Geoffrey Williams

  College: King's College
  Subject: Classics
  Class of: 1961

Memories of King’s College 1958-1961

I started at King’s College in 1958 at a time when a relatively small percentage of the age group went into Higher Education, and the financial arrangements for student support reflected this. I was studying Latin and Greek Honours and living in Eustace Percy Hall, in those days for male students only. EPH was a great place to live and make friends. You were looked after well: your bed was made daily, linen was laundered, your room was kept clean, there was a self service laundry on site for personal laundry, you got breakfast and evening meals Monday to Friday and lunch as well at weekends, and all for £132 a year out of £280 if you received the maximum grant. Tuition fees were paid. Formal dinner with the wearing of gowns took place twice a week. What a different world!

Some memories stick in my mind. One winter night Henderson Hall raided us and stole lightbulbs during formal dinner. A large punitive expedition was rapidly assembled that same night to retaliate which soon overwhelmed the Henderson Hall defences. We were raided more quietly by some women students from Northern Counties College. They were captured and invited for coffee and at least one wedding ensued following this initial blind date.

I also recall the rush to the TV room to catch the latest episode of Quatermass and the Pit straight after formal dinner. The High Table procession was almost brushed aside in the scrum. On a more decorous note, I remember an impromptu recital one evening when a Physics student named Roger Mytton played Handel’s Sonatas for treble recorder accompanied by Bob Mason on the grand piano that the Warden had acquired for the hall: a beautiful sound for an evening. I spent three years in hall and felt myself lucky.

I enjoyed my course. Those teaching Latin and Greek were established scholars and good teachers. Geoffrey Fletcher was Professor of Latin and Head of the Department, exact to every detail in all matters of language. Harri Hudson-Williams, cultured and urbane, was Professor of Greek and was my personal tutor. From the outset he helped me always. Brian Shefton, who with his parents had escaped the Nazis in 1933, and had an international reputation in Classical Archaeology, taught Roman History. I remember one lecture when he paused, looked out of the windows at the Civil Engineering building and muttered: “God, what an undistinguished building,” and then without a break resumed his analysis of Roman history. I have especially fond memories of two others: John Lazenby and Charles Garton. John went on to become Professor of Ancient History and Head of the whole department of Classics at Newcastle. He was an incisive and inspiring tutor. Charles went on to become Professor of Classics at Buffalo State University in the USA. He supervised my MA dissertation with the right blend of criticism and encouragement until his move to the USA, when Harri Hudson-Williams took it over. None of us knew back then, by the way, that Charles had served in Naval Intelligence at Bletchley Park.

There was an interesting degree of courtesy in staff-student relations and communications, certainly in my course. I recall one outstanding episode of restrained politeness at the very end of the course of lectures in Ancient Philosophy. A student who had better be nameless had missed the entire course but showed up in the front row for the last lecture before the examination. Colin Strang entered the room, made for the lectern, saw the newcomer and advanced, smiling and extending his hand. “Good Morning,” he said, “my name’s Strang. I don’t think we’ve been introduced?” The courtesy that kills... Alas, we didn’t see the student concerned when the second year began.

There was then as now a great choice of societies. I was a member of the Christian Union and its committee. This taught me a great deal of what to do and what not to do in Christian work and witness. I am still in touch with friends from that time. I also joined the Rifle Club which used the Drill Hall rifle range in the city.

I loved the North East. Then, as now, it had a strong and special regional sense about it. After a year at Birmingham University doing a PGCE I returned and taught for five years in Ashington. From there career moves took me to Dorset and then to Hertfordshire, but Newcastle and Northumberland will always be special to me.

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