Education: Word Of Mouth: Skiffle on toast

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A little while ago, Channel 4's early morning show, The Big Breakfast, contacted London Guildhall University to ask whether they had an expert on musical instruments - not traditional orchestral instruments, but the kind that anyone might be able to make from ordinary household items. Terry Pamplin, the university's reader in musical instrument technology, proved just the chap. So up he got at 3.30am and shivered his way to the studios for a "one-off five-minute presentation". (According to Terry, there's a plus side to all this: "You get to be on set with Sharon Davies, Samantha Fox and other celebs".) From his garage, he had produced a tea chest and a broom handle (to make a double bass), plastic tubing and a funnel (trumpet) and an old washboard. Hey presto, skiffle was reborn. The next night, C4 contacted Terry again. The phones, they said, had never stopped ringing. Result. Terry, who is researching for a PhD on early bass viols at King's College, now has a regular slot at 7.10am on the first Tuesday of each month. Thus stars are made.

Booth's successful successor

A real teacher has been appointed to a university's top job. Professor Graham Upton, who follows Professor Clive Booth as vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes, is not just any old teacher but a former teacher of "educationally, behaviourally disordered" children, a rarity these days. Like Professor Arthur Lucas, principal of King's College London, Prof Upton was educated Down Under. And both ended up in teacher training. Upton spent a goodly period in a special school for Sydney youngsters with emotional and behavioural problems and today presides over the Association of Workers with EBD Children. Not only is he pro vice-chancellor of Birmingham University but he is also its professor of educational psychology and special education. Should prove useful when dealing with one or two other V-Cs - and numerous politicians.

Leeds draws Short Straw

Leeds University has no fewer than 32 alumni standing in the general election. There's Clare Short for one. Birmingham Ladywood's outspoken Labour MP graduated with BA Hons in political science. Then there's Jack Straw, the shadow Home Secretary, who obtained his LLB there. Nine of the 32 will be standing for election or re-election in Yorkshire seats. Dr Bill Winlow, reader in the Department of Pharmacology, will be the Lib Dem candidate at North East, and David Freeman who is (appropriately) studying politics, will be representing the Lib Dems at Leeds Central. May they all break the proverbial leg. No doubt other universities will let me know if they have more than 32 alumni at the hustings.

They're inter netting teachers

The latest scheme to tempt decent graduates into the teaching profession might actually be working. Since the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) launched its Internet service earlier this month, more than 22,000 prospective candidates have tapped into its up-to-date info on teaching opportunities in England and Wales. Mind you, teachers (and headteachers) have been so unfairly hammered in recent months by the Chief Inspector, Chris Woodhead, that vacancies are almost bound to soar. It will take more than an Internet service to lift teachers' morale and stop them counting the days to retirement. Ofsteders really should engage brains before opening mouths if they want to fill shortage subjects, such as maths, science, design, technology, modern languages, music and religious education. According to Dorian Jabri, TTA spokesman, some 700 secondary school vacancies need to be filled. Anthea Millett, the TTA's chief executive, hopes the Internet project will attract more high-quality candidates into the profession. For our children's sakes, I hope she is proved right.

Longevity on record

I used to think that Kenneth Leech was the oldest alumnus of a British university. When he died at Christmas 1994 in his 103rd year, this highly articulate man, a gifted composer and a photographer of steam locomotives, just missed his alma mater's centenary celebrations. The University of North London, which he joined when it was the Northern Polytechnic Institute, had to celebrate its milestone last year without him. So who now holds the longevity record? At Royal Holloway, University of London, there's Doris Richardson. A retired teacher, she took a BSc in biology in 1924, and is now 97. But what's this? George Fraser, aged 101, an alumnus of the University of Aberdeen, a working journalist! Not surprisingly, Aberdeen have made him an honorary Master of the University. This remarkable man graduated with an MA in 1917, while World War One was still raging, and writes a readable weekly column for the Aberdeen Press & Journal. I hope he'll still be writing at 120.

Good for a laugh

Humour, we all know, is a serious business. So serious, it has become a module on a Sociology MA at the University of Reading. There, the splendid Professor Christie Davies examines oral humour, including ethnic jokes, political jokes, even sick jokes, and places them "in the differing social structures and value patterns of society". He even provides an extensive reading list, including a book by A Dundes called Life is Like a Chicken Coop Ladder. This title is clearly based on one of the oldest of German proverbs: "Life is like a chicken coop ladder, short and shitty!"

And finally...

Glasgow University has appointed Gillian Sinclair "Assistant Director (Outdoor)". Outdoor? What could this possibly mean? Has the poor woman been relegated to the gates directing traffic? Not so, thank goodness. Mrs Sinclair, who graduated from Manchester University with a BA in PE and education and from Sheffield with an MA in leisure management, will be busily engaged at the university's fine Garscube Sports Complex.