Michaelmas 1961: Robert Graves

St John’s College library has in its Robert Graves archive a barely legible carbon copy of Graves’ typescript for the talk he gave on 1 November 1961 under the title Poet’s Paradise.  Page 12 is missing and is substituted here with pages 12a and 13a of a previous draft.

poetsparadise1 poetsparadise2 poetsparadise3 poetsparadise4 poetsparadise5

poetsparadise6 poetsparadise7 poetsparadise8 poetsparadise9 poetsparadise10 poetsparadise11poetsparadise12a poetsparadise13 poetsparadise13a poetsparadise14 poetsparadise15 poetsparadise16These images are reproduced by kind permission of the President
and Fellows of St John’s College, Oxford.

[Michaelmas 1961]


Trinity 1962 – survey

The Group carried out another survey of its membership in Trinity 1962 (a previous one had been conducted in Michaelmas 1960).  Unfortunately the results are not available, but in preparation treasurer Leonard Evans made up a complete list of members by college, with a summary on the cover sheet. The distribution between colleges plainly reflects where the Group had active members:


This was the questionnaire:


[Trinity 1962]          [Posters]        [Printing press]        [Spanish petition]


Trinity 1962 – Spanish petition

A meeting was organised on May 25 1962 jointly by OUHG, the OU Labour Club, JACARI (the Joint Action Committee against Racial Intolerance) and COUND (Campaign in Oxford University for Nuclear Disarmament) to hear from Sr Fernando Castillo, who had recently been released from 23 years as a political prisoner and had illegally escaped from Spain.

He highlighted the plight of students who had demonstrated in sympathy with striking miners some of whom had been jailed while others awaited trial.  OUHG decided to print and circulate a petition to be delivered to the Spanish ambassador.

The meeting and petition were reported next day in the Oxford Maiil:






































[Trinity 1962]      [Posters]              [Printing press]      [Survey]

Trinity 1961 posters

First and Second weeks:









Third week:









Fourth week:









Fifth week:









Sixth week:









Seventh week:


















[Trinity 1961]       [The hoax]


Trinity 1962

Bob Leach was president, David Pollock secretary and Leonard Evans treasurer.  Speakers included Margaret Knight, Michael Argyle, Anthony Quinton and Brigid Brophy. 

[NB: David Pollock has manuscript notes of the two talks by Margaret Knight and those by Michael Argyle, Anthony Quinton and Canon Stanley Evans which he can make available to anyone interested.]

This was the first card printed by the Group with their table-top Adana flat-bed printing press, on which see here.

The press was used to print a petition to General Franco’s Spanish regime calling for freedom for some students imprisoned for demonstrating in favour of striking miners.  This followed a meeting jointly organised by OUHG and the OU Labour Club, JACARI and COUND.  For more details see here.

The term also saw new initatives in the form of the Humanist Action Group and the Research Unit.

Some posters may be seen here.

During the term the Oxford Union voted by 295 to 259 that “This House does not believe in God”, as noted in The Humanist (July 1962):








[Posters]      [Printing press]      [Survey]       [Spanish petition]

[Hilary 1962]       [Michaelmas 1962]

Hilary 1962

Henry Laycock was president, Bob Leach secretary and Narayana Money treasurer.  Speakers included Professor P H Nowell-Smith and Harold (H J) Blackham from the then Ethical Union (now the British Humanist Association).   The card promised Sir Julian Huxley but he did not come.


Some posters may be seen here.

David Pollock made detailed notes of most meetings this term: these short reports are based on his notes:

Jack Dunman started by saying that those who recognised the main problems facing mankind as war, poverty, ignorance and disease were already materialist and half way to being socialists and communists, but those who concentrated on so-called “higher problems” such as freedom, morality and the fate of the individual soul would end up as reactionaries.

Harold Blackham addressed an audience of 68 and ranged over Montaigne, the Novum Organum, the beginnings of modern science, Auguste Comte, T H Huxley, W K Clifford, George Eliot, Auguste Comte and many others before moving on to a description of modern agnosticism.

P H Nowell-Smith had an audience of 138 for a talk that started from the basic nature of morality as a necessity for communal life before describing traditional Christian sexual morality and its various rationales (family  life, preservation of inheritance. . .) and criticising its consequences (including hypocrisy, guilt, deception,secrecy and D H Lawrence’s “sex in the head”).  He deplored falsehoods about masturbation, warned of marital rape (seen by many as “within the rules”), quoted various findings from the Kinsey report, and concluded that rules were out of place other than those of insightful caring.  In answer to a questoin, he revealed doubts about homosexuality – it “tends to make one an outcast” and so it was “good to direct people towards heterosexual channels”.

J S L Gilmour seems to have been unable to come and his place was taken by a Reverend Jenkins who told an audience of 50 about the dangers of Humanism, which included an inevitable trivialisation or bestailisation of human beings!  Symbolically the lights went out during his talk which was finished by candlelight!

Freda Parker had an audience of 30 to hear her talk of the necessity of birth control to limit the growth of world population.  Young people were apallingly ignorant and muddled – half had only the haziest idea of how reproduction worked; parents were silent or told lies about sex to their children; but the age of puberty was coming down rapidly while marriage had to be postponed for economic reasons.  Answering questons, she said that the Family Planning Association’s clinics provided advice to those who were married or about to be married: some clinics asked only for a date of a prospective marriage but others demanded more evidence.  She was not attracted to vasectormy – “a permanent mutilation lacking reverence for life”  – and other questions showed that her audience was far more radical than she was.

[Michaelmas 1961]      [Trinity 1962]

Michaelmas 1961 posters

Membership poster








Week 1:









Week 2:









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Week 4:


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Week 7:









Week 8:









[Michaelmas 1961]

Michaelmas 1961

The president was Clive Jones, secretary Henry Laycock and treasurer Bob Leach.  Key speakers included Robert Graves (whose text is available here), Michael Argyle and Joseph Needham and (a late addition after the programme was printed) Gilbert Ryle, the Group’s Senior Member.


David Pollock was the Publicity officer and produced hand-drawn posters for most of the meetings, economising on the cost of printing.  In a report for Cherwell of the address by Robert Graves, he wrote:

Travel Club missed their chance last Wednesday: Professor Robert Graves was speaking to the Humanist Group instead about his journey to Paradise.  He started under the sea, rose into a high vaulted tunnel, leading into a sparkling treasure chamber that “the Crown Jewels would have looked feeble beside”.  “Is there no human beauty in Paradise?” the speaker asked himself and immediately there appeared a line of living naked Caryatids supporting the roof on their heads.

The Professor was talking about the effects of a drug – mescalin – found in some types of mushroom.  He propounded the theory that all the mythical paradises in the world – Moslem, Polynesian, Greek, Jewish, south American, Christian – were “dicovered” as a result of taking this drug which to this day figures in some south American religious ceremonies.  The Professor himself sampled the drug there in January 1960.

The great danger, he said, was that one’s mind should not be at peace with itself.  This resulted in the appearance of thousands of devils in one’s visions, driving out the strange sensation of complete knowledge.  Seeing the caryatids, therefore, he took fright and waved them away.  He found himself immediately in a Garden of Eden, complete wiht bejewelled trees and a snake that weaved itself among them.  After a four hour journey the Professor’s visions left him – left him hungry, and he went out to the kitchen for some turkey sandwiches.

[Trinity 1961]     [Hilary 1962]