I arrived from Liverpool at Ruskin College on 7 October 1968, being dropped off by taxi at Headington Hall. I was just 22 years of age and was a member of DATA (the Draughtsmen and Allied Technicians’ Association). I had for six years been a Draughtsman at Cammell Laird shipbuilders in Birkenhead.
The then-Principal at Ruskin was Billy Hughes, former Labour MP for Wolverhampton West and also a former PPS to Ellen Wilkinson at the Ministry of Education. Billy was a very jolly man with a ruddy complexion who had lost his seat in 1950 to Enoch Powell. He was full of life and would go bounding along the corridors with his long stride and smile. Once a week a handful of students would be invited to his study for post-lunch coffee. I particularly recall an incident in 1969 or 1970 when Ruskin students had been involved in storming the Bodleian gates and occupying the University Treasury. The University was outraged and demanded that Billy identify all those students involved so that the university could take action and that any students going on the demonstration that day should be punished. But Billy was an astute politician and at lunchtime in the canteen he stood up and announced that we should not go on this demonstration and that he had no choice but to identify anyone who did. But Billy knew exactly what he was doing and knew full well what our reaction would be. So after a quick meeting the entire student body agreed to march from Ruskin to join the demonstration, thereby leaving the university authorities snookered. They could hardly take action against the entire student body.
One of my favourite tutors was Paul Brodetsky who was the son of an eminent jewish Russian mathematician. Paul taught Political Theory and Philosophy. He was always very friendly with students and would regularly join us in a post lunch coffee and natter in someone’s rooms. I did a year’s Philosophy with Paul and learned a great deal. He was a shortish man with a protruding head and sharp beard that made him look rather like Lenin.
Raph Samuel, the Social Historian was, of course, another popular tutor and had his small gang of followers; I was never really one of them. Raph was a wiry man with long black hair and a distinctly disheveled appearance. He was always late for something, always in a hurry. Another impressive character was David Selbourne who would, after I had left, become embroiled in a major controversy with the college, for which many on the left have never forgiven him. During my time at Ruskin, however, Selbourne was a follower of Mao as well as being a playwright. Interesting how his views have changed. He was one of the cleverest people I have ever met. He was tall, with a large sweeping forehead and beard and resembled Karl Marx to whom he claimed he was related. Selbourne taught Political Theory and was tutor for my dissertation.
John Hughes became deputy Principal whilst I was at Ruskin, taking over from Herbert Smith, the international economist. John Hughes was also a distinguished economist with close associations in the Trade Union movement. Although he never taught me I did come into close contact with him as his wife Vi taught English Literature. I was also friendly with their daughters who lived in the family house next to Headington Hall. Herbert Smith was also a great admirer of William Blake and I do recall spending an afternoon in the library at Smith House whilst he gave a talk about his love of Blake and read his poems, in particular Tiger, Tiger. Other members of staff I particularly remember were Roy Moore, a young economist who had been brought in to teach Trade Union studies, Victor Treadwell who taught Social History along with Harold Pollins, Bill Cooke and Peter Donaldson who taught Economics. There was always an enormous respect between tutors and students; no elitism, and a genuine friendliness that often found tutors and students in the pub together or simply enjoying coffee in someone’s room.
With gratitude for this contribution to Dr Steve Kelly, Ruskin student 1968-70.