Marchant, Pembroke… (well, SDUC Lampeter, the Poly of Wales, Lancaster and Birmingham City University, really)
On Wednesday evening I did a talk with Richard Beard under the auspices of the National Academy of Writing at Pembroke College, Cambridge, England, Yurp. The college were kind enough to invite my wife too.
To say the college made a fuss of us would be an understatement. They could not have been lovelier. The Senior Tutor Mark Wormald took time out from an insanely busy schedule to ask us for tea in his study before the talk. The seventy-strong crowd were gripped by Richard’s Masterclass, and laughed at my jokes. Sitting right in my eye line was Edward Bankes, who is a member of the current Pembroke University Challenge team. I recognised him at once, as my wife and I are supporting Pembroke this series, and I did that thing that light entertainers do on telly when Kerry Katona is in the audience and they say ‘Kerry Katona is in tonight Ladies and Gentlemen’ and the camera whizzes round and Kerry stands up and smiles and everyone claps. Nobody stood or clapped, but Edward was very nice and smiley about me pointing him out as ‘that bloke off the telly.’
After the talk, the college threw us a drinks party. My wife and I went over to Edward, and we told him we were supporting Pembroke all the way. He told us that the recording took place last April, so he already knew the result, but that he was sworn to secrecy. I told him that my wife was on the Trinity team back in the 80’s. My wife told him that I had twice been the subject of a question on University Challenge. I’m sure he was almost as thrilled to meet two such paragons as we were to meet him.
The college were kind enough to invite us all to dine at High Table after the drinks party. Mark Wormald took us into the Senior Parlour, and introduced us to the Master, a kindly looking chap in his mid-sixties. A butler/maitre de bloke called us into dinner. Richard and I were invited to follow the Master. As he led us in, the students fell silent. The butler bloke gave him a Latin prayer to read off a card. Then we sat down, Richard on the Master’s right hand, and I on his left.
The Master apologised to me for missing the talk, but explained that he had been getting ready for a trip to the US the following morning. I asked him why he was going; he explained that he was going to Rhode Island to discuss the possibilities of setting up some scholarships, given that Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island was a Pembroke graduate. He asked me what I was working on. I told him that it was, in a sense, a history of the British counter-culture, from 1956 to 1994. His face lit up.
‘I was a student at Cambridge from 1963 to 1966, and I experienced the wonderful liberation of those times. We felt so free; free from constraint, free from worry too. I hope you’ll be writing about the influence of the French New Wave cinema. Just as important to my generation in opening up ideas about new ways of living as music in my opinion. And even though my work took me away from Britain for many years, I always knew that I’d lived through those remarkable times, and that they had changed everything for me.’
‘What was your work?’ I asked.
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I was head of British Intelligence. I ran MI6.’