WORD OF MOUTH

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Brassed off in Leeds

My late uncle Harry was a brass band fanatic. He played the cornet and made an annual pilgrimage to the Royal Albert Hall for the championships. I was strongly reminded of him recently when I saw that wonderful British film, Brassed Off. John Anderson, musical director of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band (Grimley Band in the movie) is reading for a master of music degree at Leeds University and told Gill Moffett, new reporter on Reporter, the university's nicely revamped newsletter, that the film's conductor, Pete Postlethwaite, couldn't read music and had to learn to conduct in 16 days flat. But to make sure all went well, Anderson stood behind him and conducted for real. The film's other bright star, Tara Fitzgerald, learned the fingering of the flugelhorn in a month - and, according to experts, got it spot-on. No need to coach actor, Ewan (Trainspotting) McGregor. He could already play the French horn.

Sixty Times late

It is almost exactly 60 years since a member of Glasgow University "borrowed" a copy of The Times dated 14 April 1937 from the library. It has just been returned, still in good condition, featuring news of the launch of the Ark Royal and the Coronation (of George VI). I can't blame Henry Heaney, the present librarian, for calculating how many books he might have been able to buy from the proceeds of a late-return fine plus interest. Alas, The Times, sent from Leamington Spa, was not accompanied by a cheque.

Transferred call

Perhaps my telephone will stop crackling and giving me wrong connections now British Telecom has, or will have after l3 February, 41 new experts on its books. That's the day they graduate with a master of science degree in telecom engineering, specifically tailored for BT by the University of London. And to make sure they didn't get their lines in a twist, the university made two remarkable moves. For realism, it transferred this master's course from a more normal campus to BT's laboratories at Martlesham Heath near Ipswich. Next, it recruited no fewer than 16 universities to direct, administer and teach the tough, multi-module course in a business setting. Four London colleges - UCL, Queen Mary and Westfield, Imperial and King's - contributed most of the academic skills. But 40 per cent of the teaching was shared by a dozen other British and Irish universities. Why? "No one university can provide all the necessary expertise," London University's spokeswoman told me. At last! Why can't all universities admit that? They'll find it's good to talk - to each other.

Over-insured

I know that universities are in the doldrums and are having to scratch around for funds to keep their ivory towers above water, but can things really be so bad that one of the country's finest higher education marketing exponents has been forced to sell insurance as a sideline? I am happy to assure those who have recently phoned Dave Roberts, chief executive of Heist, the Higher Education Information Services Trust, for a Preferential Insurance Company policy that they will need to go elsewhere. A Leeds radio station managed to get one telephone digit wrong in a commercial for the insurance company and broadcast Dave's direct line. As Heist is celebrating its 10th successful anniversary this year, it might like to arrange a workshop in proof-reading and advertising for those involved in the boob.

Under lock and key

It's considered an honour to deliver an "Evening Discourse" to the Royal Institution. Then why do they lock their speakers into a small room beforehand? "It's to prevent lecturers from running away before giving their discourse," was the explanation when Stephen Holgate, Southampton University's Professor of Immuno-pharmacology was invited to speak to the RI on "asthma and allergy disorders of civilisation". Another RI tradition: speakers are not allowed the usual introductory pleasantries, but must get straight into their subject, and they must finish before the clock strikes 10. Professor Holgate made it. What on earth might have happened if he'd failed?

V-Cs in flight

What's going on at the University of Central England? First, there's Peter Knight, UCE's vice-chancellor, one of higher education's high-flyers, literally doing it. He won his pilot's wings some time ago and propels himself all over the show. Now, pro-vice-chancellor Diana Green has also succumbed and is taking flying lessons at Halfpenny Green (no relation) airfield. Dr Knight and Professor Green are now trying to persuade David Warner, another UCE pro-vice-chancellor, to grow wings. I don't think they'll succeed. He only recently passed his driving test, so it will be a while before he takes to the air.

And finally...

What, I asked Oxford University's press office, is Noughth Week? There it was on the masthead of Oxford Magazine. I felt a bit of an ass when the answer came: "It's the week before First Week." Of course, of course. And I suppose First Week comes before Second Week? "Naturally." Some undergraduates, I was told, tended to return to Oxford during Noughth Week. Just so. And all that is in Hilary Term, as it says on the masthead? "That's right." And there was I thinking Hilary Term was a woman's name ...

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