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Honorary Graduand Orations - Winter 2010

The Chancellor’s Medal, awarded posthumously to Professor Yvonne Carter CBE, Dean of Warwick Medical School, 2004-9, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, 2007-9

It is a great honour and privilege for me to be asked by the Vice-Chancellor to give this short oration in honour of Professor Yvonne Carter, the first Dean of Warwick Medical School, who sadly, at the age of 50,  lost her battle against breast cancer at the start of the academic year in October.

Yvonne would have been delighted to have been honoured by the University with the Chancellor’s Medal, an honour given to exceptional people who have played a major role in serving Warwick and making it and maintaining it as a pre-eminent centre of academic excellence. Shortly before her death she was honoured nationally for services to Medical Education with a CBE but was unable to attend the ceremony.

With Susan Bassnett, our former Pro-Vice Chancellor’s permission, I would like to use the elegant and moving analogy she used in her oration at Yvonne’s funeral.  I guess it is particularly fitting at this time after Christmas and the Epiphany.

“About once every century you can look up and see Halley's Comet streaking across the heavens. For just a short time you can watch it, with its great glowing trail, brighter than anything else in the skies, unique, spectacular.

When I thought about how I might find words to say that summarise Yvonne, that comet came to mind, for she too had a great stellar energy, a great brightness, she too moved at high speed and like the comet, she was with us for too short a time. But just as I shall never forget the excitement of watching Halley's Comet, realising that what I was seeing was a once in a lifetime experience, so the impression Yvonne made on my life, and on the lives of so many, was one that time will never diminish. She shone, she sparkled, she glowed, she left a trail of light behind her as she sped through the world.”

Yvonne was indeed an exceptional Warwick person – a highly loved and regarded mother, sister and wife.  A highly respected and loved family doctor for more than 20 years; a highly accomplished clinical researcher with a broad field of interests; an academic who put excellence in both teaching and research at the top of her agenda and a Dean who inspired teachers and students to achieve excellence and not just competence.  As a Pro-Vice Chancellor for external affairs, she was very much driven to build on Warwick’s achievements and increase its stature in the region and make it acclaimed internationally.

But when I think of Yvonne and why she was so much a Warwick person and why she strove to champion the University, I reflect on what it is that makes a ‘Warwick Person’.  When I came to Warwick 12 years ago, when the Medical School was still an aspiration, to help to build up the post-graduate medical programmes and as a clinician working in the NHS, what struck me was the ‘can do’ mentality, the vitality and drive that Warwick represents.  It is a tangible part of the Warwick ethos.  All things are possible in terms of academic achievements, whether growing five star research or developing teaching or maintaining teaching excellence.  Yvonne embodied for me and most of us at Warwick that ‘can do’ spirit and inspired and enthused all around her to make things happen.  No challenge was too great, no hurdle too big or too daunting to either get over or around or through.  This was the essence of her being and became the powerhouse that drove the development of our new graduate entry Medical School, developing it not only as the largest and best graduate entry programme in the UK but also into an internationally competitive research facility and the UK’s leader in many areas of post-graduate medical education and professional training of health service staff.

All of this has been achieved in record time, again in true Warwick ‘can do’ style and through a combination of charisma, vision, hard work and talent.

Yvonne’s approach to her diagnosis, which hit her in the early months of her appointment as Dean, was characteristic and moving.  She was honest, brave, productive and a fighter to the end.  She endured many indignities and used it to reflect on how we as clinicians can improve to maintain our patients’ dignity and rights.  Her reflections as a patient have fed back to us all as doctors and as teachers and trainers, all driven by the professional ethic of aiming to continually improve our practice.  For many of us working alongside her in the Medical School, her leadership of the School while fighting and facing this battle has been truly professional and hugely inspirational.  Much has been achieved in a short time because of her dynamism, determination, example, drive and spirit.

But today is not for sadness: it is for celebration. We are here to celebrate with their families the great achievements of our students in achieving their degrees and completing their time at Warwick.

There can be no greater tribute to Yvonne than for her spirit, the Warwick ‘can-do’ spirit, to be taken up by our graduands, our new generation of Warwick people, so that they can go out into the world and succeed in their chosen professions, careers and family life and become themselves high achievers, stellar and inspirational. In this way, her memory will live on through the students and staff she inspired and the achievements they create.

This oration was written by Dr Paul O’Hare, Warwick Medical School for the 11 am ceremony on 20 January 2010.

Barrie Keeffe: Honorary DLitt

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Barrie Keeffe is one of the United Kingdom’s most important contemporary dramatists whose work has been performed in over twenty countries. Before settling on a career as a writer, Barrie Keeffe was employed as a factory worker, grave digger, a sports reporter and an actor. Since the mid-1970s, he has produced many highly acclaimed plays and has had his work produced at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Theatre Royal Stratford East, Soho Theatre and by theatre companies such as 7:84 and Joint Stock. He has won several awards for his plays including the Paris Critic's Prix Révélation for his play Gotcha, the Giles Cooper Best Radio Award for Heaven Scent and the Thames TV Playwright’s Award for Only a Game. He served as a United Nations Ambassador in 1995, their 50th anniversary year; as Judith E. Wilson Fellow at Christ’s College Cambridge during 2003-4 and has taught dramatic writing at City University since 2002.

However, the work that he is most associated with is his taut, menacing screenplay for The Long Good Friday (1979) for which he won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award. Starring Bob Hoskins as the ferocious gangster Harry Shand and Helen Mirren as his wife, the film’s success rests on a carefully crafted combination of fast-paced action, humour, complex psychological portraits and serious themes of terrorism, religion, corruption and exploitation. Remarkably prophetic, the film revolves around Shand’s dreams of renovating London's Docklands into a centre for commerce and turning it into the venue of choice for the 1988 Olympics. So, if you’re wondering where politicians get their ideas from…

They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and it is possible to see the influence of The Long Good Friday far and wide, from Jake Arnott’s novel The Long Firm (made into an excellent TV series in 2004) to Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. But, The Long Good Friday set the bar high and it is still widely regarded as the greatest ever British gangster film. In fact, the British Film Institute voted it number twenty-one in its list of the 100 favourite British films of the Twentieth Century.

A self-confessed ‘political’ writer, Keeffe’s plays tackle head-on the thorny issues of class, race and social inequality. Famously quoted as saying ‘I write plays for people who wouldn’t be seen dead in the theatre’, his theatre writing provides a voice for those marginalised, disaffected and silenced by British society. In his two trilogies Gimme Shelter (1975-1977) and Barbarians (1977), he captures a world of disillusioned working-class teenagers let down by a failing education system, unemployment and a social hierarchy that places them at the bottom of the heap. Bursting with life and energy, these plays articulate a profound sense of rage about the way his young male protagonists have to fight for social justice, dignity and a meaningful role in society.

Importantly, theatre-makers consistently return to Barrie Keeffe’s urgent, provocative pieces as a means of commenting on the contemporary state of Britain. One of his most powerful plays, Sus (1979), which is set on the night of the 1979 General Election when Margaret Thatcher came to power, offers a hard-hitting account of institutional racism and the infamous stop and search laws that contributed to the riots that swept across British cities in the early 1980s. But, this is not a historical set-piece, it continues to have alarming resonance and it comes as no surprise that London’s Young Vic is planning a revival of the play for June 2010, when it will be staged to coincide with the upcoming General Election. This will be a high-profile revival, but equally interesting was the decision by the young Bristol-based company Splice to produce a site-specific version of the play at Bridewell Island, a former Police and Fire Station complex in the centre of Bristol in 2009. Combining the text with archive footage and music, the company invited Bristol MCs and DJs to write and perform responses to the play. A move that, I’m sure, will have appealed to Barrie Keeffe’s desire to see other voices reflected and present in the theatrical arena.    

Ultimately, Barrie Keeffe appeals to his audience to care about the characters he creates: he wants them to worry about them and their world. Talking about his role as a playwright, he stresses the importance of affect, saying ‘I hope I can create a flickering of energy: if an audience feels, if it is angry or compassionate, then, I think that is a legitimate contribution’. Barrie Keeffe has made more than just a legitimate contribution; his work is a touchstone for urgent, socially committed theatre that casts a sharp light on the inequalities that continue to trouble us in the twenty-first century.

This oration was written by Dr Nadine Holdsworth, School of Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy Studies for the 3 pm ceremony on 20 January 2010

 Sir Gulam Noon MBE : Honorary LLD

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In an interview to The Times newspaper in 2008, Sir Gulam Noon revealed that at a meeting with the Queen subsequent to receiving his Knighthood, he suggested to Her Majesty that she should call him ‘Noon’. The Queen replied: ‘No, you have a Knighthood: you are Sir Gulam.’  So it is a great privilege for me to introduce Sir Gulam to this congregation and to give a short account of his significant achievements.

As most of you know, 3i is a leading private equity firm and the letters stand for ‘Investors in Industry’.  I am sure they won’t mind if I borrow this 3i mnemonic to describe Sir Gulam Noon MBE whom we are proud to present with an honorary LLD degree today. 

As Sir Gulam is a significant investor in industry himself, these three 'i’s could also relate to his own considerable impact, influence and inspiration.  Both his impact and influence are immense. He has impacted through his life and business activities at what could be termed the ‘four bottom lines of impact’:   at the financial, the social, the environmental and the spiritual levels of return on investment.

Firstly his financial or business impact is significant, certainly in terms of his entrepreneurial success. Sir Gulam began in business as a young boy running a sweet stall in Bombay, now Mumbai, and went on to run multi-million pound companies making cuisine from around the world.

Noon Products is a ‘Ten Percenter’, a term coined from research undertaken by Professor David Storey from Warwick Business School in order to better understand medium-sized rapid growth companies. 10% of the businesses within the research sample of companies with a turnover between £20m to £200m grew rapidly, typically by more than 30% over three consecutive years. 

These companies have a growth characteristic that they are ‘good at locating the boat in fast flowing rivers’ or market trends - in the case of Noon Products,  changing cultural and social trends in food tastes and eating-out habits in the UK.  Starting with the odds significantly stacked against him, losing his father when he was very young, Sir Gulam came to England with his family from Mumbai, starting with hardly any tangible resources.  He claims in his own book, Noon with a View,  a Penguin Enterprise series published in 2009, ‘that as in all success stories, it is as much luck, being in the right place at the right time with the right product.’ Sir Gulam also through immense talent and extremely hard work has become one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs, developing his food business which in 2006 turned over £150m and placed him on the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated worth of £65 million. It also earned him the nick name the ‘Curry King’.  Apparently Chicken Tikka Masala is now the top British meal.

His second bottom line impact and influence has been in the area of social success where his extensive charitable works have impacted the lives of so many people here and abroad.  He has connections at the highest level in government, industry and society.  Again quoting from the foreword of his book, he lists Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as friends, meets regularly with Prince Charles for his charities and London’s rich and famous are all on his ‘speed dial’.

The third bottom line impact is in the area of the environment and even the nation and again his influence has been immense. He was given an MBE for services to the food industry in 1994 and knighted in 2002.  He was also a declared supporter of the former Britain in Europe group, a  significant pro- Europe pressure group.

Finally, the fourth bottom line influence is his spiritual impact demonstrated by his extraordinary bravery when he spoke out against extreme Islamic groups.  In a BBC News interview, having been held in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel by terrorists during the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, he described his experiences, and praised the response of India's vast majority of more moderate Muslims.

Finally, I believe Sir Gulam is an inspiration to us, particularly those of you who are receiving your Master’s Degrees here today  - a significant milestone on your own roads to success.  But, you know, success is so often the goal for us when we set out: we get our qualifications and think that the world owes us a living or we have a right to be included in some way.  At best our success is a passport: more important is what it can leverage in order to make a difference, to achieve significance. Summing up why I believe Warwick is rightly honouring Sir Gulam,  I believe he has used his own success to become hugely significant. This is a legacy which will be remembered well into the future and inspire others to follow in his footsteps. 

This oration was written by Nigel Sykes, Warwick Business School for the 11 am ceremony on 21 January 2010.

Professor Peter Galison, Honorary DSc

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Peter Galison, Joseph Pelligrino University Professor at Harvard University writes big books. Very big books. His masterpiece, the book that led to him receiving, in 1997, a Macarthur “genius” grant, is Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics. It weighs in at a hefty 955 pages. His most recent book, co-written with Lorraine Daston is called Objectivity. It is a tour de force of historical and philosophical scholarship, which traces the epistemological foundations of doing science from the truth-to-nature way of doing science in the eighteenth century, through the period where objectivity was the desired aim, in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, through to modern ways of doing science, when trained judgment by scientists working in diverse teams of scientists and engineers is the primary means by which science is both done and also evaluated. Objectivity is a large book of 501 pages. Even his short books, his wonderful first book, How Experiments End, a thrilling description of how experimental scientists actually work through looking at three great experimental discoveries in twentieth century physics – the measurement of the gyromagnetic ratio of the electron, the discovery of the muon and the finding of weak natural currents – and his fascinating exploration in his 2003 book, Einstein’s Clocks and Poincare’s Maps of how two giants of physicists working in the age of objectivity approached science in quite different ways, are each well over 300 pages long.

Peter Galison writes big books not because he is prolix. Far from it. He is an accomplished writer and brilliant storyteller. His books are populated with absorbing stories of scientific discovery, political infighting and gendered injustices. Who cannot forget his sensitive portrayal in Image and Logic of the life and troubled times of Marietta Blau, a brilliant physicist who suffered the misfortune of being both a woman in a profession not notably receptive to top-rate female scientists, and also an Austrian Jew who had to collaborate with an ardent Nazi and who was forced to flee her native country when the Germans invaded in 1938? His writing on Albert Einstein, who died in 1955 in the same year that Professor Galison was born in Manhattan, is a model of conciseness and understanding. He writes memorably about the importance of synchronised clocks – the sort one sees in train stations announcing how late one’s train might be – to the great scientist’s discovery of relativity. Peter Galison  has a mastery of a number of disciplines – history and physics most of all, both of which fields he received doctorates from Harvard in 1983, but also philosophy, sociology and anthropology. He is not a scholar stuck in his ivory tower, writing books on abstract topics removed from gritty realities. He is intensely interested in practical matters. He is concerned not only with how science is conceived – the high grounds of theory – but with how science is done – the busy, crowded laboratory. As he memorably tells us in his introduction to Image and Logic, he wants to look at what the number theorist Edmund Landau dismissed as engine grease. He wants to “get at the blown glass of the early cloud chambers and the oozing noodles of wet nuclear emulsion,” wants to “hear the insistent hiss of venting nitrogen gas from the liquefiers of a bubble chamber” and smell the “lab stinking of ozone” after a high-voltage spark had arced across a high-tension chamber with a resounding crack.

These comments give us a clue as to why Peter Galison writes such big books. He does so because he deals with very big and complicated topics. His main aim is to both understand and also to “see” science, especially modern science. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as a humanist with a scientific orientation, married to an artist, he is fascinated with pictures, with representations, with describing, picturing and showing how science actually works. He and his wife have co-edited a major book, filled with contributions from some of the leading intellectuals and polymaths in the world, called Picturing Science, Producing Art, in which they show how the boundaries between science and art will not hold. Scientists need to be humanists; humanists need to be scientists; both need to be social scientists. Peter Galison does not only “do” science. He also “does” art. He is a distinguished film-maker, with two major films, one on the making of the H-Bomb and another, Secrecy, a chilling examination about the vast, virtually invisible (but representable) world of government security. The latter film won two top film awards and was an official selection for the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, showcasing the best independent films.

This short description does little justice to the multiplicity of Peter Galison’s interests and to the sustained brilliance by which he brings insights from one world to understand another world – he applies, for example, the notion of “trading zones” drawn from studies of creole language in order to show how the various subcultures of modern physics interact together. But it does give some indication of the ways in which Peter Galison, historian, scientist, art lover and, when he can, a pilot of small planes, has made porous the boundaries that we sometimes think exist between the arts, the social sciences, and the physical sciences. One might call him a Renaissance man but that is misleading because what Peter Galison tells us about in his big, vital books is how the glorious disunity of science, as he terms it, both gives modern science its strength and also provides a window onto what really makes our modern world tick.
We are delighted to honour Peter Galison at our Winter Degree Congregation.

This oration was written by Professor Trevor Burnard, Department of History for the 3 pm ceremony on 21 January 2010.

Professor Yvonne Carter, Posthumous Award of the Chancellor's Medal

Mr Barrie Keeffe, Honorary DLitt
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Sir Gulam Noon, Honorary LLD
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Professor Peter Galison, Honorary DSc
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