The Inspector’s Russian Journey

Seventy years ago, in September 1945, a great English play had its world premiere.  J.B. Priestley and his wife Jane travelled to the USSR to see An Inspector Calls staged in Leningrad and Moscow.  Since its rapturous Russian reception, and a rather cooler (“almost hostile”) one in London the following year, the play has been seen, enjoyed, and studied by thousands worldwide.

Priestley, JB Russian journey

Front cover of Russian Journey, a pamphlet by J.B. Priestley

It uses the device of a mysterious inspector to explore how each member of a prosperous family contributed to the fate of a young girl who has killed herself.  Inspector combines Priestley’s fascination with the nature of time and reality with a powerful moral message.   While many aspects of the play are ambiguous and open to interpretation, its message could not be clearer – and remains highly relevant: “We don’t live alone.  We are members of one body.  We are responsible for each other.  And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish”.

So why the USSR?  No theatre was available in London, and Priestley’s work was popular in the country.  He was at the peak of his fame, so it would be something of a coup to host his new play.  Not to mention that Inspector would be seen favourably, as it can be interpreted as an expose of capitalism.

PRI21_8_30. Russian Album. Priestley and Jane greeted at Moscow aerodrome, 1945

Priestley and Jane greeted at Moscow aerodrome, 1945 (PRI 21/8/30)

Visiting Britain’s ally so soon after the end of the Second World War was an extraordinary experience for the Priestleys; fortunately both wrote about it.  They found a warm welcome and wonderful cultural life, but also extreme poverty, repression, and squalor.  This weekend’s Guardian Review featured a lively account of their Russian Journey, written by Valerie Grove and based on the vivid letters Jane wrote to her children.  You can find out more about the fascinating poster and photograph album featured in the article (and shown here) in our 100 Objects exhibition.

PRI21_8_30. Russian Album. Priestley's birthday with members of the Kamerny Theatre, 1945

Priestley’s birthday with members of the Kamerny Theatre, 1945 (PRI 21/8/30)

If this has tantalised you, you can see two interpretations of Inspector in the next few months:

  • A new tour of the 1992 production by Stephen Daldry, which led to a great revival in the popularity of the play.  Touring from 5 September 2015.
  • A new BBC Drama, filmed in Saltaire and featuring David Thewlis as the Inspector, will be broadcast on Sunday 13 September 2015.  A DVD will be available from the 21 September.

If you don’t know the play, now is the time to catch up and see what all the fuss is about!

Credits: quotations from An Inspector Calls and Margin Released.

Wine, Saffron and Gold: who chose the University of Bradford’s robes?

The splendid costumes worn at University of Bradford graduation ceremonies are part of the pageantry that makes the ceremonies such special occasions for students and their families and friends.

Still from the 1960s film Potential Graduate depicting student receiving her degree from the Chancellor Harold Wilson

Still from the 1960s film Potential Graduate, depicting a student receiving her degree from the Chancellor Harold Wilson.  A very rare colour image from this period, this shows well the saffron and gold trims on the gowns.

The costumes are known as “academic dress” and derive from the clothes worn by scholars at the earliest universities, during the Middle Ages.  Each university has its own academic dress and staff taking part in graduation processions wear the outfit of the university from which they received their degree.  Note also the use of fabric, colour and trimming to denote the type of degree or rank of the individual, again something typical of medieval practice.  Undergraduates have the simplest designs, with more colour and decoration for higher degrees; the Chancellor and other University officers wear the most elaborate costumes.

Still from the 1960s film Potential Graduate showing student outside the Main/Richmond Building porch in academic gown

Still from the 1960s film Potential Graduate showing a student wearing his academic gown. He is standing outside the Main/Richmond Building porch

In 1965, the Bradford Institute of Technology was working towards its transformation into the University of Bradford.   This included deciding on its heraldic and ceremonial identity, expressed in the coat of arms and the academic dress.   A Committee was set up to investigate and make these choices, meeting several times during 1965 and 1966.  Frank Earnshaw, the then Librarian, took on the task of finding out about academic dress elsewhere, so that our designs did not duplicate those worn by other universities.  Several other universities were taking shape and making similar decisions at this time, but everyone kept in touch and clashes were avoided.

The University officers in their gowns, late 1960s: Vice-Chancellor E.G. Edwards;  Chancellor Harold Wilson; Pro-Vice Chancellor Charles Morris and Deputy Vice-Chancellor R.A. McKinlay (ref. UniPgr1)

 University of Bradford officers wearing academic dress, late 1960s: Vice-Chancellor E.G. Edwards; Chancellor Harold Wilson; Pro-Vice Chancellor Charles Morris and Deputy Vice-Chancellor R.A. McKinlay (ref. UniPgr1)

The Committee settled on velvet for the splendid robes of the officers of the University: the Chancellor wore wine-colour, the Pro-Chancellor black, the Vice-Chancellor blue and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor black with grey.  The garments were enriched with trimmings of gold braid and moiré and silk linings.  In keeping with the University’s (then) unusual emphasis on involving students in governance, the President of the Students’ Union also had a special gown, of blue stuff trimmed with saffron*.

To celebrate our links with local industry and role in the city, much of the design and manufacture of the officers’ robes was carried out by Bradford companies, including Lister and Co, who wove the velvet, Naylor Jennings of Yeadon, who finished the moiré trim, and Denby and Sons of Shipley, who finished the linings.  Students from the Regional College of Art prepared the robe designs and University staff from the department of Textile Technology wove the silk linings and moiré collars.

John West, ViceChancellor, and Sir John Harvey-Jones, Chancellor, with Mohammed Ajeeb, Lord Mayor of Bradford, and other honorary graduates, March 1986 (ref. UNIPgr5).

The Vice Chancellor, John West, and Chancellor, Sir John Harvey-Jones, in the later style of gown, with Mohammed Ajeeb, Lord Mayor of Bradford, and other honorary graduates, in their scarlet robes, March 1986 (ref. UNIPgr5)

As you can see in this 1986 picture, the original heavy velvet gowns were later replaced by lighter ones of black artificial silk with elaborate facings.

The Committee chose black for bachelors and masters and scarlet for Doctors of Philosophy.  These outfits feature a variety of saffron trims, linking them with the President’s design mentioned above.

You might like this video made a few years ago, in which I talk a little more about the University’s robe designs.

Like the coat of arms and the University mace, academic dress is part of the magic of higher education, connecting our graduands with scholars past, present, and worldwide.  We in Special Collections would like to wish all our 2015 graduands and their families a wonderful graduation day and all the very best in the future!


*Saffron, a rich yellowy-orange, is described as the University’s colour, though I have never seen an explanation for this.  Possibly a connection with the city’s dyestuffs industry?   If anyone knows, do tell me, and I will update if I ever find out.

The Tall Blue Building: Happy 50th Birthday, Richmond

On 11 June 1965, Prime Minister Harold Wilson came to what is now the University of Bradford to open Main Building.  Later renamed Richmond Building, Main Building, a striking multistorey structure, quickly became the University’s most recognisable feature,  its hilltop position making it visible across the city.

Main Building, circa 1966.  (UNI B 19)

Main Building, circa 1966. (UNI B 19)

When Main Building opened, it was part of the Bradford Institute of Technology.  BIT was about to achieve the century-old dream of a University for Bradford: it received its Charter in October 1966, with Wilson as its first Chancellor.  However, the Institute had struggled with poor quality and outdated accommodation since its establishment as a College of Advanced Technology,  which hived off the higher education side of Bradford Technical College.  A University would need even more space for staff and students as well as better facilities for high level research and teaching in science and technological subjects.

Harold Wilson opening Main Building, 11 June 1965 (UNI PHw4)

Harold Wilson opening Main Building, 11 June 1965 (UNI PHw4)

BIT, unlike the College, was no longer under local authority control, but in practice it was impossible for it to act alone to solve its space crisis.  The two organisations had to work together for the benefit of the city, the Institute bringing in money and people and ideas and the authority making space and plans available.  They considered various greenfield sites for a whole new campus, including Woodhall, Tong and even Harrogate  (remember this was the 1960s when new “plate-glass” universities were taking shape outside cities).

However, it was eventually decided to expand the campus into the back streets which wrapped around the College.   Whole streets of houses were demolished (many people had to be rehoused as a result) and work on Main Building began in May 1960.  The building was commissioned by the Local Authority and designed by the City Architect, Clifford Brown, then handed over to the Institute.  The lower four floors of Main were first occupied in October 1962; other parts of the building in 1963 and 1964.

September 1964. View from top of Richmond Road, with Great Hall in foreground. Surrounding wall still under construction. Cars and vans at roadside. (UNI B10)

September 1964. View from top of Richmond Road, with Great Hall in foreground. (UNI B10)

Since the 1960s, Main/Richmond has been an important part of the University experience for students, from arrival at their first open day to their graduation ceremony.  Staff too (everyone visits Human Resources on their first day here!).  Visitors get their taxis and their parking permits at the “tall building”.   As well as many academic departments over the years, Richmond houses most central University functions plus shops and places to eat.

Artist’s impression of the proposed glazed atrium. News and views, September 2004, p. 3UniB15

Artist’s impression of the proposed glazed atrium. News and Views, September 2004, page 3 (UNI B15)

However, by the early noughties, it is fair to say that, like many 1960s buildings, Richmond was showing its age.  Many improvements to its appearance and usefulness have since been made, most noticeably the sky-blue cladding and the glassing in of underused space to create the Atrium where coffee and comfy chairs are to be had.   Alas, the fabulous modern “porch” on stilts you can see in the older photographs has gone.   I wonder if Richmond will be here in 2025 and how it will look?

100_1106

Music in the Atrium at an event for the University’s 40th anniversary, 2006

PS I don’t have the date of the renaming to hand, but we know that Main Building was renamed Richmond Building after the street on which it lives.  This was in line with the University’s then policy of naming its buildings after such streets or other local heritage features.

Sources:  Much of this article is based on Robert McKinlay’s histories, which are full of detail on the architecture and planning decisions of the 1960s, and on the Main Building article in our 100 Objects exhibition.

J.B. Priestley and the Little Ships: 75 years on

In June 1940, the British Army faced disaster.  France had fallen to the Nazis and they were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk.  They were saved by a fleet of “little ships” which sailed across the Channel to rescue them.  A humiliating defeat was transformed into a miracle of survival.  The courage of the rescuers (many of whom did not return) helped inspire Britain as the country faced the threat of invasion during the perilous summer that followed.

PRI21_8_6. Priestley standing by car

J.B. Priestley, circa 1940 (ref PRI 21/8/6)

Bradford-born author and broadcaster J.B. Priestley played a key part in the creation of the Dunkirk story, thanks to a BBC radio broadcast on 5 June, the first of his celebrated Postscripts series.  We see Priestley turning the raw news into history – and legend.  “Doesn’t it seem to you to have an inevitable air about it – as if we had turned a page in the history of Britain and seen a chapter headed ‘Dunkirk’?”.

Priestley doesn’t blame anyone or dwell on the defeat.  Instead, he pays tribute to the little ships, especially the frivolous little pleasure steamers, evoking the English sea-side world his listeners would know so well: “pierrots and piers, sand castles, ham-and-egg teas, palmists, automatic machines, and crowded sweating promenades”.  The steamers had left this to go into “the inferno” and face unimaginable dangers for the greater good.  Some would not come back but would be remembered forever, like “Gracie Fields”, a ship Priestley had taken many times to his Isle of Wight home.   Priestley’s listeners were doing the same:  he was reminding them that it would be worth it, that they were part of an incredible story already turning into history.

Listen to Priestley’s Dunkirk Postscript.

Find out more about the Postscripts:

Commonweal: a library for the good of all

Visitors to the Library at the University of Bradford will often come across references to “Commonweal” and maybe wonder what this means.   Wonder no more!

CwlCCPromoY crop and rotate small

Commonweal means “the good of all”.  The Commonweal Library is an independent peace library run by Trustees and volunteers.  Commonweal is located within the main Library of the University of Bradford (handily just outside my office on Floor 1!) and is a treasure trove of books, journals and pamphlets on protest, social change, religions, ideas, and much much more.  Its extraordinary collections of campaign archives are part of Special Collections.

Befriending Commonweal Peace Library“, a feature in the most recent issue of Peace News, is a great introduction to Commonweal’s fascinating story.  The author of the feature, Michael Randle, encourages activists and academics interested in nonviolent protest to make use of Commonweal’s wonderful resources.

Commonweal, like Special Collections, is for everyone.  Unlike Special Collections, however, Commonweal is open access:  you don’t need an appointment and you can explore the shelves to your heart’s content.

Find out more:

The Requisites of Novelty, Fashion and Elegance

This week at Fairfax House in York, an extraordinary scrapbook of historic fabrics will go on show for the first time.

Dying_BRA. Ackermann's repository.2

The fabrics were originally featured in Ackermann’s Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions, and politics, a well-known early 19th century periodical which is an incredible source for study of that period.  They were gathered into a scrapbook entitled British Patterns of Manufacture, for the benefit of students at Bradford Technical College.

The scrapbook will be on show in a major exhibition at Fairfax House which explores the growth of shopping as a leisure pastime in Georgian England.  Consuming Passions will run from 28 May-31 December 2015 and will look at the ways Georgian middle and upper class people decorated themselves and their homes in the latest fashion.  The vivid and colourful patterns depicted in the scrapbook are a fascinating part of this exuberant and luxurious world.

Explore further …

Journey into Daylight: J.B. Priestley’s VE Day broadcast

Seventy years ago, at 9pm on 11 May 1945, the author J.B. Priestley made a very special broadcast on the BBC to mark VE Day: war was over in Europe; Nazi Germany had surrendered.

PRI21_8_31

J.B. Priestley at his typewriter, a little later in 1945.

The piece, “Journey into Daylight”, feels like a Postscript to Priestley’s Postscripts, which spanned the summer of 1940 from Dunkirk to the London Blitz.   Like them, it is a moving and personal account, warm, inclusive, and rich in everyday detail which emphasises the sense of shared experience: titles of popular songs, spam sandwiches …  It also gives the impression of natural speech while actually being consummately crafted to raise Priestley’s political and social ideas in a gentle way acceptable to the BBC and the government.

In Journey, Priestley compares the experience of VE Day to waking up in a railway carriage after a long dark journey: now, at last, a “thin grey daylight” is appearing round the edge of the blinds and it is time to get up and move on to the next stage.

But first, “let us go back – and remember”.   First the phoney war of bewilderment and waiting, then the spring of 1940 when countries fell and victory was salvaged from defeat at Dunkirk …

“We put on LDV* armlets and took a few old condemned rifles to the tops of hills: we were alone, and the world thought London had joined Babylon, Nineveh and Carthage; but we knew better.”

The summer of 1940: a terrible, glorious time in which the community worked together for a common purpose – and there was a glimpse of the possibilities of such action in peacetime.  The grim struggle of 1941, new allies in the USSR and the United States, the terrible lows of 1942 when Singapore fell and all seemed hopeless.  Then hope: the battles of Alamein, Stalingrad and D Day …

PRI21_8_6. Priestley standing by car

J.B. Priestley standing by a car, 1940s

Priestley warns that the shocking discoveries about Nazi atrocities show the dangers of mechanistic thinking leading to loss of humanity.   This could happen to any society:  the Allies after all had won not by virtue but by out-doing their enemies’ technology: “we made bigger bombs than they did”.

With this in mind, the piece is far from triumphant: Priestley, a veteran of the Great War trenches, knew the price of victory in lives lost and shattered.  He knew, too, that the War was far from over (fighting continued in the Far East, to be ended only by the dropping of two atomic bombs in August, and the starving people of Europe in their devastated cities desperately needed help).  Characteristically, however, Priestley ends with a ray of hope: the spirit of communal effort of 1940 could be repeated, and society changed for the better.

* LDV = Local Defence Volunteers i.e. the Home Guard or “Dad’s Army”.  JBP was indeed one of the volunteers and in a beautiful Postscript meditated on the  fellowship he felt with Wessex men throughout the centuries protecting the land from invasion.

Read/hear for yourself

The piece was printed in The Listener 17 May 1945 and reprinted in that magazine on 18 January 1979.  The radio broadcast survives and has often been used in BBC programmes.  It is worth looking out for it over the next few weeks as the Corporation marks the VE Day anniversary: if it is used, it is likely to be available on the iplayer for a while.  As far as I know, neither version is currently freely available online.  The Listener Historical Archive is available to subscribers.

Postscript

In some ways, Priestley’s call was not in vain.   The Labour government, elected in July 1945, instituted the modern welfare state and the National Health Service.  However, this was top-down state bureaucracy rather than the communal efforts that Priestley valued … and in other ways, society returned to its previous patterns, elites still on top and Cold War developing between the War’s two great allies.   During the 1950s he became increasingly disillusioned as a result.  However “Journey into Daylight” stands alongside the Postscripts as JBP the broadcaster at his most inspiring.