CAM 78 letters

CAM 78 letters

  • Christie Morrallee (Clare) in the Eagle by Lydia Goldblatt
    Christie Morrallee (Clare) in the Eagle

Photography by Lydia Goldblatt

Letters home

A coincidence for me, that Mailbag’s Letters Home (CAM 78) came while I am about to publish my Letters Home: From a Transkei Mission Hospital 1958 – 1976. After rescuing these letters from my sister's garden shed, I thought it was an exceptional thing for my mother to have kept them, as I also have all the letters she kept from my boarding school days at The Leys during its wartime removal to Scotland. Now I see it was not just a personal quirk, but shared with other mothers of those 'olden' days. And indeed, as I turned the page and saw the Tweet of the Term was so true: “… the demise of the letter and the subsequent loss of precious details of ordinary lives due to social media …”

Ronald Ingle (King's 1945)

The Cambridge Greek Play

In your Deconstruction (CAM 78) of the Cambridge Greek Play, you assert that this is not just for the Classicists. You point out that Jack Davies bowled Bradman for a duck at Fenners and still somehow managed to perform in the 1933 production of The Oresteia. This is a bit of an own goal; Jack took a double first in Classics having won a Classics scholarship to St John's.

Jack bowled me for a duck, too – nearly 30 years after he saw off Bradman. By then he was a Fellow of the College and playing for the Buccaneers against the John's first team. Jack had already taken four wickets by the time I arrived at the crease at number 11 (my regular slot in any team I ever played for) and he couldn't wait to get at me, recognising a rabbit when he saw one. I didn't disappoint and he duly got his five-fer a couple of balls later.

Jonathan Beels (St John's 1962)

A delight to see the Cambridge Greek Play featuring so strongly in your Easter 2016 edition, which brought back memories of the 1962 production of Aristophanes' The Clouds. This was probably the first production, by the distinguished opera director Dennis Arundell, to break the mould of tedious choruses clad in horsehair and cardboard.

Our chorus – Hugh Pilkington (King's 1960) of the eponymous glass manufacturer, Mike Brearley (St John's 1960) future England cricket captain, and the undersigned – was noted not so much for its singing as for its choreographic skill with brightly coloured parasols. The composer and King's Fellow, Philip Radcliffe, was commissioned to write the music, which was conducted by Simon Preston (King's 1958), who could call on musicians of the stature of Simon Standage (King's 1959) and Richard Podger (King's 1958) for his orchestra.

Oh, and my signed programme reminds me that two of our cast, Michael Scott-Joynt (King's 1961), lately Bishop of Winchester, and his future wife Mary Lou (Girton 1961), first met during those heady days in The Clouds.

Noel Osborne (Jesus 1959)

I was delighted to read that the tradition of putting on Greek plays in Greek is still successfully upheld.

I took part in a performance of Aeschylus's Agamemnon produced by George Rylands in February 1953. It was one of the highlights of my undergraduate days.

I was part of the Chorus of Argive Elders. There were about a dozen of us, dressed in full-length robes; we competed in our make-up to see who could look the most elderly; one or two even adopted a trembling palsy.

We spoke much of the Chorus part in unison, sometimes singing it; occasionally one or other of us would speak a few lines solo.

 We learned our parts from a book that had an English translation on the opposite page, but none of us, except for the very clever girl who played the part of Clytemnestra, understood every word of Aeschylus's Greek, we all agreed.

As Chorus we were on stage all the time. We didn't dance, but George Rylands had instructed us to shuffle about in a slow swirl of robes, as we recited the doom-laden poetry.

Suddenly, as I passed by the side curtain, a back-stage prankster grabbed my robes and yanked me back behind the scenery. I soon realised what had happened and later made a discreet return to the stage. But at the time, the shock I felt was so sudden that I realised with a pang how deeply I had become involved in the atmosphere of Aeschylus's poetic drama.

When the performance was over, I apologised for my involuntary exit from the stage to George Rylands. "Don't worry about it, dear boy," he said. "Last time, someone walked across the stage stark naked."

Philip Pendered (Caius 1952)

Nepal Earthquake

Dr Emily So’s Don’ Diary (CAM 78) completely misses the cultural factors involved. I keep a small apartment on the western side of Kathmandu. I was in the region for the first earthquake and back in my flat for the second.

A clear image in Kathmandu was to see the high proportion of buildings constructed using Nepali brick that had collapsed. A common scene would be a line of concrete, Nepali and Chinese brick buildings, and often the Nepali brick were the only ones completely destroyed. In my own area, behind my concrete and rebar building, were brick houses, many of which – I estimate a half – were seriously damaged. And yet, a scene repeated right across the valley was to see local people collecting these Nepali bricks in preparation for building again. And it is not just financing. My driver's three rooms just survived – see attached photo – but the walls were in bad condition. You can see out through the gaps between bricks. I offered to buy supplies and equipment for pointing and to teach how do it. This was firmly rejected. "This is not how we do things", was one comment I received. I was made to feel that I simply did not understand.

The compound in which my flat sits is attached to one of the main monasteries in western Kathmandu. The main temple was badly damaged and needed to be rebuilt. I made a point of going round with the Nepali architects in order to check their methods and ask pertinent questions. I suggested using i-beams instead of rebars; I suggested having some diagonal i-beams in walls and ceilings to add strength. These and other suggestions were met with basically the same response: "This is not how we do things in Nepal".

Some Japanese architects have had limited success in introducing some safer building materials and methods, but I fear that things will continue, with many further deaths in the future, unless these cultural barriers are thoroughly broken down and a new culture is developed in Nepal. By comparison, the "natural frequency of the main building stock" is a distraction.

Edward Henning (Trinity 1968)


In his article on sin (CAM 78), Dr Stephen Cherry described “the (negative) place given to pride in the western Christian tradition” as a scandal. He was referring to a pride which is compatible with humility. Examples would include pride in the achievements of others, such as one’s children or students, and in one’s own achievements as long as one does not boast. It has been said that true humility lies in recognising examples like this as blessings from God, for which we are to be grateful. The bad pride Dr Cherry refers to is incompatible with humility. We might translate it as 'self-importance’. Dr Cherry quite rightly gives “mistaking yourself for God” as an example. The fact that this needs explaining from time to time reflects a weakness in the English language. The French call the first kind of pride fierté, and the other kind orgueil. Other European languages make a similar distinction and never confuse the two.

Mike Buckland (Downing 1973)

Cambridge Interviews

I am very aware that Cambridge admits “applicants from all backgrounds” (CAM 78). When I matriculated in 1971, I was a 27-year-old dustman, who had left school at 15, and had been brought up in an orphanage!

Michael Kennedy (Selwyn 1971)

I was intrigued by the article on interviews as I think that I may well have had one of the shortest. I applied as an already qualified teacher seeking to study History and Education at King’s. The admissions tutor arrived thirty minutes late, apologised and asked how I would deal with the problem of political bias in teaching. While I searched for an outstandingly intelligent reply he said, “Don’t worry about that, will you be playing cricket for us while you are here?” I replied that I thought that I might find my studies too time consuming. He then said that it was late and that we should have some lunch. While walking across the lawn beside the Chapel I said that I would need to know the result of the interview soon so that I could find a teaching post if unsuccessful. He said, “Oh, no need for that, we’ll see you in September”

I did find time for cricket!

Harry Galbraith (King’s 1972)

Jon Beard is quite right when he refers to "the myths and misconceptions often cited as reasons not to apply to Cambridge. In Cambridge and Oxford, England has the crème de la crème of the academic world. As a country we should be proud of them. Instead there are too many who see them as the reason for the failings of some sections of society while others make them out to be places that are far removed from what they are in reality.

Richard Holroyd (St John's 1968)

I was pleased to read Jon Beard’s article (issue 78) on the university’s efforts to make sure it attracts the best of our students from all backgrounds.

I’d like to think this also applies to a class of students from places closely related to the UK, such as those in the British Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies. I currently live on one of the CDs, Guernsey, where students wanting to study at Cambridge are charged full overseas fees which can be very significantly higher than home fees. That’s a great way to discourage students from applying for a place. Fortunately, CD students can choose Oxford instead where, in common with virtually all other UK universities, they are charged at home rates.

Interestingly, BOT students are guaranteed the “home” deal and so are definitely not discouraged in the same way. Whatever rules are at work here, they aren’t being applied in a consistent way.

There’s another aspect to this seemingly less-than-even-handed treatment. Cambridge is home to Churchill College, the national memorial to Sir Winston Churchill. There’s a memorial on Guernsey at St. Peter Port harbour, inscribed with Churchill’s words at the end of the Second World War which reads as follows “.. and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today”. I wonder how Churchill would feel about students from his dear Channel Islands being treated as completely foreign.

There have been efforts made in the past to reverse this policy, with a fresh round at a high level currently under way. However, despite considerable time and effort already expended the issue has not been resolved, even though it’s not an issue at all for most UK universities.

If CAM can give it a higher profile amongst Cambridge alumni, perhaps we’ll prompt an early resolution in favour of the island’s students.

Stephen Kyle (Churchill 1970)

Response from University: The classification of students as eligible to pay the Home rate of fee is determined by government legislation (The Education (Fees and Awards) (England) Regulations 2007). Unless a student qualifies as a Home student, the University of Cambridge charges its Overseas rate. To charge different Overseas rates of fee based on domicile would be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

Cambridge Sport

Nick Brooking's article (CAM 77) advocating the role of sport in the development of meaningful friendships struck a chord. Twenty years ago a group of former members of the Cycling Club met in a restaurant on Parker's Piece. The Cuccolds, as we unselfconsciously called ourselves, have cycled together every year since then at venues from Britanny to Bute, and Lincolnshire to the Limousin, enjoying each other's company and that of wives and partners.

We count ourselves lucky to have retained our health and a degree of fitness 60 years on – a tribute perhaps to friendships and habits that sport, whether competitive or purely social, can bring.

Robin Bullows (Clare 1956)

Thank you for CAM 77 which I enjoyed very much and, in particular, Nick Brooking's column.

I thought of writing to you just now in view of the passing away a few days ago of Muhammed Ali, World Heavyweight Champion of 1964 and subsequently. He had earlier won a Gold Medal as a light heavyweight at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games. Few would remember today that one of the judges in boxing at the 1960 Rome Olympics was Danton G. Obeysekere (Trinity), who captained Cambridge Boxing in his time.

Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) had other boxers of note at Cambridge in that era. They included PEP Deraniyagala (Trinity) and SW Dassenaike (Emma). They both boxed for Cambridge against Oxford. Steve Dassenaike (incidentally my godfather) told me that a British boxing official once told him that Deraniyagala was the fastest amateur in his weight class in Britain in his time. I can well believe it due to my experience during sparring at Fenners with his son, Siran (Trinity).

Danton continued to be of service to boxing in his country in later years in areas such as encouraging and coaching the sport.

Rohan H Wickramasinghe (Emmanuel 1958)

I was delighted to read Nick Brooking's fine piece under the strap "Whether you earn a Blue or play for the College Third XI, sport is an essential part of student life" (CAM 77).

At last: 40 years on, here is validation of my three years' desperately earnest endeavours at full back or wide left for Selwyn Thirds Football XI. I have nothing left to achieve.

Nigel Roberts (Selwyn 1975)

The Astronomer and The Witch

I really enjoyed the excellent article by Professor Rublack (CAM 78), as it gave such insight into the private troubles of this great scientist and the environment in which he lived.

I appreciated the article particularly as I have recently finished reading a very well researched and clearly written biography of Kepler by David Love. His book is entitled Kepler and the Universe: How One Man Revolutionized Astronomy and may be classified as a popular science book, appealing to the general reader with an interest in science and astronomy. It also deals admirably with his troubled life in the fractious times in which he lived.

The opera Kepler’s Trial sounds fascinating and thought provoking. There must also be scope for other dramatic productions regarding this great man, such as his difficult relationship with Tycho.

Dennis Humphreys (Sidney Sussex 1964)

Thank you for the interesting article on the trial of Kepler's mother on a charge of witchcraft. This episode, which was both embarrassing and dangerous for Kepler's family, explains why the Somnium, Kepler's entertaining science fiction story of a journey to the moon, was published only after his death by his son Ludwig. For it tells of an Icelandic boy who is transported to the moon by demons summoned up by his mother who is a witch. Since the demons can only inhabit shadows, the four-hour journey must take place during a total solar eclipse, which is just long enough from first contact to last contact. Only thin human beings can make the journey, ("and therefore Germans are not suitable"!). The story was written before Galileo turned his telescope on the moon, and explanatory notes were added after Kepler had studied Galileo's account of his observations. It is a short and good read, and can be downloaded on the internet.

Michael Bourke (Corpus 1960)

From the Editor: Indeed – in fact Professor Rublack considers exactly this issue towards the end of The Astronomer and The Witch.

Pronunciation of St John’s

I was interested in the article (Lent 2016) on pre-email letters from students. Specifically, the comment from the US student on pronunciation of names of Colleges. I spent six years at St John's in the 60s and never once heard the College addressed as "SINjens" nor even a mention that it had once been said that way.

I am well aware of the personal name (my parents had a friend known to my brothers and me as "Uncle Sinjen") . . . but the College?  Does anyone know when the usage died out?  Or did I just not move in the right circles?

Robert Dilley (St John's 1961)

Folk Story

Your article “Folk Story” (CAM 77) brought back vivid memories of Wednesday nights in the upper room of the Horse and Groom, belting out choruses along with Martin Carthy, Jeannie Robertson, Ewan McColl, Joan Baez, and other greats, during my student days at Cambridge (1961-68, interrupted by a year in Iran).

For one year I even served as Secretary of the St. Lawrence Folk Song Society. I picked up a bit of balalaika, and imitated Theodore Bikel for a while; though I did take a shot at collecting and performing a living English (actually, Scots-Irish) folksong – a humorous pastiche composed by one of the navies on a building site in praise of the works foreman (my father). One fateful night (November 22, 1963) we crammed into a coach and went across to carouse with our Oxford counterparts. The convivial fug was suddenly pierced by an incredulous yell: “JFK has been shot!” and the meeting devolved into the chaotic gloom of a disillusioned generation.

John Perry (Pembroke 1961)

With regard to your article and follow up correspondence I would like to add my own experience as a “townie” from 1960 to 1964.

With some others in Cambridge who were interested in folk music we went along to the “Horse and Groom” King Street and were given a friendly welcome. For some of us it was the first time we had actually sung before an audience. But the attitude was highly receptive.

Among the personnel were Dick Quinnell, Rod Morgan and Dave Kilkerr. Soon after the Cambridge Crofters were founded, we attended the concert given by Pete Seeger in the Union Society and in 1965 the first Cambridge Folk Festival took place.  

I entered St. John’s in 1968 as a mature State scholar hence my alumnus status. Hopefully some of the original members of that time will remember me.

Jack Sharkey (St John's 1968)

Your article ‘Folk story’ (CAM 77) came as a lovely surprise and brought back fond memories of the St Lawrence Folk Club. I particularly remember Barry MacGuire singing some gospel songs and his hit ‘Eve of Destruction’, saying he didn’t believe it any more. Most importantly, it was there that I first saw and heard the great Gordon Giltrap, whom I have seen in concert several times since graduating. I also made occasional visits to the Red Cow, where the folk singing was more traditional, and the beer very good.

Mike Buckland (Downing 1973)

I am not really surprised that Keith Sidwell (Folk Story) never came across Nick Drake. He seems to have kept himself very much to himself. I was introduced to him by a mutual friend who thought we might like to jam together. So we met on a summer’s afternoon on the lawn of Bodley’s Court, where Roger Drage (Kings 1966) and I treated him to our extended version of Light my Fire (yes, really). He listened politely and then played us an exquisite guitar solo that seemed to involve the use of at least two extra hands. Roger and I sat quietly in awe. We all chatted a bit and then went our ways, I think each recognising that, musically, we were not really on the same planet. It was only later that I learned of his success and I still guard my copy of Five Leaves Left as a reminder of that afternoon.

Howard Gannaway (Kings 1966)

I greatly appreciate and heartily applaud CAM's re-design. The University, the magazine, and its readers benefit greatly from a format that skillfully combines contemporary graphics and layout with seriousness of purpose and content. Thank you.

John Sanford McClenahen (Wolfson 1986)


I would like to share with you, and others of my era, two vignettes of my first few days in College. I was billeted on staircase B with 4 other military types. A message was left for us that after Hall the Head Porter would like to speak to us. He was ex.BSM Offley of the RA. He duly arrived and gave us some general info and then two pieces of info which have forever remained in my memory.

Firstly: “Gentlemen, the College gates close at 10pm, but this rule was made for undergrads straight from school. To the left of the side gate there is a bell on the wall” – and it is still there – “and if you press it the night porter will let you in”. Secondly: “The Master and Lady Whitby will invite you to tea in the Lodge. You will wear a suit and tie and gown and arrive on time. After some time, Lady Whitby will ask if you care for more tea and that is when you express your thanks and take your leave.”

Might I add that in more recent years, one of my grandsons was at Girton and another is in his final year at Sidney. They were amazed when I told them that I had a lovely lady who brought me tea in the morning, made my bed and cleaned my room and a College servant who polished my shoes! Now I polish my own shoes – and those of my wife!   

Murray Cohen (Downing 1950)

Those of us who came up in the 1940s, mostly ex-service and some marked by horrifying war experiences, packed into the ADC and Footlights for what for us was a golden age of song and cabaret. Cult shows like 'Salad Days' and 'Beyond the Fringe' were still in the future. Around 1950 we delighted in Tony Short's jazz band and the songs/shows of Geoffrey Beaumont, Brian Rees, Julian Slade, Ken Alexander, Leslie Bricusse, Pat Appleford and others.

Johnny Bartlett (who later dug a tunnel under the Thames) was the English Cannibal King; Tony Church (who went on to the Old Vic) was the Gipsy Earl, and we all fell in love with Ann Percival Smith in 'Bang Goes the Meringue'. But, our revels long since ended, is all that musical talent forgotten? Apart from Julian's later shows and the church music of Geoffrey and Pat, is there any known record, on sheet or disc, of that wonderful out-pouring of Cambridge music?

Francis Chute (Trinity 1949)

From 1926 onwards some officers of the Royal Engineers received their professional training at Cambridge, and although this was interrupted during WW2 it was resumed afterwards. A number of cadets from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, commissioned into the Sappers, or to the Royal Signals, then spent two or three years  reading for the Mechanical Sciences Tripos, returning to their regiments after graduation. Army officer training is now  very different and only a small proportion of cadets go to Sandhurst direct from school, with the majority obtaining degrees from a variety of universities before attending Sandhurst for a shorter course. The Royal Princes, William and Harry illustrate the two current paths to Sandhurst –William after his degree at St Andrews, and Harry straight from Eton College. While the old system applied, very occasionally an officer from an arm other than the Sappers, that is artillery or infantry, was lucky enough to do the same, and the writer, a gunner, was one of those fortunate few and spent from 1955 to 1958 at St John’s. Most alumni from around those years will probably remember a fellow-undergraduate who was a serving army officer or from the Royal Navy or the RAF whose engineers were doing the same.

The army clearly begrudged the years away from military duty and was anxious to recapture the new graduates as soon as possible. The result is that I was rushed back to duty and service against EOKA in the Cyprus emergency before my graduation ceremony. After paying an extra ‘tenner’ I graduated by proxy, and of course never saw the Senate House ceremony. I was unlucky again when the time came to proceed to MA,and again paid my tenner and advanced by proxy.

When this year my granddaughter was due to graduate after three years reading Law at Robinson, it occurred to me that this might be my chance to see inside the Senate House, and the graduation ceremony. Tickets are as scarce as hen’s teeth, but the Praelector and his clerk at Robinson turned up trumps and kindly found room for my wife and me. So, some fifty-eight years late, at last I was in the Senate House. As a member of the university and wearing (for the first time) an MA gown I was seated on the VIP bench, nearest to the Pro-Vice Chancellor as successive graduands were admitted to their degrees. My secret had clearly leaked out and before the ceremony a succession of officials from the Marshal upwards came to quiz this strange figure, with the Senior Proctor probably wracking his brain to find the appropriate fine (in my undergrad days always a multiple of six shillings and eightpence, one-third of an old pound) for such a late attendance at the ceremony.

Major Colin Robins (St John’s 1955)

Cambridge - A Poem

I was reading the latest issue of CAM and it brought back a multitude of memories of 60 years ago -- especially the article on sport but so much else­- the music of Clare and King’s, the bridges and garden, the outstanding Fellows and lecturers I knew. So much. A poem fell from my pen after I had finished reading, attached.


Played tennis hard winter didn’t stop me

Hit with gloves on the frozen courts

Got my summer blue my kind tutor

Advised “stretch the muscles of the mind” read Kant

And over sherry we discussed the Tudors

One weekend Saturday Pandit Nehru visited

How nervously he touched the red rose at his breast

Told us sadly how millions died at freedom

Sunday Dylan Thomas staggered from a pub

We sniggered as he fell about the podium

Then read Fern Hill I still recall the silence

The gold-lit shadows of the College chapel

Young girl softly sings young man plays the flute

I hungered for all the days to come the hours

Filled with gifts and testimonies the years redeem

Cycled through winter winds early morning lectures

John Saltmarsh’s wool trade in the 13th century

Strode around the lecture stage without a note

Explaining great beauty in an ordinary world

Ian McDonald (Clare 1951)