Word of Mouth

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Four-letter clash

Tony Blair and David Blunkett agree about more things than most PMs and their EdSecs. But on independent schools, there is still a gulf between them. Blunkett is very much "old" Labour when it comes to the independent sector. He never went near a public school for his own education - Sheffield School for the Blind, Shrewsbury Technical College and day release at Sheffield Richmond College of Further Education, before going on to Sheffield University and Huddersfield College of Education. How different from The Boss, whose background is really quite toffee-nosed: Durham Choristers School, followed by Fettes College, Edinburgh, and St John's, Oxford. So when Blair agreed to take part in that wee commercial to recruit more teachers, the one where the great and the good name their own most memorable teacher, it almost caused Blunkett to have apoplexy. Blair named Eric Anderson, who was his housemaster at Arniston House, Fettes. Anderson eventually became headmaster of Eton - which to Blunkett is a four-letter word symbolising a class system on which even John Major had frowned.

Heera and there

While on the subject of Blackpool, I'd like to say that Lord McNally of Blackpool has provided me with enough laughter to fill this column and more. He is probably still better known as Tom McNally, adviser to prime minister James Callaghan, who, along with Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins, was one of the Labour MPs who defected to the SDP. All are now peers (Lord Jenkins has even made it to Chancellor of Oxford University). Last week Tom, now vice-chairman of Shandwick Consultants, was invited to University College London, his Alma Mater, to deliver a keynote speech to the spring conference of the Higher Education External Relations Association (Heera), which represents public relations, alumni and development officers of universities throughout the country. Tom, who was the son of an ICI process worker, made it to president of UCL students' union in the mid- Sixties - a period of unrest at campuses here and abroad. He reminded us that, at the same time, the student president at University College Cardiff was one Neil Kinnock, who was to become leader of the Labour party; the student president at Edinburgh University, and president of the Scottish Union of Students, was a young man called George Foulkes, now Minister for International Development; student president at Leeds University was Jack Straw, now Home Secretary; the Manchester University student union president was Anna Ford, whose voice and face are now known to millions of listeners and viewers; and the president of Bedford College union, University of London, was Diana Warwick, now chief executive of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. Lord McNally firmly believes that today's students stand every chance of becoming tomorrow's leaders - if they play their cards right.

The dons' Don

University information officers don't go on for ever. Some don't last more than a year or so. So when you come across a man who has promoted his university with distinction for 28 years, he is truly exceptional. Don Carleton, who leaves the University of Bristol this week, having joined it in 1970, is such a man. This bearded, Irish-born giant - both real and metaphorical - tried teaching, lecturing and broadcasting before turning to PR and was among the first information officers appointed by a British university. He served Bristol and its large body of academics better than they ever appreciated, and will be a hard act to follow. I wish him well and Andrea Rayner, who succeeds him, the very best of fortune. Don's mantle as doyen of varsity information officers will now drape the slender shoulders of Ray Footman, Edinburgh University's information chief since 1976. Ray had already spent eight years running PR for the universities' umbrella body, the CVCP, and must rank as the longest-serving and most experienced member of that veritable army of info officers.

Blackpool rock

It must be a dozen years since I last attended a National Union of Teachers Easter conference - and I never missed one for 17 years before that. I'm glad to see that, unlike a certain political party I could name, the NUT has not decided to boycott Blackpool. In a way, I wish I could be there this Easter. Delegates are in for a grand surprise. As they arrive at the Empress Ballroom this Saturday, they will be greeted with the sound of music from a Bolton school - the Smithills brass band. Thanks to Music for Youth, whose director, Larry Westland, has spent many years giving young musicians a national platform, music will be on offer throughout the conference (though, unfortunately perhaps, not during debates). Paltog, a traditional Irish group from Lydiate, Merseyside, will be one example; others include the more local Poulton Brass Ensemble, jazz from students of Wakefield College, and the Holme Valley Swing Band from Huddersfield. Another talented Huddersfield group, from Colne Valley High School, will provide choral works. I advise delegates to make the most of it - while there's still some music left in our schools.

Annie's centenary

At last I have actually seen one of those telegrams the Queen sends to those who manage to reach their 100th birthday. Her Majesty had better watch out, for her Government is now muscling in on the act. Alongside HM's good wishes was a telegram from Harriet Harman, the social services and women's Minister. Both arrived in time for a party given at the weekend to Annie Holdsworth by her son Bill, an environmental engineer, author and lecturer who graduated from the old Northern Polytechnic (now University of North London) and lives in The Netherlands. Annie, who still has all her wits about her, was among the first to join and is the oldest to survive the women's branch of the Royal Flying Corps, forerunner of the RAF.

And finally ...

Lord McNally, as I said above, provided the Heera Conference with a goodly bag of ho-hos. Of his daily routine he said: "I read the obituary columns first thing. If I'm not in them, I go to the House of Lords." And he spoke of the peer "who dreamt he was making a speech in the Lords and when he woke up, found that he was".