the fine detail and the subtle shades which steel engraving made possible. These images, most of them engraved by James Le Keux, reaffirmed the original artistic ideals of Loggan’s collection, and they were almost the last of the classic series of Oxford views. The nineteenth-century Almanacks show us | |


individually the great new Victorian buildings, from the neo-classical new Ashmolean to the neo-Gothic University Museum and Keble College. When the first women’s colleges were founded in the 1870s, it is noticeable that they steered clear of Oxford’s traditional architectural norms, so that Lady Margaret Hall, for example, opted for the stately but domestic feel of the Queen Anne style, presumably thought suitable for a women’s institution. The Almanacks switched from copperplate engraving to the finer medium of steel in the 1830s. Later in the nineteenth century they employed various etched techniques, which gave a richer variety of tones, and it was not until well into the 1940s that they embraced colour lithography. They experimented with photography for a few years around 1900, but soon returned to the traditional medium of drawings, commissioned from leading artists. Original volumes of these views of Oxford are not as costly as we might expect. Loggan is the exception, and a complete copy in fine condition may sell for up to £20,000. Ackermann’s book may be £2,000 to £3,000, while the three volumes containing the Ingram miniatures look distinctly like a bargain, at under four figures. Taken together, these pictures now offer us a panorama of the historic heart of Oxford. Their appeal lies frankly in the way that they capture the aura, the mystique of Oxford, before the experimental, often ugly and soulless buildings of 45



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Image and ideal Feature


David Loggan’s 1675 view of Christ Church for Oxonia Illustrata lacks the landmark Tom Tower and the Mercury Fountain, both later additions

the twentieth century, which have so changed and perhaps destroyed the harmony of the city. Each of us can name our most-hated building, but on many lists will probably be the University’s own administrative block, towering brutally over Little Clarendon Street; the Florey Building beside the Cherwell; and the fan-shaped Nuclear Physics block on the Banbury Road. In all these cases, the defects of form are made worse by the material – dull grey concrete, or in the case of Florey, by butalist concrete flying buttresses propping up a modernist red brick carcass. Oxford is an ancient university city, a place where the past is – or ought to be – within us and all around us. But in practice that past is often overshadowed, diminished or tainted by the present. These pictures

enable us to build up a comprehensive, albeit idealised, picture of Oxford’s past, to recall what it once looked and felt like. The outside appearance of a city cannot fail to reflect its inner character and its human story. In the case of Oxford’s history, the image and the reality are not two entities, but one, unfolding over time. The set-piece volumes depicting Oxford in print become a visual index of the ideals of learning, tranquillity, order and beauty – ideals which made Oxford what it is, but which are now, sadly, seen more and more as ideals of the past. Oxfordshire-based Peter Whitfield is a prolific writer and historian. His latest book, Oxford in Prints 1675–1900, is published by the Bodleian Library.


Looking across Magdalen Bridge in 1814, with the old church of St Clement’s on the right – as captured by Frederick Nash for The History of Oxford | |



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Book reviews Common room


Book reviews

500 subjects Oxford University Press has just published Measurement as the 500th title in its Very Short Introductions series. Launched in 1995 as a general knowledge collection for intelligent readers, the list has sold more than eight million titles worldwide in 50 languages, writes Olivia Gordon | |



ou might imagine non-fiction books would go out of fashion in an age when we automatically go online for information. Oxford University Press would beg to differ. Its series of Very Short Introductions (VSIs) – 150-page books explaining anything and everything from Accounting to Zionism, from Pain to Privacy – have sold more than eight million copies and appear in 50 languages. There remains a powerful appeal in picking up a well-written book on a tricky subject. Andrea Keegan, VSI’s UK editor for humanities and social sciences, says: ‘I like the idea that someone can get on a plane to Spain and, within a flight, learn something about Shakespeare.’ The more difficult, complex or abstract the topic, the more compelling the idea of condensing the basics into 150 pages. Who could resist flicking through a short guide to The Meaning of Life, Nothing, or Reality? It is 21 years since OUP saw a gap in the market for short general knowledge books. The first VSI, Classics, by Cambridge professors Mary Beard and John Henderson, remains a series bestseller. With the list of VSIs spanning just about every educational field, from the abstract (Knowledge) to the concrete (Coral Reefs), how does OUP decide what subjects to cover? Keegan explains: ‘We look at what’s popular now, and we also look at what people are studying at universities. We don’t cover very obscure or niche things, but we do the odd quirky title.’ The quirkiest is probably Angels by Dr David Albert Jones, director of Oxford’s Anscombe Bioethics Centre, which, says Keegan, was ‘really different and fun to do. It covers history and theology and philosophy; he talks about why people want to believe in them.’ One of the biggest struggles is to predict how well a subject will do. Easily the biggest seller is Globalization, by Professor Manfred B Steger. ‘It’s a topic that cuts across so many different areas,’ Keegan says. ‘Anyone studying history, politics, economics, even science – it’s a good basic book for them.’ Other bestsellers include the religion titles and The European Union, plus Logic, Literary Theory, The Palestine-Israeli Conflict, and The Philosophy of Science.

Andrea Keegan, VSI’s UK editor for humanities and social sciences (Above right) 500 titles make a colourful bookshelf

ONLINE These reviews are all online


Straggling behind, Keegan confesses, is ‘poor old Engels – I think he’s out of fashion – but he could come back!’ Dante has outpaced sales expectations ‘because he’s difficult.’ Fossils sells far fewer copies. Is there anything they wouldn’t cover? ‘We reject so much!’ says Keegan. Wannabe writers – mostly academics but also students – pitch her and science editor Latha Menon daily. Recent rejections include food in San Francisco, Olivia Newton-John, and Star Wars. Popular culture is covered, with titles on Hollywood and science fiction, but Keegan notes: ‘We tend to take broader topics.’ Keegan headhunts 19 out of every 20 commissions. Authors must be proven experts, so 99% are academics – usually professors, though Keegan is always looking for academic rising stars. More than 10% of titles are by Oxford academics – two of the most recent are Modern China by Professor Rana Mitter of St Cross and Nelson Mandela by Professor Elleke Boehmer of Wolfson. Professor Dame Hermione Lee, President of Wolfson, wrote Biography; Lord Krebs, former president of Jesus, Food; and visiting professor Sir Roger Scruton Beauty and Kant. To cover whole bodies of knowledge in 30–35,000 words, authors ‘write about what they want to write about, not necessarily ticking every box,’ says Keegan. ‘We try to let authors have a voice. They’re not allowed to be totally idiosyncratic; they’ve got to cover the bases; but it’s not so much a statement of facts, like Wikipedia.’ Over the decades, she adds, the books have become more readable and shorter. Academic jargon is banned. ‘Authors say: “Well, I like to use the word normative,” and I say: “Well, you can’t!”’ Though the books are naturally popular with students, writers are told to make subjects accessible to laypeople and beginners. ‘Some of our books do get quite difficult,’ says Keegan, ‘but we like to draw the reader in and explain everything.’ The next step will be to step up science titles, with titles such as Blood, Weather, Oceans, Gravity, and The Anthropocene. Olivia Gordon is an Oxford-based writer and journalist and regular correspondent for Oxford Today 49

Common room Book reviews

Common Writing By Stefan Collini Oxford University Press, £30

This book of essays originally published as journalism concerns 30-odd British intellectuals from J.B. Priestley to Michael Ignatieff, with a playful interlude about Radio Four. Certainly where Oxford was concerned, its most (in)famous characters often flunked the test of scholarship, notes the author, omitting to write the big books expected of them. C.S. Lewis is a ‘cracker-barrel theologian,’ while Maurice Bowra, whom Collini deplores, adopted a ‘belletrist approach.’ Ditto Isaiah Berlin and of course Hugh Trevor Roper, although both retain an allure that Collini can’t conceal. The tide has well and truly gone out on this lot, one feels, whether it’s Christopher Hitchens or Tony Judt, or Ezra Pound or Graham Greene. The overall vibe is much as Collini describes the correspondence between Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, ‘an

The Face of the Buddha

By William Empson, ed. Rupert Arrowsmith OUP, £30

abattoir specializing in sacred cows.’ It’s all good fun in its way, and does for the 20th century what Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians did for the 19th. But the approach here is also belletrist, so where does leave the author?

Copiously illustrated with Empson’s original photographs, this book is a literary coup by OUP, representing the first ever publication of a text thought for decades to be lost. Empson (1906– 86) has found an expert editor in Arrowsmith (Christ Church, 2005).

Writing the Thames

By Christina Hardyment Bodleian Library, £25 Wonderfully illustrated, this latest volume from the Bodleian Library takes literary geography to new heights, celebrating writers who have written about England’s greatest river. The London-accented final chapter is bittersweet, via Iain Sinclair.

Richard Lofthouse (LMH, 1990) is the editor of Oxford Today.

Can readers help? Feminist Ideas and Institutional Orthodoxy at Oxford’s First Women’s College By Maria Jaschok (IGS/LMH) and Allyson Jule (IGS Visiting Research Fellow)

Academic education for women came only hundreds of years after the founding of Oxford, making women’s education in Britain of great interest to feminist scholars. Scholars at the International Gender Studies Centre (IGS), associated with Lady Margaret Hall, are researching the college’s feminist ideas from foundation to present. Conceived as a multi-voice narrative by participants occupying various statuses and roles in LMH, the research project explores the intellectual and ideological impact of women who pioneered women’s education. It also explores their legacy through the lenses of class, ethnicity and sexuality. The investigators are searching for any memorabilia from past students or staff of LMH, such as diaries, photos, and paraphernalia, as well as for volunteers who are willing to share their histories of experience in women’s college education. Alumni of all ages, including both male and female members, are needed. Please contact either: IGS director, Maria Jaschok ( or IGS Visiting Research Fellow, Allyson Jule (


New Bodleian: Making the Weston Library

Merton College

Bodleian Library, £30

By Alan Bott Obtainable from Merton College, £25

If Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s 1934–47 statement in classical modernism was only half-loved by readers, the same cannot be said about its replacement, which has been a great success. This multi-authored book is not only the ‘behindthe-scenes’ story but a brilliant way of charting the Bodleian’s special collections, which the Weston accommodates.

Successor volume to the author’s 1993 gem, originally described by Sir John Roberts – the Warden at the time – as an unrivalled, concise but full history of the college. The new volume draws on a wider historical context, takes recent buildings into its purview, and enjoys a tenfold increase in illustrations, partly to celebrate alumni.


For our ‘book of the week’ feature, visit | |


Book reviews Common room

Negative Publicity

Kitchener, Hero and Anti-Hero

How English became English

A starkly beautiful book combining investigative journalism into CIA-sponsored torture with art photography capturing mundane subjects such as apparently random hotel swimming pools and dark groves of Lithuanian spruce. The clue is the subtitle, Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition.

A great man or just a great poster? Faught’s biography of Lord Kitchener considers the man in all his imperial splendour, long before the trenches sucked him down into ignominy. He emerges reasonably well even from the trenches in this account. His death at sea, from a German mine, is poignantly told.

Distilling an inexhaustible topic into 170 short pages, Horobin gives an unstuffy guide to the descent, dialects and global diversification of English. Pragmatic rather than pedantic, he eschews grammarian finger-wagging in favour of some pointers on why we still care about getting it ‘right’.

Plants: Healers and Killers

God Is No Thing

Oxford’s Medical Heritage

By Crofton Black and Edmund Clark Aperture, £50.00


By Michael Bhaskar Piatkus, £15

‘Curation’ – the word is everywhere but its definition seems to have slipped its moorings. When people start calling football managers ‘curators’ of teams, something is up. Museum or gallery curators trying to reclaim it for high culture are struggling against the tide. The author makes the case that the rise of curation has consequences for the future of business, the economy, and society. We live among unprecedented abundance, he says. The internet overflows while retailers swamp us with stuff. Super-abundance requires filtering, and that in turn is a business opportunity. This isn’t about searching, because we don’t always know what we’re looking for. It’s about ‘selecting, refining and arranging to add value’ – in Bhaskar’s definition, curation. One example is the battle between Google, Apple and Spotify over music. As they all offered a near-limitless supply, the contest was in part about which company could provide the most effective curation. There are objections to the book’s arguments, of course, but it has a happy habit of leaning directly into them. The author knows that curation isn’t new; he’s just arguing that it’s becoming a bigger deal than ever before. Bhaskar is also a fine curator himself. He treats us to a rollercoaster of allusions and anecdotes, facts and theories. This is a rollicking, intellectually omnivorous guide to the future of the information economy.

By Michael Radcliffe Lee Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, £15 The author (Brasenose, 1953) distils a lifetime’s knowledge in a slick rendition of the medicinal properties of sixteen plants, from St John’s wort to the foxglove. The result is a terrific layman’s guide to medicinal plant science, and a richly illustrated cultural history.

By Rupert Shortt Hurst, £10

A tract of Christian apologetics aimed at Christians, atheists and anyone in between. By steering clear of denominational strife, and by drawing widely on philosophy, the author finds ways to cheer Judaism and Islam as well. Shortt is religion editor of the TLS and a former Visiting Fellow of Blackfriars Hall.

By Simon Horobin OUP, £11

By Rosemary F Jones Rosemary F Jones, £10

The author (St Hilda’s, 1977) presents carefully researched cameo biographies of Oxford figures after whom a hospital, ward or other department of medicine has been named. The result exceeds the sum of its parts and amounts to a prosopography of Oxford medicine.

Oxford Alumni Cardholders are entitled to a 15% discount at Blackwell’s.

Asher Dresner (St Edmund Hall, 2002) is a dramatist and political speech writer, | |

By C Brad Faught I B Taurus, £25




Radcliffe Square Common room

Unique in the world Three hundred years ago, on 21 June 1716, a foundation stone was laid in the North Quadrangle of All Souls College, for the Codrington Library. Ian Davis considers how it unintentionally ‘completed’ Radcliffe Square


Ian Davis, a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes and elsewhere, studied architecture and is writing a book, Experiencing Oxford, illustrated with his own watercolour paintings. | |



icholas Pevsner described Radcliffe Square in glowing terms: ‘The area by the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian is unique in the world, or if that seems a hazardous statement, it is certainly unparalleled in Cambridge.’ But his careful reference to an ‘area’ rather than a ‘square’ recognises that it fulfils no particular, unified design but resulted from a series of happy accidents. It took more than 400 years to create the square we know, with the ceiling plasterwork of All Souls’ Codrington Library finally completed in 1751. The sequence went like this: St Mary’s Tower and Old Congregation House 1320, Library 1410–1488; All Souls Front Quad and chapel 1438–1443; Duke Humfrey’s Library 1483–1490; St Mary’s nave 1485– 1510; Brasenose College Old Quad 1509–1518 and chapel 1656–1666; Bodleian Library Schools (John Akroyd and John Bentley) 1613–1624; All Souls North Quad (Nicholas Hawksmoor) 1716–1734; All Souls Codrington Library (Hawksmoor) 1716–1751; Radcliffe Camera (James Gibbs) 1737–1749. At first sight a sublime example of urban planning, Radcliffe Square was anything but. Three deaths were instrumental. Christopher Codrington (1710) and John Radcliffe (1714) both left massive bequests to build libraries. Hawksmoor’s death in 1736 enabled the gifted Gibbs to follow his concept for the Camera. St Mary’s and the medieval quadrangles and chapels of All Souls and Brasenose are unified only through their common medieval architectural language of stone, detail and ornament. But from 1700 each building was carefully conceived in relation to context. Hawksmoor’s plans for the North Quad of All Souls were discarded in 1710 when Codrington left the college 12,000 books, £6,000 to erect a library and £4,000 to purchase future books. The tercentenary of the laying of the foundation stone on 21 June 1716 has been marked with restraint: Codrington was notoriously a Caribbean sugar plantation slaver. The Codrington library was Oxford’s longest and England’s first ground-floor college library – its predecessors having been set on the first floor for fear of rising damp. Hawksmoor had an impossible brief since he had to pay respects to All Souls’ Gothic chapel and Radcliffe Square’s medieval character as well as 1716’s baroque tastes. His compromise was to design the exterior of the west window to Radcliffe Square in a pseudo-Gothic style, while the interior was transformed into a classical Venetian window. In 1713 Hawksmoor submitted ambitious plans to rebuild the centre of Oxford in a ‘Forum Universitatis’,

including public open space between St Mary’s and the Schools around a single statue or column. His proposal required demolishing two streets, building a new University Church on the Hertford College site and rebuilding Brasenose College. This dynamic changed suddenly when John Radcliffe left £40,000 to the University to house his science library adjacent to the Bodleian. In 1734 his trustees solicited designs from Gibbs, who proposed a rectangular library, and Hawksmoor who, in a moment of pure genius, proposed a domed circular structure alluding to a classical mausoleum to form an ‘island’ facing its distinguished neighbours in all directions. When Hawksmoor died, Gibbs was asked to produce the magnificent library we see today. John Betjeman admired the dome as it gathered ‘surrounding spires and towers together like a hen her chicks’. William Faden’s 1789 Oxford map shows an area around the Camera substantially identical to what we see today. The magnificence of the Radcliffe assembly of buildings can best be experienced from Catte Street and Brasenose Lane. But the greatest views are from St Mary’s or the Fellows’ Garden of Exeter College. The last words are from Thomas Sharp’s appreciation: ‘In a country where building does not always rise to architecture, and where the architecture is merely pleasant, a first-class aesthetic experience such as this should be treated with awe.’

The Radcliffe Camera and All Souls as seen from the tower of St Mary’s Church, left. Above, William Faden’s 1789 map of Oxford shows the area substantially as it appears today



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Ranworth Vespers Common room

Music Restoring the Reformation Unheard for five hundred years, the Ranworth Vespers were performed in their original setting in Norfolk earlier this year. Ellen Davies investigates | |



congregation gathered together on 30 April in St Helen’s Church in Ranworth, a tall, spacious church sitting among hedgerowed Norfolk fields, overlooking the River Bure. It is known locally as the Cathedral of the Norfolk Broads because of its commanding size. Inside the church, choristers from Worcester College, scholars and local people took part in a ritual evening service from the 15th century. Only the benches and whitewashed walls had changed since the music was first performed more than five centuries earlier. In front of the congregation was the famous Ranworth rood screen. A replica of the original cantor’s desk bore the Ranworth manuscript. Last year, a research team led by Dr Matthew Cheung Salisbury undertook a digitisation of the famous Ranworth Antiphonal. This manuscript, a 15th-century service book of music, was purchased on behalf of the Ranworth Church when it appeared at a private auction in 1912, having extraordinarily survived the Reformation in near-perfect condition. It is thought that only one in every thousand manuscripts survives from this era, and most have been defaced or damaged. Having been restored to its original resting place, the book has now been digitised and transcribed so that modern singers can perform the medieval music in its original geographical and liturgical setting. Local churchgoers had long admired the beauty of the manuscript, safely kept in a strong box at the back of the church, but this year’s performance brought the manuscript back to life. Although beautiful to look at, this manuscript is a practical volume. The choristers, directed by Salisbury, clustered around the lectern, processing to different parts of the church as directed by the manuscript. In the nave, their singing echoed ethereally, requiring more vigour than in the choir, beyond the rood screen, where the voices resonated loudly against the wooden panelling and high, beamed ceiling. The occasion was the feast day of St Helen, the patron saint of the church. To perform the Vespers for St Helen, Salisbury carefully pieced together original music, text, and ritual from the manuscript. New musicological research suggests that these medieval manuscripts are far from uniform, but rather represent local traditions and customs, particular to each space. ‘Its melodies represent a tradition, centred in Norfolk. It’s a very local manuscript,’ says Salisbury. A reliable attribution of location is unusual in such manuscripts, which is what made this enactment so unusual.

‘It’s quite a rare thing to celebrate an act of worship according to a historic practice, but it’s even rarer to have a book that gives us all the instructions, and gives us all the material that we need to localise it to a particular place,’ says Salisbury. For researchers, performing the music can answer several questions that can only be answered by trying the music out as intended, notes Salisbury. ‘Do you sustain particular syllables? Do you have to use particular articulation, in order to make the text audible? If there are instructions in the manuscript, which tell you to go to a particular place in the church, you can go to that place, process to a particular altar or go up and down the nave. As soon as you give it an airing, it’s completely different. You get a sense that this is actually music – it’s not just notes on a page.’ Ellen Davies (LMH, 2013) is completing a DPhil on music and temporality in 1913 Paris. She is the founding editor of Noise & Silence, an online platform for accessible writing on musicological research. The Plainsong and Medieval Music Society, founded in 1888, generously funded the project that allowed the Ranworth Antiphonal manuscript to be restored.



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Cycling Common room

The good sport

Addicted to asphalt Why spend your spare time grinding through the wind and rain on one of central England’s most forgettable routes? It’s the lure of the open road, women cyclists tell Neil Tweedie


xcitement and the A420 rarely converge. Linking Oxford with Swindon, it is utterly forgettable as a driving experience, except for its unhappy accident rate and a role in the history of great British motoring offences. It was on the A420 at Kingston Bagpuize that Timothy Brady was caught doing 172 mph in a Porsche 911 Turbo in January 2007, the highest speed clocked in a routine check in the UK, earning a 10-week prison sentence. Members of Oxford University Cycling Club know

the A420 all too well, competing with the fumespewing traffic that roars along its length during their training runs and competitions. Not for these riders the buffed perfection of the velodrome – road racing can be a grinding business, subject to wind, rain and unsympathetic motorists. But Belgian member Tamara Davenne is addicted to asphalt. ‘It’s the freedom of it – going where you like,’ she says. ‘I like to push myself and it is a good way to clear my mind. I like to compete against others and improve. In a time trial you are competing against yourself, your own previous performance.’ Davenne (Merton, 2013) took to cycling in earnest after moving to Oxford for a doctorate in immunology. She is one of some 20 female members of the 90-strong OUCC, and one of just three women competing regularly at university level. ‘Tam is the strongest of the three of us and she | |

Tamara Davenne leads the pack at the Hackney Primavera 1 circuit races in London in March this year

does most of the work in sustaining the pace,’ says American teammate Sonja Noll (Christ Church, 2012). ‘She doesn’t get much rest.’ That determination propelled the Oxford women to second place in the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) female team time trial competition in Bath this year. The following week, the team competed in the BUCS 25-mile time trial. The faster of the two teams is regarded as having won the Varsity competition, and this year it was Oxford. ‘Cycling was not that popular among women a few years ago but now there are more events,’ says Davenne. ‘Women are pushing themselves.’ For some, OUCC provides a social activity, for others a serious competitive sport. Weekend social rides might cover 50km while ‘development’ rides are at least 75km. Hard-pounding squad rides cover up to 100km – and are faster. OUCC coach Gary Kristensen analyses the data from computers mounted to the bikes. Team cycling is an intensely tactical activity, with members taking turns to rest (a relative term) in the slipstream of their teammates as a race progresses – a technique known as ‘drafting’. ‘You learn from riding together who is stronger and who is weaker,’ says Noll. ‘The person at the front may need to take a break from being in the lead and the person at the back may need you to slow down.’ Now more than a century old, OUCC (originally known as the Dark Blue CC) has experienced its share of peaks and troughs. When the bicycle was new and a tool of the elite, cycling prospered at Oxford. But the motor car relegated pedal power to a cheap way of getting around town (the ‘sit up and beg’ bike is as much a part of the Oxford myth as the dreaming spire). The OUCC’s renaissance as a competitive organisation began in the late 1950s and accelerated after 2000, although still as one of the smaller sports clubs in the University. Helena Coker (Wadham, 2014) is a keen new recruit to OUCC, having started racing only in February this year. ‘It keeps me sane,’ she says. ‘It’s good to get out of Oxford and in 10 minutes be in lovely countryside.’ Neil Tweedie writes features for The Daily Mail, among other national newspapers



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St Hilda’s – Jane Carpanini R.W.S., R.W.A.

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Somerville – Jane Carpanini R.W.S., R.W.A.

Over the past 25 years Contemporary Watercolours have commissioned members of e Royal Watercolour Society and Royal Academy to paint definitive views, as agreed with colleges concerned, of principle Oxford colleges. Limited edition prints were made from the paintings and offered for sale to Old Members of each college. e college receiving a royalty on sale of prints.

St Catherine’s – Jane Carpanini R.W.S., R.W.A.

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Bordeaux 2015 Common room

The wine review Mixed fortunes The 2015 Bordeaux vintage is inconsistent and overpriced, argues Hanneke Wilson is more important than selling great wines at fair prices. The futures system of selling Bordeaux leads to a secondary market, and any château setting too low a price will see its profits go to speculators instead, so even Châteaux Léoville and Langoa-Barton, among the few to remain family-owned, abandoned their friendly pricing with the 2005 vintage – hence more recent

Dr Hanneke Wilson (Merton, 1981) is the wine steward of Exeter and Lincoln colleges. | |




he year 2014 was a good vintage in Bordeaux, but 2015 was on a par with the great vintages since 2000 – or so the Bordeaux hype machine tells us. For a week in April the usual swarm of wine merchants and journalists descended on Bordeaux to taste the infant 2015s, and in Trinity Term a miniature version of the en-primeur circus came to us, accompanied by the annual blizzard of email. We enjoy tastings, and they enable us to make up our own minds. We appreciate recommendations from trusted merchants who understand the Oxford market. But there are plenty who don’t: several times an hour we receive email announcements of every single château’s release price, with verbose tasting notes and scores by so-called wine critics repeated verbatim by half a dozen different brokers. The grander the château the longer its owners spend looking over their shoulders to see what the neighbours are doing before they decide what to charge. This year the campaign was more tedious than ever, starting on 25 April and finishing on 22 June, when Ausone and Cheval Blanc finally deigned to reveal their sky-high prices. As if we cared. We just wanted the pinging of our inboxes to stop. The hype was just that: 2015 lacks the consistency of the outstanding vintages of 2005, 2009 and 2010. July and August were so hot that growers who had not maintained leaf canopies to shade the bunches ended up with shrivelled or even scorched grapes, though September brought cooler nights and enough rainfall to ripen the grapes properly. However, heavy rain in some of the northern and central Médoc, particularly in St-Estèphe, resulted in swollen grapes and dilute must. The Southern Médoc, Pessac and Pomerol did well on the whole, and the best wines show charm and purity of fruit. Tannins are riper and more plentiful than in 2014 and the wines will be longer-lived, but the hot weather made for low acidity, so the 2015s lack the appealing briskness of 2014. Yet again, tastings showed that my preference for freshness and elegance is not universally shared. Many châteaux had picked late to push for maximum ripeness and made heavy soupy wines with jammy fruit: I am glad to say that these will not feature in the cellars of Lincoln or Exeter. Less pleasing is the pricing of many wines that I might have bought. The Bordelais had another attack of vintage-of-thecentury disease and raised the prices at which they sell to the négociants (who then sell to the wine merchants who sell to us), in many instances by 20, 30 or even above 40%. Almost all the famous châteaux are corporate-owned so paying dividends to shareholders

vintages no longer feature in Oxford cellars. Sénéjac 2015 wasn’t so much better than the 2014 that I would be able to justify a fat increase in price to my colleagues, and I didn’t buy it; yet Capbern didn’t raise its price at all, so I bought that instead. D’Issan, which makes one of the silkiest, most complex and elegant wines in Bordeaux, had put up its ex-Château price by nearly a third, hence I couldn’t afford to buy d’Issan 2015 for Lincoln’s 600th anniversary celebrations in 2027. But many 2014s, which are yet to be bottled, remain unsold, and I bought a case of magnums of 2014 at the original release price. The petits châteaux don’t charge more in good vintages. Last year I argued that buying en primeur was a waste of money; this year Brexit has forced me to reconsider. Soon UK wine merchants will have run out of the euros they bought before the pound collapsed and prices will rise sharply, so I did something I have never done before, which is to buy modest claret en primeur.



60 | |


Paddy Summerfield Oxonian Lives


Days in the life Fine art photographer, lifelong Oxford resident and John Lennon acolyte Paddy Summerfield reflects on the work behind his retrospective book, The Oxford Pictures 1968–1978 | |

so mistrustful and thinks I’m somehow going to make money out of them. In the past everyone seemed pleased to be helpful. When you are young, you are trying to find your feet and I guess this was also true for the students I was photographing, but the troubles of youth are rarely the troubles of later life. I often wonder where these people are now, and what became of them. I’d be interested if anyone recognises themselves in any of my pictures – please get in touch! Signed copies will be available at the Old Parsonage and Old Bank Hotels, where the photographs can also be seen, thanks to Jeremy Mogford, who has collected my work and put it on permanent exhibition.

Summerfield’s book captures student life before the self-conscious selfie era

Paddy Summerfield ( has lived in Oxford all his life. Critic Gerry Badger’s 1976 essay on him has been republished on the Oxford Today website.

COMPETITION Create a caption for the image below. First prize: Bottle of Hine Antique XO Premier Cru Cognac and signed Summerfield book. Five runner-up prizes: A bottle of Royal Tokaji wine, ‘The Oddity’, and a signed Summerfield book. Particulars at (click Competitions on the menu bar). Open to Oxford alumni



t was summer, the light was intense. I was twenty, young and insecure. Apart from other photographers, and the film-maker Antonioni, a lot of my influence came from John Lennon – you felt he was truly present in his work, making something personal and emotional. I wanted to make work like his. In my youth, I saw Samuel Palmer’s dark ink drawings, landscapes with distant figures, and I thought: ‘Oh my God, I am not alone.’ From that moment, I wanted to make work that expressed those feelings; I wanted to show heartache and disappointment; I wanted to reach out to other people who felt the same. So, though my work is personal, it is not private. My pictures have always been about loss and abandonment, often with backs turned, often a person in an empty space. I’ve heard it said that if you express your pain, the hurt goes away – a little. I always wanted to understand something about myself and the world around me. I think my work is melancholy. The students I got to know here all seemed to worry more about relationships than about getting well-paid jobs in the City! Later, I photographed the underprivileged in Oxford. We were all out on the streets, all losers together. It wasn’t a proper job, meeting the same people. It was a certain way of getting rid of money and handing out cigarettes, and in the evenings we’d be back in the pubs together – all a bit of a party! When I was wandering around with camera in hand, about 50 years ago now, I was using a Pentax Spotmatic, mainly with a wide-angle lens, with red filter and 400 ASA film. There was hardly anyone doing that – using a good camera, I mean. Who could have predicted life as it is now – all the young taking selfies and sending pictures to their friends, showing themselves as better-looking, in a better place, having a better time, all the time? How the world has changed, how technology has changed it! In the Seventies, I could easily walk in and out of colleges – no one took much notice. Anyway, many of my pictures were taken in the University Parks. There were never any difficulties. If I was spotted, I would smile and say, ‘Thanks, I’m only doing this for fun.’ And that was true. It’s so different today – everyone is


Winners will be picked by the editorial team at Oxford Today, with input from Paddy. The criteria for judging are sensitivity to the image – plus a sense of humour.


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Obituary Oxonian lives


Lord Neill of Bladen


Warden of All Souls and Vice-Chancellor


aron Neill of Bladen QC, Warden of All Souls College from 1977 to 1995 and ViceChancellor of Oxford University from 1985 to 1989, died on 28 May 2016, aged 89. Born on 8 August 1926 in Hampstead, Francis Patrick Neill – who went by the name of Patrick – was the son of Sir Thomas Neill, chairman of the National Amalgamated Approved Society, and his wife Annie. He was educated at Highgate School, served as a captain in the Rifle Brigade, and read jurisprudence at Magdalen. He won the Gibbs and Eldon law scholarships, graduated with a first in 1950, and was elected a prize fellow of All Souls the same year. He remained deeply attached to the college, from 1958 as a fifty-pound fellow, and later, after stepping down as Warden, as an honorary fellow. In 1951 Neill took another first in the BCL exam and was called to the bar by Gray’s Inn. He became a much-sought-after specialist in commercial and patent law, but also took other briefs, and notably defended (unsuccessfully) publishers John Calder and Marion Boyars in 1967 on obscenity charges over Hubert Selby Jr’s Last Exit to Brooklyn. He became a QC in 1966 and was a member of the Bar Council from 1967 to 1971 and chairman in 1974–5. In 1975 he became a Recorder of the Crown Court but (except for a long-standing role as a judge of the Courts of Appeal of Jersey and Guernsey) eschewed further judicial promotion. He was later head of chambers at One Hare Court, then at Serle Court (following its merger with One Hare Court), but left in 2008 to join his brother, Sir Brian Neill, at 20 Essex Street. Much of his later work was in arbitration. He was made a Bencher of Gray’s Inn in 1971 and Treasurer in 1990. An almost archetypal member of the ‘great and good’, Neill was actively engaged in public service: among many other positions he was chairman of the Press Council from 1978 to 1983 (where his appeals to tabloid editors to show restraint fell on deaf ears); of the committee of inquiry into regulatory arrangements at Lloyd’s in 1986–7; and of the loss review committee at Lloyd’s in 1991–2. From 1978 to 1987 he chaired the Justice/All Souls Committee for the Review of Administrative Law, and wrote its report. From 1978 to 1985 he was the first chairman of the Council for the | |

ONLINE A fuller list of obituaries is available at: www. oxfordtoday.


Securities Industry (controversially defending a system of self-regulation), and from 1997 to 2001 he was chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. His first act in this post was to demand that the Labour Party repay £1 million to Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, after it emerged that Formula One would be exempt from new regulations on tobacco advertising. He also introduced guidelines and a degree of transparency into political party funding and election expenditure. As Warden of All Souls, Neill instilled efficiency into college administration, secured the admission of women to the college in 1979, enhanced its musical activities, and raised its academic profile within the University and beyond. As Vice-Chancellor of the University he launched the Campaign for Oxford, which under his leadership raised £350 million (almost double the initial target of £200 million). He was among those who argued unsuccessfully for giving Margaret Thatcher an honorary degree in 1985. Tall, slim, slightly crumpled, courteous and precise, with a razor-sharp intellect, a strong sense of morality, and unquestioned integrity, Neill was knighted in 1983 and made a life peer in 1997, sitting as a crossbencher and contributing regularly to debates, notably expressing hostility to the increasing power of the European Court of Justice. In 2003 he was an unsuccessful candidate for Chancellor of the University, losing to Chris Patten, who nevertheless described him as ‘a pillar in the history of Oxford University’, adding that ‘the University today owes him a great deal’. He is survived by three sons and two daughters; his wife Caroline and son Matthew predeceased him. Obituary contributed by Dr Alex May (St John’s, 1982), research editor at Oxford DNB.


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Oxonian lives Susanna White


year. A lot of my focus now was on figuring out how to become a film-maker. The Guardian and Channel 4 News picked up a documentary I made about colleges going mixed. I spent a lot of time with Mike Hoffman, Rick Stevenson, Rupert Walters, Anthony Geffen and Lionel Wigram – all of whom have gone into different aspects of the film industry. They had discovered, early on, the power of the University’s name to get interesting people to come and speak and advise. What were your tutors like?

Ann Pasternak Slater was completely inspiring. She had a wonderful mind and seemed to combine her work effortlessly with being a mother. She taught me a lot about life. She built my confidence for later challenges. Dorothy Bednarowska gave superb tutorials on Conrad, James and Dickens, and was a fantastic storyteller. ‘You’ve three years at Oxford,’ she said. ‘The first is for settling in, the second is for taking as many lovers as possible. The third – it’s finals.’ Patricia Ingham’s brilliant History of the English Language teaching made me appreciate words in a totally different way.

St Anne’s, 1980

Susanna White

Has your Oxford qualification helped in your career?

The director behind the BBC’s Bafta-winning Bleak House and Emmy-nominated productions of Jane Eyre and Generation Kill talks to Alison Boulton What made you choose Oxford to study?

My school first suggested it. I went on a taster weekend for law at Balliol and decided Law wasn’t for me but Oxford definitely was. I loved the people I met and the place itself. An inspiring English teacher at school, Pippa Donald, had done an MPhil at St Anne’s and thought I’d respond to the tutors there at that time.

What have you taken away from Oxford?

Student days ...

What were your impressions of Oxford at the time?

At first I found it rather overwhelming, despite being a Scholar. I was recovering from gap-year meningitis. Neither of my parents had been to university and I seemed to be surrounded by clever, incredibly confident people. After a bit I realised there was a lot of bluffing and I had as much right to be there. Diligent but not brilliant. My heart was in film-making and I spent a lot of time imagining literature as movies. What was your social life like?

Did you take part in any extra-curricular activities?

I was on the Film Foundation committee from my first 66

An ability to argue a case, a thoughtful approach, and confidence to achieve. Several of my closest friends, including my husband Oliver, are people I have met since leaving the University who turned out to have gone there. They combine really sharp minds with originality and wit and a very original way of thinking. How do you think of Oxford now?

What kind of student were you?

Lively. It revolved around the Oxford University Film Foundation, and the LitSoc, where I found kindred spirits. I’ll never forget hearing Seamus Heaney read to the LitSoc or Karel Reisz at the Film Foundation.

It gave me access to people I would never have met otherwise, and exposed me to different thinking. Reading English gave me the mental discipline to develop arguments and to structure; it also made me think about storytelling. A background in literature helped in the Oxford Screenwriting Competition after university and later in my work with great writers from David Simon to Tom Stoppard. My degree also helped me get a Fulbright to UCLA Film School.


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With tremendous affection. It is a privilege to have studied here, and to have experienced its vast cultural riches. To have been immersed for three years in a group of amazingly bright and talented people was unforgettable. I ended up marrying someone who was five years ahead of me at the University – so I never knew him at the time I was there – but somehow we have a shared Oxford past. Last year I found myself visiting the University again with my twin daughters and being reminded again what an extraordinary place it is. My most vivid memory? Ann Pasternak Slater introducing me to Philip Sidney’s Arcadia and also hearing John Carey lecture on the Elizabethans. Oh, and dancing to Mud at a college ball. Alison Boulton (St Anne’s, 1980) is an Oxford-based journalist. | |


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Oxford Today - Michaelmas 2016  

The Michaelmas, 2016 edition of Oxford Today honours Oxford alumna Theresa May, since the summer Prime Minister of a Britain facing divorce...

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