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 However, Groves admits that “they proved unable to withstand popular opinion, and have been replaced by the traditional square.”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).
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The Library building through the years

This summer the Library is undergoing yet another makeover. Around 180 new and varied study spaces will be created, mainly on Floor 01. This has been made possible as over two miles of open-access rolling stack shelving will be introduced on Floor 02 (just alongside the Archives). Once the dust has settled and the stock re-shuffled, there’ll be more light, more colour and an improved layout on Floor 01. The Archives also stands to re-gain over 250 metres of shelving in its climate-controlled store.

UEA.S.2.25Keeping up with ever increasing student numbers and changing methods of study is an ongoing challenge for a Library which was built almost 50 years ago. The Plan was for a University which would contain three thousand students in ten years with the possibility of expansion to six thousand thereafter. In 2017 we now have over 16,000 students, all requiring to be connected to a device or screen of some sort or other.

Each of the six floors has had its turn for re-design, a splash of colour, more comfortable seating, with better access to computers and technical facilities. We’ve introduced individual and group study rooms and even a small cinema. In short, we have grown and we have improved, more than once or twice. Let’s take a look back.

Milestones:

April 1963
Architects Denys Lasdun and Partners publish a Development Plan for the University.

13 February 1968ToppingoutofUEALibBldg13Feb1968FrankThistlethwaiteCopyrighEDP
‘Topping out’ of the Library building by Frank Thistlethwaite (Vice-Chancellor).

25 October 1968
Official opening by Lord Frank (Chancellor) as Library Phase I is completed.

July 1974UEA.PHO.4.51
Completion of Library Phase II (Architects Feilden & Mawson).  The original block doubles in size to form a near square and extends southwards. The two halves join to form one seamless building and it comes as a surprise that it is by two different architects but with Denys Lasdun’s design.

How we looked in the sixties and seventies

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9 April 2001
Opening of the LaRC (Learning and Resources Centre), Floor 02.

June 2005UEA.PHO.22.3.7
Floor 0 refurbishment. The Reception and Helpdesks are amalgamated and positioned near the entrance.

8 March 2006
Official opening of the extension and Archives. The ‘extension’ on the east side transforms the rather square looking building into a dog’s leg. It offers smooth access between the old and new parts on all floors; this part of the Library is light and airy with extensive glazing and solar shading. Its cedar and stone cladding offers a break from the severe grey concrete.

The new Archives reading rooms, office and climate-controlled store (Floor 02) are opened by Rose Tremain (who later is appointed Chancellor). [Architects: Shepheard Epstein Hunter; construction by Kier Eastern].

27 October 2010
Opening of refurbished Floor 0 and the Silent Reading Room on Floor 1.

September 2012
Opening of the Silent Reading Room on Floor 02.

2014
Opening of large Postgraduate Study Rooms on Floors 2 and 3.16_326 UEA Campus -012_Dave Gutridge _The Photographic Unit_ large

June – September 2017
Refurbishment of Floors 01 and 02.

Details on the Library Space Project and the changes taking place in summer 2017.

National Sporting Heritage Day, 30 September 2015

National Sporting Heritage Day aims to raise awareness of the rich sporting heritage that exists in the UK.

Cricket and football in the Hill Papers

Cricket and football in the Hill Papers

We’re taking a quick run through our collections to see what might be highlighted. Most well-known is the wild swimming in the Roger Deakin Archive but there’s also the establishment of the Theta Sailing Club in Norfolk (see our earlier blog).

Cricket and football memorabilia from the 1930s are included in the papers of John Hill (Con. MP), with additional correspondence included up to 1999.

Hill was Captain of Merton College (Oxford) Cricket Club and also played for the Grasshoppers Cricket Club, Woking, and Esher Cricket Club.

Hill played goalkeeper for Corinthian Football Club, and for Oxford University where he received a “blues award”. He played for and was a committee member of Old Carthusian Football Club (Charterhouse old boys).

Keeping the water in the pail ©University of East Anglia

Keeping the water in the pail ©University of East Anglia

Memorabilia from all these clubs include fixtures booklets, dinner menus, photos, correspondence, and press-cuttings. A tiny “Flicker” book shows Don Bradman in motion and teaches “on drive and off drive”.

The UEA Collection contains some slides and photographs of individual and group sporting activities at UEA as well as some fun sports days for staff, all of them long before the current Sportspark was built.

©UEA

©UEA

Journals from the 1970s include UEA Sport and Score.

If you would like to take a more in depth look at these collections please contact archives@uea.ac.uk