Wednesday, May 22, 2013

John Marsh, George Caird and Oxford in 1970

This fascinating video from 1970 celebrates John Marsh (1904-1994), who was principal of Mansfield College, Oxford from 1953 to 1970.  New Testament scholars know him from his Pelican New Testament Commentary Saint John, which was I think the first book I ever read on John's Gospel.  They also know him as the translator of Rudolf Bultmann's The History of the Synoptic Tradition, still one of my favourite books on the New Testament (of course).

The video was produced by Peter Armstrong, who went on to become a producer at the BBC, where he used John Marsh as a religious consultant.  Armstrong produced the BBC documentary Who Was Jesus? with Don Cupitt in 1977.

There are many features of interest.  New Testament scholars will also be fascinated with the footage of George Caird lecturing on the Epistle to the Hebrews (around the ten minute mark).  He is lecturing in his gown, a tradition that has continued across the years, and the audience, almost entirely made up of male students (with one nun) are seen thinking hard and making intense notes.  There are some great hairstyles and glasses on show among the students that anchor the piece nicely in the 60s.

The film also shows footage of a typical Oxford-style one to one tutorial with a student reading his essay on Little Dorrit to his rather young looking tutor.  We see a marquee being erected throughout the film, and then at the end a bit of great late 60s style music and dancing, nicely illustrating the contrast with the more sedate academic life.  You see Mansfield College's high table, and get to eavesdrop on a conversation between Marsh and Caird.  Caird was the incoming principal of the college (1970-77).  I ate at that high table myself some years later, on several occasions, as a guest of John Muddiman, who was my doctoral supervisor.

The film begins with some wonderful footage of Oxford in 1970.  It's remarkable how little traffic there is around.  One vehicle is an old-fashioned milk float with the three-wheel drive.  And this makes the interview with Nathaniel Micklem (the previous principal of Mansfield) all the more striking -- Micklem comments on how quiet it was in the Oxford of 1911 with "no motors, no aeroplanes and no automatic music, machine music.  No tractors in the field.  England was quiet.  You could hear the lark".

Also, don't miss the footage of a "sermon class" at which ordinands sit round and discuss a sermon.

A thoroughly enjoyable film for all sorts of reasons. Thanks to Peter Armstrong for making it and uploading it to Youtube, and to Matthew Montonini for drawing it to our attention.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating film. Thank you for sharing it. The Covered Market does not seemed to have changed very much, except perhaps become more of a tourist trap. The straight rowing blades now look quite old fashioned.

Tim Bulkeley said...

Thank you for this nostalgia fest :)

If they'd filmed George Caird's class in a later term I might have seen myself ;)

Isn't it strange to think that this film is almost halfway back to the 1911 larks!

Mark Goodacre said...

I must admit that I found it kind of magical. I will definitely be watching it again. I didn't to up until 1985 and although that is only 15 years distant from this film, it feels like a long time. But on the other hand, so many things are recognizably the same. Wonderful.

Bob MacDonald said...

Magical indeed - it is excellently made. The unraveling of the still photo at the end is a touch of genius. Thank you - I posted it on facebook - I hope my Cambridge children see it.

Mark Goodacre said...

Agreed. Yes, love the way that is done with the still photo!

Waldo Lydecker's Journal said...

The video has turned up on YouTube (2022) and is a delightful look back to when we all lived in black-and-white. I arrived in 1978 and am delighted to see a number of faculty and staff I knew; Wally Buckingham, my rowing coach, was steward then and appears pouring wine at high table. The youngish tutor is John Creaser, who I think was wearing the same outfit eight years later when I came up.