Reunion plans for alumni of BA Hons General 1970

08 August 2016

York HouseAlumni Chris Mills and Ian Robinson (both BA General 1970) are planning a reunion for 24 September 2017 to celebrate 50 years since starting their course. Were you on their course? Share memories as Chris recalls his fascinating time at NTU in the sixties:

"It was the autumn of 1967, the year after England’s footballers won the World Cup, when we arrived at Nottingham Regional College of Technology, now Nottingham Trent University. Nearly 40 of us had embarked on the BA General London External course.  We came from right across the country: from Lancashire, Essex, Surrey, Northamptonshire, County Durham and South Wales, among other locations. Most had never lived away from home before. Ahead lay three years of study, leading (with any luck) to a degree qualification.

The world in 1967 was a very different place to the one we know today. There were no emails, no mobile phones, lap-tops or iPads, and long-distance communication involved hand-written letters or calls from draughty telephone boxes. Harold Wilson was the Labour Prime Minister, the Vietnam War raged in black and white on our television screens and Britain had just applied to join the EEC.

The BA General was just one of a number of London External degree courses offered by Nottingham Regional College of Technology. Students could also take law, estate management, a BSc in economics or a BSc General. The teaching was done in Nottingham. But the exams were set and marked by London University. And there was the rub. Our tutors often appeared to have little idea as to what questions might come up in our final papers. You had to cover for all eventualities. There was a very real chance of failure.

Students had to study three subjects, so I took History, Geography and English. Also on offer were French, German, Economics and Law. Our lectures were mainly in the huge, imposing, Newton building, but after about a year we transferred to the seventh floor of York House on Mansfield Road. This unprepossessing structure was finally demolished last year.

The Students’ Union facilities at Nottingham Regional College of Technology were far from impressive. In 1967 they consisted of a space on a lower floor in the Newton building equipped with a bar football table and not much else. I reckon today’s students, at Nottingham Trent University, get a much better deal, at least in this respect. There was no bar, but the most popular local watering hole was the nearby Guildhall Tavern on Burton Street. Every now and again there would be an attempt by students to ‘drink the Guildhall dry’. The phrase must have been music to the ears of the pub’s landlady.

The ‘tech’s’ most impressive social events were the regular dances held on the eighth floor of the Newton Building. Top bands from around the country would be booked. I remember, particularly, The Move, The Moody Blues and Amen Corner. When Amen Corner performed, several students had to stand guard in front of them to stop excited fans trying to grab hold of the popular lead singer, Andy Fairweather Low. I was one of the student ‘guards’ and was deafened by the sound coming from the band’s huge speakers. It took me some time to recover my normal hearing.

When the BA General Course moved to York House, the extensive Victoria shopping centre had not been built. In fact the old Victoria railway station, on the same site, had only ceased operating in September 1967. We soon became aware of the drilling and hammering that a major construction project like this involves. In our final year, work on the new centre provided an ever-present sound-track to accompany our studies.

Probably the most impressive lecturer and tutor I had at Nottingham Regional College of Technology was Ralph Yarlott. I suspect that fellow history students will never forget him. He had a grasp of making very complicated issues relatively easy to understand, without dumbing them down. Ralph would only set you a target of one essay a term. But it had to be thoroughly researched and well-constructed. Woe betide you if you skimped on it. I remember fellow students desperately working through the night to make sure their offering came up to scratch.

During our time at the ‘tech’, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. And, tragically, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. In 1968 the Russians and their Warsaw Pact allies crushed the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. This last event so horrified many of my fellow students that they organized a concert to raise funds to help Czech students stranded in the UK.

Most students at Nottingham Regional College of Technology were not militant. They were more interested in getting their heads down and studying for their exams. The final exams set by London University for external BA General students were very demanding. In the summer of 1970 I had to sit ten papers, all but one lasting three hours, in the space of three weeks. The exams covered three years’ work. And everything hinged on them. There was no course-work to speak of, although geography students had to submit some field work. Then all you could do was sit and wait. London University would eventually inform you, by post, as to the outcome.

However, there was one quicker way of finding out how you’d done. And that was to travel down to London, later in the summer, to see the results put up on notice boards outside Senate House, the university’s administrative centre. Your name wasn’t printed, as I recall – just your examination number. It was with great relief that I spotted mine – and then checked it, and checked it, and checked it again.

Nearly 40 of us started the course in 1967. I think, of those, about 40 per cent failed to get a degree: one student didn’t actually take the exams. The failure rate was, in retrospect, very high. It wasn’t a case of getting a poor degree. It meant getting nothing. Some determined souls, who’d been unsuccessful, came back to re-sit the exams the following year. And some of them, at the second attempt, passed. I raise my hat to them. I don’t think I could have done it.

2017 will see the 50th anniversary of the start of our course at the “tech”. A reunion is being organised, in Nottingham, by one of our number, Ian Robinson, who studied French, German and Economics back in the 60s. Ian, who lives in Canada and has enjoyed a long career in teaching, is trying to contact as many alumni as possible to let them know about the event.

Of the “Class of 67”, at least one person, sadly, won’t be present. Gerry McDonagh passed away in February 2015. He was a lifelong fan of Manchester United and in his later years obtained a dream job, as a guide at the club’s museum and tour centre. “Talking about football and being able to go behind the scenes on a daily basis is something a lot of fans would kill for. I have a wonderful job,” he told the museum’s website in 2011. Elaine Alexander, the assistant manager there, told me: ”Gerry is sadly missed by us all.”
 
There have been other reunions but, as we all approach our 70s, Ian Robinson believes this could be one of our last opportunities to get together. “Without wishing to be maudlin,” he says “it may never happen again.”"

For more information, about the reunion, contact Ian . If you're thinking of planning a reunion visit the planning a reunion page.

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