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Lord Pannick’s Marxist Tutor.

January 19, 2017

Hertford College Law tutor Roy Stuart hosted a cheese and wine party in the College’s Old Hall in honour of a member of Salvador Allende’s deposed government, one evening in late 1973. I was incorrect in thinking the guest of honour had been the Chilean foreign secretary. Still it felt exciting to shake the hand of somebody of international significance, whoever it was. I was more socialistically inclined in those years than I am now, and I was surprised that my friend Chris M., then describing himself as a Marxist, refused to attend. Feeling socially unconfident, I’d have been happier with somebody I knew present. David Pannick wasn’t – he arrived a year or so later at Hertford.

People told me Roy Stuart was himself a Marxist. Apparently he attempted to support the radical socialist Rudi Dutschke, who was eventually expelled from the UK by the Heath government. Dutschke was in England in the early 1970s, recovering from a serious (eventually fatal) wounding by an assassin. I was told also that Stuart couldn’t practice Law because of a cannabis conviction. I’ve no idea how much of this was true.

I arrived in Oxford during an upsurge in radical student politics. Students occupied the Examination Schools in November 1973, and the Indian Institute the following February, demanding a central students’ union. The place seemed awash with middle class kids wearing grandad shirts and donkey jackets, mostly subsequently on fatcat salaries in the City and the media I think. Out of interest I looked inside the Schools during the occupation, but when somebody suggested I stayed I made my excuses and left.

It was a difficult time for me. I was very homesick and remorseful and felt ill much of the time. I smoked, was prone to bronchitis and ate unhealthily. Though I gave up smoking during the Christmas vacation, I suffered a fractured cheekbone in a sports accident, putting me in the Radcliffe Infirmary and the Churchill Hospital for an operation serious enough for a general anaesthetic. Then I had to find private accommodation at the end of the first academic year because unlike the only other chemistry student at Hertford College in my year, the Oxford University chemistry professor’s privately educated son, I didn’t have a scholarship award from Hertford College.

Lord Pannick wrote a brief biography after Roy Stuart’s death in the Law section of the Times (July 26, 2005, paywalled).  It reminds me that Dr. Stuart was the college Dean, “responsible for student welfare and discipline”. I believe the welfare of few students suffered more than mine. Yet I never spoke at all to Dr. Stuart. I never really got used to Oxford university terminology. If I had an instruction somewhere which stated in plain language “in case of poor welfare, see …” I think I would have been more likely to make the appropriate arrangements.

As “Dean”, Dr. Stuart just didn’t seem to me to be an approachable person. I could imagine why David Pannick would have a better rapport with him. David Pannick attended an independent school in London, I was from a state school in Warrington. Roy Stuart seemed distant and patrician. I could imagine him judging me somewhat Lumpenproletarian.

It was ultimately because of my social background, I believe, that I was never able to do justice to my A-level grade “A”s at or after Hertford. Although they spoke of equality, in practice the benefits were skewed towards the progeny of the professional middle classes. At a “progressive” Oxford college like Hertford, some animals are inevitably more equal than others.

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