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The Independent Online

Cranfield University hit a disconcerting snag when it wanted to share its golden anniversary with The Philharmonia Orchestra's own 50th. Last week's celebratory concert should have included Ballet Mechanique, created by French composer Henri Antheil. This "novelty number" has been rarely performed. No wonder, since it requires two aircraft propellers, a siren and four grand pianos. When originally performed in 1924, there were 16 grand pianos on stage. Four was considered the minimum - and they cost pounds l,000 each to hire. This at a time when universities are having to scrape barrels for money simply to keep a few Bunsens burning, proved too much. So they had to make do with Spitfire Prelude, the Dambusters March and 633 Squadron to keep their head in the air.

Words to be eaten:

When Victoria Wood - at present packing them in at the Royal Albert Hall - was at grammar school in Bury, Lancashire, her English teacher wrote: "Victoria could do better if only she worked a lot harder." The teacher in question is Christine Hodgson, head of communications at the University of East London and chair of HEERA - the Higher Education External Relations Association who unearthed the report in her attic. Victoria obviously worked very hard indeed before applying to Manchester Polytechnic for a place on its theatre arts degree course. But she failed her audition. Someone at Manchester Metropolitan University still recalls the mind-boggling note which saw fit to describe her as "a young lady of no talent".

Margaret of Troy:

When Baroness Thatcher delivered her latest homily on "The Moral Foundations of Freedom" at the University of London's Institute of United States Studies, she was somewhat surprised to see Kenneth Starr among her attentive listeners. The distinguished judge had taken time off from his investigation into President Clinton's Whitewater affair to hear the Blessed Margaret. Also in the audience was John Cleese. He assured everyone he was not there to gather fresh material for Basil Fawlty. Lady T said that education alone was not enough. Quite right. But what could she have meant by adding that there was "a grain of truth in Hobbes's statement that 'the universities have been to this nation as the wooden horse was to the Trojan'"?

Lancing the boil:

My prize for sheer audacity in the line of duty must this week go to Lance Lanyon, principal of the Royal Veterinary College. He invited Brian Fender, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE), to be guest of honour at a ceremony welcoming new students to the college, among the finest in the land. There was the unsuspecting HEFCE boss, smiling benignly, when Professor Lanyon introduced him to the new intake of freshers. "I shall be dining with Professor Fender and I shall then tell him ..." Thereupon followed a long list of bitter home truths including his views on their pathetic funding. Anyway, throughout Professor Tanyon's courageous onslaught, Brian Fender sat on, still smiling grimly. One other experienced smiler, Lord Prior, chairman of the college, later applied balm to the cuts, a feat he learned the hard way while Leader of the House of Commons.

Manchester surgery:

To whom should stressed-out staff turn for help, succour and advice in their hours of need? Although many vice-chancellors claim that their "door is always open", most of them keep it very firmly shut. Now one man, Bob Boucher, vice-chancellor of UMIST, has decided to hold regular monthly "surgeries" at which he will listen to and discuss the problems of individuals or small groups of staff. But Professor Boucher, who has just completed his first year in the post and also sits on HEFCE's quality assessment committee, has made it clear that he won't consider "personal problems or work-related difficulties". Instead, he will only contemplate "difficulties, policy matter, ideas for improving UMIST's performance and general comments about the working of UMIST". Still, it's a start. Please form an orderly queue