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Old Men Vaguely Recollect - Brian Alderson (German, 1952)

My three years at Exeter aimed for a degree in German under Professor Garland[1]. It was not as simple as that however because, owing to wartime teaching provision, I had done no Latin at school (obligatory for acceptance for an Honours degree in those days). So I rushed through a School Certificate privately after being accepted but the College demanded that I also spend my first year upgrading that to a Higher level. (Ah – Jackson Knight on Aeneid II – a great class – teaching as it should be done.) At the same time, German in those days had to be supplemented by a subsidiary subject so I also spent the first two years reading Philosophy as well.

All this was rather fun - intellectually stimulating but not conducive to profound study and there was no possibility of an add-on year at a German university so soon after the end of the war. In fact, the three years were indeed altogether ‘rather fun’ and I look with amazement at humanities studies today beset by economic and political and wokeish considerations. (Admittedly students then (but, alas, not me] were all on grants and I can see that today’s eye-watering fees etc may prove a distraction from careless enjoyment.)

Humanities at the College were all taught in what were the old polytechnic premises in Gandy Street although the Washington Singer labs and the Roborough Library had already been newly built on what would become the main campus. Several halls of residence were scattered about the city with male and female students carefully separated, the girls needing permission to stay out late) and I was lodged in Kilmorie in Pennsylvania Road for all but my first term. The inter-hall socialising and a fair quantity of societies were the source of much of the enjoyment and, for me anyway, led to most of my more memorable experiences. It seems that the College, although ‘white tile’ rather  than red brick[2], had an interesting student intake in the years round 1949 and I think it worth noting below some friends and contemporaries then encountered:-

In Kilmorie I roomed for a year with Alan Horne who would later become Librarian at the Commonwealth Institute before fleeing to Toronto wiith a Canadian assistant. He there became a Canadian citizen and worked at Toronto University Library, becoming an authority on book illustration[3] and wood engraving. We remained friends and I visited him regularly until he recently fell victim to Alzheimer’s.

Just along the corridor was Barrie Bloomfield who also became a librarian, eventually serving major Directorates in the British Museum and later British Libraries. He was also the bibliographer and friend of that other librarian, Philip Larkin.

Contemporary too in Kilmorie was Terry Coleman, radical editor of the student newspaper, the South Westerner, until he was sent down for taking part in a raid on St Lukes, the teacher-training college down the road. He got a place at Bristol to read Law and, not unexpectedly, became a noted journalist with the Guardian.

Rather to her disgust he published a poem by Jane Birkinshaw, self-effacing but a fine student actress and poet who would later marry the obsessed printer Guido Morris of the Latin Press who escaped his daemons by becoming a guard on the Underground. Jane, who was sister to Fay Weldon, died too young of cancer.

My own career was negligible although I made a pitiful attempt at editing a sort of essay-journal, Pan. It was the idea of Pete Bridger (‘if you don’t like it you can sit on it’), an eternal student, holding court in the Junior Common Room while attempting a PhD under the London supervision of A.J.Ayer. John Finch at Crossmead was co-editor. He graduated in history and, after an army commission (I remember him incongruously buying a bowler hat in Jermyn Street) went to Vienna, working on a thesis on the Dreikaiserbund. Suddenly though he became a Wordsworthian and joined the team at Grasmere working on a full bibliographical edition of the poet (The complicated  Ruined Cottage was to be his speciality). However, while working at Cornell University he sought to rescue some students in a fire and tragically died in the attempt.

For me, I was very taken with a girl who was reading biology and whom I would see pushing a bike up to Gandy Street on her way from the Washington Singer. I tried unsuccessfully to sell her Pan and later met her in a croquet match on the court at Lopez Hall...

Reader, I married her.

[1] He and his German wife, Mary, who also taught in the Department, were later to edit The Oxford Companion to German Literature and  it was pretty cheeky (I got a third, remember) that I published a short review of it in the Times Educational Supplement.

[2] See John Osborne Look Back in Anger II.1 p.42 “I don’t think one “comes down” from Jimmy’s university. According to him it’s not even red brick but white tile.”

[3] See Alan Horne The Dictionary of 20th Century British Book Illustrators (Woodbridge: Antique Collectors Club, 1994)