“Awful speech, just the type to get you elected.” Life on campus, 1951-55

Barry Rack (BSc Chemistry, 1955) studied at the same time as Brian Ashley and Professor Ken Bowler  who have both recounted their students’-eye views of early 1950s campus life around the time the University received its Royal Charter in 1954. Here, Barry shares his memories of roof-climbing, theatrical performances, a fine wine and dinner club of which Philip Larkin was a member, and his evocative photographs of this transitional moment in University history. The title of this piece refers to some early political feedback given by Lord Roy Hattersley, his student contemporary.

I was interested to read all the memories of former students who overlapped the Charter year. I went up to Hull in 1951 to read Honours Chemistry, but found myself in the General Degree course. Professor Brynmor Jones agreed that I could transfer, but not until the next academic year, so I spent four years at Hull and my degree was one of the first conferred by Hull, and I have copies of the programme.

Camp Hall
Camp Hall

My first year was in Camp Hall, [which had originally been built to house evacuees and was used later as a transit camp for troops on leave from Germany.] From year two I spent the rest of my time in Needler Hall in Cottingham.

There were two streams of students. One came up straight from school and the other were returning from the Forces. I was a mature student because I had spent five years in industry.

On the roof.jpg
The author and ‘another idiot’, Needler roof

Reference in a previous post was made to the activities on the roof apex of Needler. My memory lapses these days with names, but one expert on the ridge tile was ‘Rez’, possibly Jim Murray? We timed him from one end to the flat roof of the Dining Room. “Oh, you can do better than that”, we said, and he did. His hobby was rock climbing and always wore his trouser bottoms tucked inside his socks. I have a photograph of me sitting and another idiot standing by the chimney stack, but I cannot recall his name, nor how we got there – I don’t like heights.

One of the ex-Forces students had an Austin 7 car. I have no idea how it was achieved, but he discovered it on the flat roof over the Needler Dining Room. I don’t remember how it was retrieved.

Three friends, including Fred Moorhouse and Alan Broome, with rooms in Needler opposite me across the corridor, one day decided to “re-arrange” my room. My bedding was in the wardrobe and on the floor was the mirror with a burning candle, over which was placed the wastepaper basket. Unfortunately the wicker basket caught fire and cracked the mirror. They had to go and explain to Mr Coveny (?), the warden. The next night, whilst they were out, a friend and I exchanged the drawers from their bureaus, so they each had those of their friends, but none of their own. It was not until the next morning that they discovered the situation. Yes they did lock their doors, but I had a master key! I forget why, but it was official.

I took part in Student Union business. In year two I was a member of the Entertainments Committee, and the following year the chairman. Every Saturday night I acted as MC to the Dance in the Union Refectory. The band leader had a cycle shop as a day job. I was also a member of the SU Amateur Dramatics Society and played Doolittle the Dustman in Pygmalion. I was also the business manager. By selling advertising space on the programme we made a profit. I have a ticket for the play that shows Saturday November 29 1952.

Pygmalian cast

Cast of Pygmalion, November 29, 1952


Cast of Pygmalion November 29 1952

Back Row: Ray Beecroft, Gwen Tranter, Raymond Getliffe, Mary Noonan, Isabel Dornan, Michael Chittleburgh, Carmela Mia Dawidowicz, Trevor Jones, Mary Connolly, Barry Rack, Marjorie Condliffe, James Dutton, Jack Cohen, Second Row: John Reynolds, Bill Hough, Mavis Tolton, Margaret Catchpole, Dennis Reeder, Mary Whitelocks, Hilda Johnson, Centre Front: Kenneth J Payne (Producer).


Midsummer night's dream
Playreading A Midsummer Night’s Dream, summer 1952

Playreading Summer 1952 A Midsummer Night’s Dream


Back Row: Lionel Hemming, Barry Rack, Raymond Getliffe, Malcolm Nickson, Gerard Rochford, Front Row: Michael Chittleburgh, Doris Crosby, Grace Johnson, Vivian Pennington, Mary Noonan, Marjorie Condliffe, Edwin Brigden

I remember Brian Ashley as President of the Student’s Union. A later President was Michael Chittleburgh. In my third year I was elected onto the Students Union Council. After my election speech Roy Hattersley told me, “That was a bloody awful speech, but just the sort to get you elected”. I agree with his assessment of the quality. Whilst on the Council Mike Chittleburgh and I were named to represent the SU on the Haltemprice District Council’s sub-committee to arrange the celebrations for the Queen’s Coronation. I was landed with setting off their £50-worth of fireworks. It rained vey heavily and the next morning I discovered numerous burn marks in my mackintosh – for Queen and Country! Whilst on the SU Council I was the only non-Law Student on the SU Disciplinary Committee, but we never had complaints to consider.


Students' Union Council 1953
Students’ Union Council 1953-1954

Students’ Union Council 1953-1954

Back Row: Russel Preston, Jim Hall, Cecil Payne, F John Smith, Grace Johnson, Barry Rack, Morrison Lowe, Akin Sikuade, Robert Vine, Front Row: Kath Hart, C Meggitt (Registrar), V Alan Vout (Treasurer), J H Nicholson (Vice Chancellor), M J Chittleburgh (President), Mary Maugham (Vice President), G de Boer, Ola Apara, John Gibbons, Absent F S Moorhouse (Secretary).

Membership of the University’s ’25 Club’

Brian Ashley was a founder member of the 25 Club. This was formed in 1952 and membership was by invitation and limited to 25 current University members. The aims were to seek good food, good wine and good conversation among good friends. When I was invited to join the secretary was Kevin McNamara, later MP for Hull. The job was passed to me when he gave it up to concentrate on Finals. I have in front of me the list of 64 names and addresses of members as I type this. At the head of the alphabetical list is B J Ashley of Edinburgh, two future members of Parliament, R S G Hattersley and J K McNamara whose biographies are well covered on the Internet. Several members of staff including the Vice Chancellor Dr J H Nicholson, Prof. Brynmor Jones, Prof. J I Jones, Prof. L S Palmer who retired to become the curator of Wells Museum, and the world famous poet and writer Philip Larkin. Although I have a list of names, which is shown below, I cannot remember all of them; it is over sixty years ago. Some that I do remember are Roy Hatersley, Kevin McNamara, Mike Chittleburgh, Jim Halloran, Jim Hall, Bill Hough, Peter Ives, M Hertzenstein, and Alan Vout. I apologise to those whom I have not mentioned.

B J Ashley, C Baines, D Boyle, – Brown, J Cooper, B D Case, Dr D Charlton, – Campbell, M Chittleborough*, K Cook, R Cryer, D Evans, C Gosling, ProfM M Gillies, G Galloway, J Halloran, R Hudson, M Herzenstein, P Harvey, O S Hiner, R SG Hattersley, D Howard, C Handscombe, J Hall, G Harbinson, I Hirst, G W Hough, P F Ives, David Jones, Prof Brynmor Jones, Dr D I Jones, J Locke, P Lane, P A Larkin, R Martin, N Heward Mills, L K McNamara, D H J Morgan, B Newman, Dr J H Nicholson, Prof L S Palmer**, P Pepple, -Rewane, B Rack, N Rudd, D Ramsden, T Rolfe, G  Rocheford, J Robinson, F Smith, J Saville, K Saint, J Sutcliffe, H Silver, D Taylor, A Vout, J R Walton, J Walker,A White, P Woodhouse, B J Wilson, P Worsley, G Westby, -Williams.

After I graduated, I worked in Lincolnshire, Suffolk, (where I met my wife), Worcestershire, Northumberland, Bedfordshire and London. I have retired back to my home county of Lincolnshire. I do not expect that anyone of the early 50s will remember Barry Rack, but if they do I shall be pleased to hear from them. No doubt the Alumni Association will be happy to provide my email adress.

Oh by the way, I did manage to leave with an Hons Degree in Chemistry.

(c) Barry Rack, 2016

Are you a Hull alumnus or alumni with a story to tell? Email us at alumni@hull.ac.uk

7 thoughts on ““Awful speech, just the type to get you elected.” Life on campus, 1951-55

  1. What a brilliant article, so evocative and one feels they had a great time and that Needler was full of characters …..a tradition that I think it continued to maintain. Why were the equivalents in Ferens so boring? …….only joking Ferens, old habits die hard and there appears to be a dearth of Ferens correspondents on the blog.
    What was also amazing was the accommodation that the 1951 graduates had to endure, a veritable Nissan Hut. They must have been close!

    What I love about these articles is the social history that they relate to………not all that long ago but a different era than today! …….things have changed exponentially in a generation. What will it be like being a student in 2066?


  2. I’m impressed by Barry Rack’s memory of so many names. Some of them I remember too: Jim Halloran, Max Herzenstein, Tom Rolfe, Cliff Handscombe, et al. They cover quite a range of years. I was at HUC 1946-9 . Some of the names were already there and others I met on visits much later.
    I wonder if I might throw a few women’s names into the mix. Miss Dow, Miss Rachel Tricket, Mrs Espinasse, Mrs Bull and Miss P.I.Maguire among the staff. Val Jones, Jean Davies, Kitty Hart, Shirley Wilson, Pam Goose, Betty Armstrong, Marie Garside, Lorna Dick, Lorna Martin, Jane Hinton,Jean Anderson, Kath Hunt, Jo Kenney, Betty Harrison among the students. These are names I recall and faces I would recognise in photographs. I wasn’t acquainted with them. HUC was such a small community that you knew who most people were. It would be nice to know what happened to them.
    Like Barry I would be pleased to hear from anyone who remembers me, even those who couldn’t stand me at the time.


    1. Hello Alasdair
      You left two years before I went up as a 21 year old mature student.
      You mention, among others, Kath Hart. You may have noticed that she is on the extreme left (as you look at it) of the group photograph of the Students’ Union Council of 1953 – 1954. I am standing behind Mike Chittleburgh (President).
      Glad you found my efforts interesting.


      1. Hello Barry,
        The star for me was the sight of the Nissen huts with the five windows, one for each room. They were not divided into rooms when I arrived: merely individual bed spaces and a coke stove in the middle. That was in the memorable Winter of 1946/7.
        There’s a wry smile if one can see it among all the wrinkles. A mature student at 21! With me were Eric Green, Norman Mayers, Vic Bourne and Pete Maddock, all different ages and years from my old school. There were some seriously grown-up men immediately post-war although most of the women were straight from school.
        I doubt anyone knew my Christian name since I was always Mac even to the girl I stepped out with for 64 years.
        Alasdair (Mac)


  3. Thank you Barry – fascinating and even a photo of me in the midsummernights dream picture.

    So many familiar names.

    Gerard Rochford.


    1. Hello Gerard

      Glad you found my effort and the photograph of interest. Do you have a copy of the photograph, if not, would you like a copy? If there is some way you can send your address to me through the Alumni office, I shall be happy to sent a copy.



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