Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Britain is a country where yesterday's radicals are today's Establishment

Merfyn Jones is the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bangor in Wales. The Deputy and Pro- Vice-Chancellors report to him and he chairs the weekly meetings of the Executive as well as the Board of Academic Heads and the Senate.

Merfyn was an undergraduate at Sussex University and a postgraduate at Warwick before being appointed to his first research post at Swansea in 1971. In 1975 he moved to Liverpool where he taught at the University for fifteen years and served as Director of Continuing Education and Dean. He transferred to Bangor and became Head of the School of History and Welsh History, Professor of Welsh History, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Pro-Vice-Chancellor. He was Acting Vice-Chancellor during 2003 before becoming the University's sixth Vice-Chancellor in August 2004.

His volume on the North Wales Quarrymen won the Welsh Arts Council Prize for Literature and he has been awarded a BAFTA (Cymru) award for his contribution to history on television. He has served as a member of the Broadcasting Standards Commission and the Board of Governors of the BBC, and as Chair of the Broadcasting Council of Wales. He recently served as Chair of Higher Education Wales and a Vice-President of Universities UK, which represents the higher education sector in the UK.

He is currently chairing a review of higher education in Wales for the Welsh Assembly Government.

I first met Merfyn 45 years ago at Sussex University when he was 17 and I was 18. So bright was he, that he passed his 'A' levels a year early. Looking back, I suppose we were both outsiders at that 'terribly middle class' place, he as a Welsh speaker from the valleys and me as a cockney from South London. 
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Here you can see me sporting my goatee beard which he told me was " a sad, bad little beard". In the other photos he is feigning to push Tim Brooks into a moat and is striding out on the campus wearing his blue denim jacket, a shirt and tie and a folder of notes under his arm.
I remember we walked out to Stanmer Park one afternoon in December 1965 and sort inspiration to write poetry, as young men did and no longer do.
Mine was :

Damp grass lilts to hill brow,
Where beeches balance,
raped by an october gale.
Below, labourers lop an oak,
Further a youth kindles fire,
Beneath blocks of stump and roots.

And I would be the "sir",
Who, horse-backed,
With boots flashing in the weak sun,
Once rode toward the blue twisting smoke,
This december afternoon.
Who passed a moment with coarse company,
In honest talk,
Then turned down to Stanmer,
Into the hill's cool shadow,
Where Prince's warm breath cut the chill.
Into the womb of my valley,
Where sweet scent of dung,
Bound cows and fodder,
Mud,brick and stable into one.

As I read it now, these 45 years later, I see it as the piece of adolescent pretence that it was. Merfyn wrote a poem too, but tore it up as worthless. I am sure, if I had read it, it would have surpassed my poor offering.

In the second and third year at Sussex we drew apart as he drew close to the left wing radicals and I made new, conservatively inclined friends.

I know that he took part in the Grosvenor Square demonstration in 1968. As a protest against the Vietnam War a disparate bunch 'radicals' attempted to rush the American Embassy. I wonder if he can spot himself in this archive film ?

P.S. I see he still sports a beard, albeit grey.

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