How iconic designer Cecil Beaton put theatrical flair into the UEA’s graduation gown

Portrait of Cecil Beaton (1985) by Hugo Vickers

Vickers, Hugo: Cecil Beaton (1985)

An Unboxed blog from Isabel Hassan, School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

In 1965 Cecil Beaton was approached by Vice-Chancellor Frank Thistlethwaite to design the academic dress for the new University of East Anglia’s first graduation. Beaton introduced the use of indigo blue gowns at UEA, whereas other universities up and down the country had mostly opted for the traditional black.

Cecil Beaton was, amongst other things, an Academy Award-winning stage and costume designer for films and the theatre. Prior to designing the UEA graduation gowns, he had worked on Broadway designing costumes.

Beaton thought that the graduation gowns needed to be more theatrical; if you had worked hard to get a degree, you should be able to dress up and flaunt yourself a little on the day you receive that degree.

The cost of Beaton’s indigo blue graduation gown was £2 in 1966, increasing to £4 in 1970. Current university students may think this is affordable, but £4 in 1970 would today be worth £43.26 which is only slightly cheaper than the current £50 cost for UEA students. However, in 1970 “only 20 of the 2,500 students there [at UEA] have thought it worth paying £4 for the dark-blue gowns.”

UEA Coll 4. Original bachelors hat The Dan Dare

Source: Nicholas Groves’ ‘The Academical Dress of UEA’

One aspect of Beaton’s design which did not catch on was his suggestion for novel graduation caps. According to Nicholas Groves’ The Academical Dress of UEA, Beaton wanted to “abandon the traditional square cap (mortar-board) [ . . . ] and to invent a special hat for bachelors, and another for masters.” This hat was more rounded in shape and was called the ‘Dan Dare’ (pictured). The design was a result of Beaton’s desire to make the entire graduation look more theatrical. However, Groves admits that “they proved unable to withstand popular opinion, and have been replaced by the traditional square.”

Although the Dan Dare may not have prevailed, the indigo-blue graduation gowns have. This is interesting considering that UEA students in 1970 did not think the indigo-blue gowns were worth paying for, and now they are almost iconic at UEA.

2017 will see another year of UEA students graduate in these blue gowns from 17th – 21st July.

Notes
1. A major problem of the indigo gowns was that, over the years, the cloth used grew gradually lighter in colour, until by the mid-1990s it was almost air-force blue. It has since returned to a darker shade (Nicholas Groves. The Academical Dress of the University of East Anglia, 2005).
2. The undergraduates were given a short knee-length cape rather than a gown, with slits for the passage of the arms. The colour is recorded as smokey blue (Michael Sanderson. The History of the University of East Anglia, 2002) and as indigo (Groves, ibid).

You cannot fake a writer: Kazuo Ishiguro on his experience at UEA

Kazuo Ishiguro_UEA ImageLibrary

UEA: Archive Image

UEA literature student, Melina Spanoudi, revisits an archived interview with Kazuo Ishiguro as part of the British Archive for Contemporary Writing’s Unboxed project.

Kazuo Ishiguro applied to the University of East Anglia in 1979, following a long year of social work in London. The MA in Creative Writing began in autumn, leaving the entire summer free for him to panic. He did so briefly, before beginning to write seriously for the first time. Ten years later, he won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Remains of the Day.

Returning to UEA during the Literary Festival of 1999, in an interview with award winning academic, novelist and biographer, Christopher Bigsby, Ishiguro is asked whether writing can be taught. Put plainly, his answer is no. Ishiguro believes that a writer cannot be crafted: rather, they are sculpted, refined in their involvement with the creative process of writing within an academic environment. Through sharing first drafts, exposing themselves and others to criticism, embarrassment and acclaim, the writer is given the opportunity to realize where they must stand when choosing to write.

However, the initial choice to write remains a personal matter. Any creation which is forced to extend itself beyond the boundaries of personal innovation is of no genuine value; you cannot fake a writer more than you can fake a text.

Ishiguro remarks: ‘You can certainly produce someone who can write more competently. But I would be rather more sceptical about the possibility of their producing anything of artistic worth.’

The process between writing and identifying as a writer is unique to each individual; However, what happens when you embark on a degree which expects you to be a writer before you have begun to write?

With little writing experience, sporadically noting descriptive fragments mirroring the semi-autobiographical style of Kerouac, Ishiguro’s journey to becoming a writer invites us to question whether he adopted the identity of ‘writer’ during the course of his degree in Creative Writing. Ishiguro explains that he discovered the space he required to explore his individual style of writing at the UEA. The learning atmosphere fostered through the flexible teaching methods adopted by his tutors, Malcom Bradbury and Angela Carter, enabled him to create, unaided and uninterrupted.

He describes his year at the UEA to Bigsby: ‘That was when I really started to write. So it was very fundamental. Before I went to East Anglia I had written very little indeed, certainly nothing I would count today as proper writing.’

Ishiguro dates the beginning of his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, in 1979/80, during the year he was studying at the UEA. He notes that most of his time studying Creative Writing was spent writing that novel. Although his first book resembled a form of a semi-autobiographical work, his later novels are informed by the awareness of his ability to create outside the context of his own life.

He explains: ‘Somewhere along the way I discovered that I could write better, more effectively, if I changed the setting and put the whole thing at a greater distance.’

Somewhere along the way, perhaps at UEA, Ishiguro became one of the greatest writers of our time. His journey at the university reminds students of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing that we are not taught how to become writers, but of the ways which enable us to discover our most humane and distinctive narrative voices.

Quotations reproduced with the kind permission of the author. All rights reserved.

To view the Literary Festival interview in full in our Archive Reading Room, contact the British Archive for Contemporary Writing archives@uea.ac.uk

To find out more about our 300+ collection of Literary Festival recordings, visit http://www.uea.ac.uk/bacw/litfest

 

The story of UEA’s MA in Creative Writing

An Unboxed blog from Rosie Burgoyne.

Until 1970, no University in the UK offered students the chance to take an MA in Creative Writing. This all changed when Sir Malcolm Bradbury and Sir Angus Wilson founded a Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia, the very first of its kind in the UK. If you head down to floor 02, right in the depths of UEA’s library, you will find the British Archive for Contemporary Writing, home to an extensive collection on the history of the Creative Writing MA and the life of its founder, Sir Malcolm Bradbury.

One of the many hidden gems within the archive is an image of some of the first students on the Creative Writing MA course, under the supervision of Sir Malcolm Bradbury. The enthusiasm and essence of UEA as a hub for literature and creative writing is further captured in an image from The Guardian’s picture archive. The students in the picture are smiling to one another as they take part in what appears to have been some form of seminar or discussion about their writing. They are under the watchful eye of Sir Malcolm Bradbury, who was then both the course director and a lecturer. These students were amongst the earliest to be offered the opportunity to complete an MA in creative writing, which at the time concentrated primarily on prose.

Since the picture was taken, the MA has branched out to include courses in poetry, scriptwriting, life writing and crime fiction. However, its world-renowned reputation remains unchanged, with notable graduates including Booker Prize winners Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan and Anne Enright.

The founder of the programme, Sir Malcolm Bradbury, led a prolific writing career in his own right. He wrote numerous short stories, television plays and series, literary criticism and novels, many of which were inspired by his experiences of academia, including ‘The History Man’, which was published in 1975.

Within the archive at UEA are scripts, newspapers, magazine cuttings and other revealing materials, documenting the lifetime of Sir Malcolm Bradbury in terms of both his writing career and his involvement in the creative writing MA at UEA.

Throughout his lifetime, Bradbury was known to have encouraged young, aspiring authors, especially during his time as a lecturer, reader and professor at UEA and he has left behind a lasting legacy for UEA’s creative writing students. He was recognised for his efforts by being made a CBE in 1991 and knighted in 2000 for his outstanding contribution to Literature.

For further information about Sir Malcolm Bradbury or the history of the creative writing MA at UEA the following links may be of use:

https://portal.uea.ac.uk/library/archives/bacw/bradbury

http://www.malcolmbradbury.com/index.html

https://www.uea.ac.uk/literature/creative-writing/about-uea-creative-writing

Lessing’s writing pushed boundaries and she lived life to the same beat

Doris Lessing Portrait (1950s)

Doris Lessing Portrait (1950s): Copyright CAMERA PRESS

An Unboxed blog, from Martha Griffiths, first year student of American and English Literature at the University of East Anglia.

Amongst the 110 love letters held in the Whitehorn collection at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing from Doris Lessing to her wartime lover, perhaps one gives us a greater insight into her young life, and the society she grew up in. It was written to John R. M. Whitehorn, an RAF serviceman and intimate confidante and is dated sometime around January 1945.

This letter  perfectly captures Lessing’s determination to make her own choices and express herself and her emotions towards others. It describes her relationship with both her husband and the other men that she met, mostly through Communist Party meetings. Not only is she writing to a long-term lover about her husband, but she also describes the “platonic amour” she has met recently. To many, this flirtation may come as a surprise or appear scandalous but, as she would come to say in later interviews, it was just something one did in those times.

She even joined the Communist Party out of boredom, a feeling shared by many of the RAF soldiers she met there. There is genuine affection in the note towards Whitehorn, but Lessing makes it clear that it would be an unfortunate man who attempted to interfere with her choices.

This was a woman to be reckoned with; she was totally self-aware and comfortably content to make her own choices. Lessing’s works are known for pushing boundaries and she lived her life to the same beat, whilst aware of her husband’s discomfort with her social life she was not willing to give in to the pull of domesticity.

The Doris Lessing Archive, held within UEA’s British Archive for Contemporary Writing, is an invaluable source with letters from one of the most influential female authors of the twentieth century. Her eloquence and her passion cannot mask what a formidable opponent she was if ever obstructed

Terry Pratchett on Magic and Realism

Terry PratchettbAn Unboxed Blog from Electra Nanou

There was once a tape, a single, innocuous video tape, living in the UEA Archives’ snug depths. The name, Terry Pratchett, sometimes caught a knowing eye, but one or two were not enough. If only it could see the light of day, other admirers might come its way. Squinting, stuttering, it finally emerged to puff out its chest and squeak:

Arthur Miller Centre International Literary Festival (UEA) interview with Terry Pratchett, 22 November 2000

To describe this interview between Professor Christopher Bigsby and Terry Pratchett, the author of the Discworld novels, as amusing would be an understatement. Having passed away two years ago, almost to the day, every reminder of this man’s sheer character is precious. Contained within the video recording is more than a discussion on Pratchett’s life and literary accomplishments or his favourite Discworld characters or even the difference between children’s fiction and fantasy.

‘Children’s books for the respect; fantasy books for the money.’

It is one more testament to his wit and flair, as well as a tutorial on how to politely dominate an interview. And how to introduce potentially controversial topics with a smile. Perhaps, sheer naughtiness factored into certain small omissions in the transcript, available in Writers in Conversation: Volume 5 by Christopher Bigsby.

Even the first Discworld novel was created on a rebellious whim. He felt that ‘a kind of antidote’ was warranted to the Tolkienesque fantasy prevalent of the time. Little did he know how much it was needed. The crowd that attended the Terry Pratchett Memorial in April 2016, made up of children and adults alike, was proof of how important a fresh and humorous look can be to something as simple as a literary genre.

‘Discworld is a way of looking at a story.’

Each of his books, from the children’s book The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents to the Discworld novel The Truth, have something to say. In his own unique way, he touched on issues like morality, equality and feminism, his philosophical undercurrents drawing the attention of philosophy professors James M. Held and James South. They produced a book titled Philosophy and Terry Pratchett, a collection of essays including ‘Plato, the Witch, and the Cave: Granny Weatherwax and the Moral Problem of Paternalism’ and ‘The Importance of Being in the Right Trouser Leg of Time’ (The Guardian). When asked about the Thief of Time, the 24th Discworld novel, Pratchett said:

‘It is… about how people perceive time, how people perceive humanity. What is it that actually makes us human.’

If there is any lesson to be learned from Terry Pratchett, it is to not be afraid to be bold and different. Labels are trivial in a world that craves imagination, an escape from reality.

‘Magic realism … is fantasy with a collar and tie on.’

With 53 books to his name not including his numerous collaborations, he was, and still is, someone writers of any genre can look up to. He lived, learnt and struggled, while writing from his heart with minimal aspirations to fame and fortune. And yet they found him.

 

Sources

Recording: Arthur Miller Centre International Literary Festival (UEA) interview with Terry Pratchett, 22 November 2000. The University of East Anglia Literary Festival Archive www.uea.ac.uk/bacw/litfest – visit the Archive to view the recording in full.

Transcript: Bigsby, Christopher. ‘In Conversation with Terry Pratchett’. Writers in Conversation: Volume 5. Unthank books, 2013. Print.

Flood, Alison. ‘Terry Pratchett’. The Guardian. 28 Nov. 2014. Web. Oct. 2016

 

Men can be feminists: Lord Pethick-Lawrence writes about the suffragettes

Lord and Lady Pethick-Lawrence

Lord and Lady Pethick-Lawrence

An Unboxed Blog from Yaiza Canopoli.

Lady Pethick-Lawrence was an important figure in the suffragette movement. In 1907 she started the publication Votes for Women, with the help of her husband. Supportive male partners are not so rare these days. But in the early 20th century, a man would more likely be scared off by a woman who wanted the vote than to stand by her side as she campaigned. Lord Pethick-Lawrence supported the movement from the start, and in the 1950s published an article, preserved in the UEA Archive, reflecting on the impressive struggle for women to get the vote.

As a prominent and proud member of the Labour party, Lord Pethick-Lawrence begins the article by explaining that this is where the movement began, and where most of the suffragette tactics were taken from. Nonetheless, the women from the Labour party had to accept other political ideologies into the community, for the movement could not have survived by remaining ‘a section of a section’. What is interesting about this article is his praise for the more radical tactics adopted by the movement, ‘which would alienate the timid and the lukewarm’. This praise is a considerable change of opinion, for in 1912 he served a nine-month prison sentence for a violent form of protest that he and Lady Pethick-Lawrence disapproved of at the time (their disapproval caused them to be expelled from the Women’s Social and Political Union).

In the article, he endearingly praises the militant women involved in the movement:

A tiny suffragette—Mary Gawthorpe—had a cabbage thrown at her by a male auditor during a park meeting. Catching it and holding it up, she remarked: “I knew a man would lose his head before long.”

This kind of appreciation and subtle humour is present throughout the article. Perhaps the most hilarious passage is his recounting of a conspiracy trial staged by the government: he and some other suffragettes were found guilty in court and the judge sentenced them to nine months in prison, but he remembers the moment with humour, saying that ‘shortly afterwards [the judge’s] two daughters joined the organisation’.

This way of remembering the suffragettes in an almost nostalgic way goes to show that feminist men are not a modern invention, and that people were different back then is not a valid excuse for any kind of oppression. We are living in a time now where meninism has become a thing, and feminists are still seen as radical and men-hating by many people all over the world. This article puts things into perspective: feminism is not new, it is not the internet corrupting women, and it is perfectly valid for men to be supportive of the movement even today.

Another thing Lord Pethick-Lawrence shows his readers (both at the time he wrote and now) is how to be a good ally: write about the movement, write about the people who were involved and who had to fight for their own rights, and don’t make it about yourself.

Unfortunately the article is not preserved in its entirety, and thus we cannot read the full extent of Lord Pethick-Lawrence’s memories of the movement, but we get a clear idea of where his thoughts are headed. He and his wife might have disagreed with some of the more radical aspects of protesting, but they were undoubtedly an important part of the organisation, and their names deserve to be remembered.

Lord Pethick-Lawrence’s article can be viewed as part of the Kenney Papers in the UEA Archives at the University of East Anglia, alongside multiple documents and forms of correspondence between the Pethick-Lawrences and other suffragettes. https://portal.uea.ac.uk/library/archives/kenney

Yaiza Canopoli

Tessa Hadley on uncovering memory: do we really know our past?

tessa_hadley-copyright-mark-vessey-2015An Unboxed blog from Freya Turner, student blogger from the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing (University of East Anglia).

‘Let me take you back just a few years. It’s 2013, and the UEA Literary Festival is hosting authors such as Rose Tremain, Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan. Among them is the perhaps lesser-known Tessa Hadley (pictured right), making her first appearance at the festival. What immediately becomes apparent to the audience is her generosity and patience to treat them to a reading of one of her short stories, ‘An Abduction’, in its entirety. For those who aren’t familiar with the Literary Festival’s format, it very rarely happens that an author will read the entirety of one of their texts. For Hadley to somewhat rebel against this format only makes her appearance at the festival stand out more. Hadley has written several novels and short stories, which focus predominantly on family relationships and women. ‘The Abduction’ is no exception to this.

The story concerns a fifteen year-old girl living in Surrey in the nineteen-sixties, and it negotiates and complicates the relationships between childhood and adulthood, and trauma, time and memory. The story involves Oxford University students, women’s bodies, British suburbia, drugs and the titular abduction.

When asked about the violent domesticity of the story, and how the term domesticity is often applied to women writers, Hadley confirms that there is indeed a gender divide in the process of writing domesticity. She goes even further and argues that a novel about family somehow becomes ‘domestic’ when a woman writes it, whereas when this is written about by a man this is never the case. She is a writer who shows great maturity in her understanding of how she and other women writers are perceived in writing about the family; a writer who is concerned about the writing community as well as her own work. Hadley coherently articulates why she so often writes about the family. She believes that the novel and the family are more or less the same thing; they both concern people within small spaces who haven’t necessarily chosen to be together, and it is this very notion that allows people to grow into themselves.

When Hadley discusses memory within her story, it is almost as if something in her lights up. She points out that there is a reductive model of memory in literature, where people can access the past because it supposedly remains within their minds. In a lot of novels, she argues, characters fix something unwanted from their past that is making their present unbearable. When this process is complete, the present is fine again. Hadley doesn’t believe in this model, instead believing that processing and narrating the past is a lot more complicated. We are not reliable in terms of remembering the past, but, as she emphasises, this is interesting because this both frees us and troubles us. It becomes apparent that Hadley really understands the delicacy and dysfunctional traits of humans, and looks to celebrate it. When I watch the interview it seems like this is less a sense of personal preference for her, and more a feeling of responsibility. Another impressive thing about Hadley is that she is not afraid to put our perceptions of ourselves in different directions.

Hadley rather modestly goes on to say that the silences in her work prevent her writing from spoiling or diluting her narrative. She argues that silence is powerful. For Hadley, great writing is associated with subtlety and what is not said. What becomes apparent is that Hadley not only shows a sense of delicacy within her characters, but also in her writing style, and this is a skill that very few writers truly achieve.

At the end of the interview, Hadley tells us that ‘An Abduction’ is a story about momentarily stopping the process of growing up. It is about how, in trying to teach ourselves a lesson in life, and holding on to this lesson, we actually hinder the growth that is necessary to become an adult. It is this final remark that encapsulates just how confidently and eloquently Hadley confronts the various ways in which we naturally tend to think about and lead our lives. Her writing explores what it is like to think in the modern age, especially concerning the modern understandings of memory. She is therefore a writer for our time, and of time itself, and a writer with such a talented awareness must not go unnoticed.

The video recording of Tessa Hadley’s interview can be viewed at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at UEA, along with interviews with many other famous authors.’   http://www.uea.ac.uk/bacw/litfest

Chance Meetings: Roald Dahl, Monica Dickens and Charles Pick

patricia_neal_und_roald_dahl

Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal photographed by Carl Van Vechten (1954) – Library of Congress Collection (public domain)

An UNBOXED blog from Andrew Kenrick

“The stories of how authors meet their publishers or publishers meet their authors are legendary and many are coincidental.”

— Charles Pick, unpublished memoirs 

It is April, 1960. Roald Dahl has just published his second collection of stories, Kiss Kiss, to some acclaim in the United States but is having difficulty making a success of it in the UK. Determined to find a publisher in Britain, he returns from America with his young family on board the SS Queen Mary. Through some incredible coincidence, on this same voyage is the publisher Charles Pick, who is glued to a copy of Kiss Kiss.

While this anecdote appears in Roald Dahl’s biography, Storyteller (1), the incredible full story is related only in Pick’s unpublished memoirs (2).

Early in the voyage, Pick learned that Roald Dahl was on board and, having enjoyed his book, was determined to speak to him, but he could never find him at dinner. Eventually he marched down to Dahl’s cabin, successfully evading the snooty purser, where he was greeted by a scene of utter chaos. The crossing was rough and Dahl’s whole family had been beset by seasickness, his two children and their nursemaid vomiting profusely as the door was opened. Clothes and luggage were strewn everywhere, as his American wife, the actress Patricia Neal, turned over the cabin searching for a lost diamond. Amidst it all, stood the striking figure of Roald Dahl himself, telling her to stop, as he “never did like it.” The diamond was, then, worth £2000.

Later, when the seas – and the family’s stomachs – had calmed, Pick took them to dinner, making Dahl an offer to publish Kiss Kiss. Unsure what to do, for he knew he had other offers waiting for him on arrival, Dahl sent a telegram to his agent, asking for advice. Pick thought no more of it until after they had docked in Southampton. There, as Pick left the customs shed, Dahl came running after him waving a piece of paper and shouting “It’s all yours! It’s all yours!” The paper was a reply from his agent, telling him to accept Charles Pick’s offer before he changed his mind. This was to be the making of Roald Dahl’s literary career in the UK.

Charles Pick (1917-2000) was one of the giants of the British publishing world in the 20th century, a distinguished literary agent and publisher who worked for Victor Gollancz and Michael Joseph ending up as chair of the Heinemann Group until his retirement in 1985. Over the course of his career he championed, nurtured and corresponded with some of the literary greats, including JD Salinger, Wilbur Smith, Graham Greene, Catherine Cookson, JB Priestley and many more.

Roald Dahl was far from the only author whom Charles Pick met by chance. Another was Monica Dickens, great-granddaughter of Charles, who would go on to become “one of the best-selling authors of her generation” (3) as well as a close personal friend of Pick’s. Pick first met Dickens in 1937 at a charity dinner organised by a friend’s mother, where he found himself spellbound by her stories of life working “below stairs” as a cook. Later, he learned who she was and told her, “if she could write a book as well as she could tell a story, she could write a bestseller”. She was signed up immediately, and six weeks later had written her first novel, One Pair of Hands, which, as Pick had predicted, became her first bestseller.

These stories, along with many others, can be read in Pick’s unpublished memoirs, which, alongside diaries, letters, obituaries, cuttings and tapes, form the Charles Pick Archive. The Charles Pick Archive shines a light on the business of some of the most important British publishers of the 20th century, and can be accessed at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at UEA.

Andrew is a former editor turned writer, who is studying for an MA in Creative Non-fiction at UEA. He writes about food, travel and ancient history, sometimes all at once. 

1 Donald Sturrock, Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl (United States: Simon & Schuster, 2011), p356-377

2 Charles Pick (1990), Memoirs. Unpublished manuscript.

3 Charles Pick, “Obituary: Monica Dickens,” The Independent (Independent), December 31, 1992, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-monica-dickens-1566170.html.