Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Honorary Graduand Orations - Winter 2013

Mr Earl Cameron: Hon DLitt (11:00am ceremony on Wednesday, 23 January)

Earl Cameron’s career on stage and screen has lasted for more than sixty years and in 2009 he was awarded the CBE for services to drama. He will be most familiar to you through his recent roles in such films as The Queen (2006, Stephen Frears) with Helen Mirren, or playing with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn in Sidney Pollack’s United Nations drama, The Interpreter (2005).

However, for scholars and aficionados of British cinema and television like myself, Earl’s distinguished contribution starts many years earlier with the post-war Ealing Studios crime thriller set in the London Docks, Pool of London (1951). In this, his first film, Earl played a young Jamaican seaman, Johnny, in port for the weekend. Johnny’s weekend includes involuntary entanglement in a diamond smuggling racket, a nascent romance with the female lead played by Susan Shaw, and a desperate evening in a drinking dive where he is cheated and thrown out onto the streets. This thriller, from the team of Michael Relph and Basil Dearden, who made a cycle of British films which engage with contemporary social problems, addressed what was then called ‘the colour bar’ by having a Bermudan actor in a leading role. The reality of the colour bar, which was shown in the film by the hostile reactions to Johnny – Earl’s character – and the impossibility of his romance with the female lead, was actually demonstrated in the very publicity campaign for the film. The main publicity poster gave the names of the five actors playing the leading roles, and for each of them there was a photograph – except for Earl Cameron.

After the success of this first film part, which was the first opportunity for cinema audiences to hear his rich, resonant voice, Earl went on to play a number of significant film roles in the 1950s, many of which were involved the dramatization of the end of the British Empire, and the consequences of the immigration – particularly from the West Indies – which Britain had sought to meet post-war labour shortages. In films such as Flame in the Streets (1957), The Heart Within (1957), Simba (1955), Sapphire (1959), and innovatory television drama such as The End Begins (1956), Earl played a range of roles, usually appearing as a thoughtful voice of reason. Indeed, his recent role as Dr Zuwanie in The Interpreter was an exceptional one for Earl, for he was playing a villain, and not just an everyday villain, but a power-hungry murdering despot. Earl does not usually play villains – but his acting is always quietly convincing in its authenticity.

Earl himself, who comes from Bermuda – and now Kenilworth – first arrived in Britain at the outbreak of the Second World War. Just like Johnny in Pool of London, Earl arrived as a merchant seaman, and then had some very hard times trying to keep body and soul together in wartime London. It was while working in Lyons Corner House in the Strand that, through a friend from Guyana, he got his first acting job, appearing in the revival of the big successful musical called Chu Chin Chow. From Chu Chin Chow he graduated to speaking parts, in plays such as Deep are the Roots and from there to cinema and television. If you have ever watched Casualty, Crown Court, Dalziel and Pascoe, Waking the Dead, Kavanagh QC or LoveJoy, you will have seen Earl Cameron – possibly without realising his pioneering role in British theatre, film and television. Without Earl Cameron’s example and achievement, so many careers of younger, British black actors would not have been possible, so many dramas would have been the poorer – and his own career stands as a sixty year testament to hard work, skilled acting, inspiration, and grace in sometimes difficult times.

Mr Vice-Chancellor, in the name of the Senate, I present for admission to the degree of Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa, Mr Earl Cameron.

This oration was written by Professor Charlotte Brunsdon, Department of Film and Television Studies.


Dame Fiona Reynolds: Hon DSc (11:00am ceremony on Thursday, 24 January)

Dame Fiona Reynolds was born in 1958 and attended school not far from here – in Rugby, Warwickshire. She studied Geography and Land Economy at the University of Cambridge, where she achieved a first class honours degree. Fiona went on to achieve a Master’s degree in Land Economy, also from Cambridge. This provided her with strong foundations for her career.

Fiona took on her first job role in 1980 as Secretary to the Council for National Parks, which is now known as the Campaign for National Parks, a charity which campaigns to protect and promote all of the National Parks of England and Wales. Fiona stayed there until 1987.

She was then appointed as an Assistant Director at the Council for the Protection of Rural England, where she went on to serve as Director from 1992 until 1998. Now known as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the charity’s ambition is to have a ‘beautiful and thriving countryside that’s valued and enjoyed by everyone.

Fiona joined the Civil Service in 1998, becoming Director of the Women’s Unit in the Cabinet Office, where she remained until 2000.

It was in 2001 that Fiona took on the role for which she is arguably most well-known. She became Director-General of the National Trust. The National Trust is a UK conservation charity, which exists to protect historic places and green spaces and opens them up for the public to enjoy.

The charity currently looks after more than 350 historic houses, gardens and ancient monuments. The closest to our University are: Baddesley Clinton – a medieval moated manor house and garden; Packwood House – a Tudor house, park and garden; and Charlecote Park – a Tudor house and landscaped deer park.

During Fiona’s time at the National Trust, its membership grew from 2.7 million to 4 million. Over the same period turnover increased from £199 million to more than £420 million. These are impressive figures, particularly during turbulent financial times.

Before taking up the post of Director-General, Fiona was involved with the Trust for many years. She served as a member of the Trust’s Council and on the Thames and Chilterns regional committee. Fiona also chaired the Trust’s local committee for Sutton House in Hackney.

Away from the National Trust, from 2001–2 Fiona served as a member of the Policy Commission on the Future of Food and Farming.

Fiona moved on from the National Trust late last year and is now Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. She is also Non-Executive Director of the BBC, a member of the Commission on the Future of Volunteering and is on the Board of Wessex Water as a Non-Executive Director.

The impressive difference Fiona’s work has made has been marked formally: she was awarded the CBE for services to the environment and conservation in 1998, Fiona was then appointed a DBE in 2008.

We are delighted to honour Fiona in this way at our Winter Degree Congregation.

Mr Chancellor, in the name of the Senate, I present for admission to the degree of Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa, Dame Fiona Reynolds.

This oration was written by Professor Ann Caesar, Department of Italian.


Ms Prue Leith: Hon DLitt (3:00pm ceremony on Thursday, 24 January 2013)

Prue Leith was born and grew up in South Africa and attended University at Cape Town. She then moved to France as an au pair – the aim being to learn French. However while she was there she unexpectedly developed a passion for food and drink, inspired by her employers.

This experience led her to relocate to London and learn to cook professionally at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. This was the foundation of her varied and fulfilling career but, as her achievements show, she combines this with outstanding business sense and the ability to grow successful organisations.

Prue started up her first catering company in 1960, which went from strength to strength and saw her supplying a wide variety of customers, including Princess Margaret, the Orient Express and major conference centres. A few years later she opened her first restaurant in central London, and went on to join forces with Caroline Waldegrave to open Leith’s School of Food and Wine. This cookery school is still going strong today and is internationally renowned. The Leith's Group, as it became, reached a turnover of £15m in 1993, when she sold all but the restaurant.

But, as many of you must know, Prue is not only a great cook and entrepreneur. She is also a renowned author. Perhaps cookery books might be expected, and her (food-related) editorial roles in the Daily Mail, Sunday Express and The Guardian perhaps come as no surprise. However in recent years Prue has turned her hand to writing novels: the first having been published in 2005. She now has five novels to her name.
• Her first novel, Leaving Patrick, appeared in 1995
• Sisters was published in 2001
• A Lovesome Thing in 2004.
• Choral Society in 2009
• and A Serving of Scandal in 2010.

You will not be surprised to learn that someone with such drive and so varied a career has felt obliged to contribute to Public Life.
• She chaired the School Food Trust from November 2006 until January 2010, helping transform school meals.
• And she has served on the executive boards of British Railways, the Halifax, Whitbread and Orient Express Hotels.

Prue’s honours include an OBE, awarded in 1989, the Veuve Cliquot Business Woman of the Year award, which she received in 1990, and a CBE, awarded in 2010.

We are delighted to be able to add to these honours today at our Winter Degree Congregation. Mr Chancellor, in the name of the Senate, I present for admission to the degree of Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa, Ms Prue Leith.

This oration was written by Professor Peter Winstanley, Dean of the Warwick Medical School.

Mr Earl Cameron


Dame Fiona Reynolds


Ms Prue Leith