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First impressions

tony_wheeler_-_blue.jpgWhen we look at the University today with its thriving campus and numerous developments, it is hard to imagine that Warwick was just a new-born ‘baby’ 50 years ago.

As a current student caller, Ann Yip has heard countless stories of the University in the past, but the story behind the creation of the University was something that she had never come across – that is, until she spoke to Tony Wheeler (BSc Engineering 1965-69), one of the first ever Warwick students, who enrolled in the first 1965 intake and who later became the founder of Lonely Planet books.

In this interview Ann contrasts her experience with those of Tony’s generation 50 years ago.

Speaking to Tony, he recounted how the University was just a small campus at Gibbet Hill, where the Medical School is now based, with approximately 300 first-year students when he first arrived. When asked how he felt being part of one of the first intakes of the University, he simply recalled that there were a lot of other new universities opening up around the time. “We were post-Baby Boom and everyone was coming in at that time,” he said.

In the University’s second year, the campus expanded from Gibbet Hill into the area where today‘s central campus sits, with the Students‘ Union, the Rootes Building and Benefactors accommodation hall all being opened.

Much of the University’s social scene took place off campus in Coventry and Kenilworth, especially in the first year when much of campus was still under construction. It was Kenilworth, however, that seemed to have more of a “centre of gravity” in the social lives of 1960s Warwick students – much like Leamington Spa for today’s students. “The social nights consisted of pub nights. There were also cinema societies and theatrical stuff, all the student things basically,” Tony explained.

He spoke most fondly of the music scene at Warwick with the “sordid rock stars” he had heard. “The three years I was there, we had Pink Floyd, the Spencer Davis group, Joe Cocker, Al Stewart and Stevie Winwood,” he laughed. He also recalled the popular student band ‘The New Economic Model’ that was started up in his first year and which played at student dances.

tony 1It was a particularly exciting and daring time for Warwick students in the 60s. With no second- or third-years to welcome the first intake of Warwick students, many of the student societies clubs and experiences had to be created. Tony was part of a group of students who started the student newspaper still in print today as The Boar.

“There wasn’t a newspaper when we got to Warwick. Somebody just sort of thought we needed a university newspaper, put a sign up about it, and we got together and started one. We started it from scratch!“ Tony started a little too casually.

”Wait, what?” I answered almost immediately. As an active member of the student newspaper The Boar, I was both surprised and excited to hear about the 60s paper called The Giblet, named after Gibbet Hill. The paper stayed Giblet for much of the 60s before “someone thought it needed a more respectable name,” according to Tony.

Today, we do not realise how much has already been created for us. New societies, such as Poetry Slam and the Northern Society, are still being started up today. But this is different from being in a situation where there was very little, or nothing, to welcome us into the university experience.

Tony 2Consequently, student experience outside the degree has become a much bigger deal today. In fact, it has become something that defines university life and is expected by the competitive job market, with employers now looking beyond the degree. This is combined with the need to finance this university experience, putting more pressure on today’s students to make the most of their time at university. Today’s cost of tuition and living at University can total around £36,000 while in the 60s there were no tuition fees and living costs totalled to around £1,000 – some of which was funded by a grant.

“It’s a whole different ball game,” Tony comments on the cost of university today; and it is. Tony left the student newspaper in his second and third year to pursue
his studies, as he had “really neglected” his studies in his first year. Today, more and more students are instead choosing to balance (or juggle) extra-curricular commitments with their degrees. As a committed member of The Boar, an active member of the student radio station and a student caller at the University, I find myself having to compromise my studies (at times). Why? Because I need to make the most of my university experience, because everyone else is doing the same thing, because that is what employers in the contemporary age expect.

Hearing of the University’s student newspaper in the 60s has made me realise how we have changed as a student community. The Giblet began as a more light-hearted ‘what’s happening thing’; today, The Boar exists as a semi-formal newspaper that touches on serious issues around campus and beyond. The same can be said of student extra-curricular experiences today, which have developed into something more momentous in the university experience.

For many Warwick students, the 60s were a bold and exciting time of creation: a time not only to take control of their experiences but also to create them for a future generation. Today, we find ourselves developing these creations; but this dedication to do so is intermingled with expectations to go beyond the degree and to make the most out of the university experience.

ann textPerhaps there is more to appreciate from the beginnings of our Warwick experiences in the 60s, perhaps we all need to remember that the experiences we have now were all once created for a bit of fun