When you’re communicating, who is to blame when there’s a misunderstanding? Ceri Thomas finds out how research at Leeds led to a very uncomfortable night of theatre.
Leeds alumna Esther Simpson befriended leading twentieth-century intellectuals – and saved many of their lives. Phil Sutcliffe unfolds her story.
“I am done, kid,” said Peter Meal (Geology 1951) to his cousin Pauline (Sociology 1952). The year was 1949, and they were enjoying their first taste of freedom at a Friday night bop. “Some other poor fella will come and dance with you.”
That “poor fella” and future husband was Philip Dransfield (PhD Chemistry 1951). The couple enjoyed 49 years of marriage and two of their sons, Graham (PhD Materials 1988) and Patrick (English & History of Art 1985), also studied at Leeds. “It’s not a coincidence we chose Leeds,” says Patrick.
Veva Porter (Chemistry 1924) was one of a small number of women to graduate from Leeds in her time. She came from Hartlepool, the daughter of a seafarer.
Years later, Veva’s daughter Jane (Medicine 1954) met Phil Mitchell (Medicine 1954) in their first year labs. She married the Yorkshireman in 1956. Their son Robert (Medicine 1982) was amongst the first to study in the Worsley Building.
In July 2017, Robert’s son Samuel followed in the footsteps of three generations before him when he received his Leeds degree – in Medicine, of course.
Leeds is so ingrained in the lives of Claire Freeston (History 2009) and new husband Anthony Zupnik (MPhys 2011) that they held their marriage blessing in the Great Hall. “It was great to celebrate our big day somewhere that’s so important to us,” says Claire, who also works at the University. “We both have many happy memories of Leeds.” The couple met during Freshers’ Week over a drink in Old Bar.
“There’s clearly some hidden magnet in the Refectory (or Old Bar!) that attracts us to Leeds,” says Mark Byford (Law 1979, LLD 2008). First Lawry Byford (Law 1956, Hon LLD 1987) studied at Leeds whilst serving as a police officer, then went on to become Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary.
Sir Lawrence’s son, Mark says “I met my wife Hilary (English 1980) at a Valentine’s disco. She remarked she’d never seen such ridiculous dancing.” Mark became Deputy Director General at the BBC. Most recently, the Byford alumni attended the graduation of Mark and Hilary’s children, Harry (Philosophy and Linguistics 2017) and Lily (Psychology 2017).
When Adnan Intekhab (MSc Global Supply Chain Management 2016) graduated, he proudly wore a University of Leeds pin that belonged to his great-grandfather, Motaber Khan (Commerce 1932).
“I have been able to retrace my great-grandfather’s footsteps,” says Adnan. “He lived on Regent Park Terrace, Hyde Park, and I lived nearby on St Mark’s Street. It is strange to think of him being there all those years ago.”
Alex Sobel (Information Systems 1997) was born on campus to student parents. It was 1975, and Alex’s mother Ruth (PhD Russian Literature 1977) and father Leopold (PhD Viking History 1978) lived in married accommodation on Springfield Mount.
“I had a great time studying a stone’s throw from where I was born,” says Alex. “I was particularly interested in student politics.” Alex is now the MP for Leeds North West.
“There is a bird in my heart, craving for a perch on the absent tree,” writes poet Niyi Osundare (MA English 1974) about the political situation of his native Nigeria. His censorious poems and essays tackle subjects such as socio-economic problems, leadership, and the struggles faced by the poor. “I interrogate Nigeria and Africa,” he explains, “their politics, culture and life.” Seventy-year-old Niyi has had an illustrious literary career. Author of
18 books of poetry, four plays, and numerous essays, he is also Distinguished Professor of English at the University of New Orleans. Niyi received the Nigerian National Order of Merit in 2014.
The fashion career of Jigsaw Chief Executive, Peter Ruis (Politics 1989) began at 21, when he wrote to Marks & Spencer asking to become a buyer. From that first position, Peter has risen through the high street ranks and led John Lewis through the recession of 2008. Now Peter is spearheading the revival of high-street brand Jigsaw. The past four years with Peter at the helm have seen annual sales breaking £100 million for the first time and the opening of a flagship store in St James’s Emporium, London.
Apparently, Jeeja Ghosh (MA Disability Studies 2006) is “incompetent to fly alone”, which was news to her when she was removed from a flight in 2012.
Jeeja, who has cerebral palsy, successfully sued the airline in a case which brought about significant recognition of equal rights for disabled travelers in India. As Head of Advocacy and Disability Studies at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, Jeeja works daily to challenge perceptions. “My MA at Leeds really inspired me to get involved and make a difference to disabled people’s rights”, she says. Jeeja’s life was recently explored in an award-winning documentary, “I’m Jeeja”. For Jeeja, the shooting was an enjoyable experience. “The film will go a long way in establishing the rights of the disabled”, she says.
A bulging box containing records and photographs from more than 80 years of the Leeds University Old Students’ Association (LUOSA) now sits for posterity in the University’s archive.
The items were donated by Doreen Bayley MBE (English Language 1949, Hon MA 1988), who was involved with the Association for several decades. Membership cards of some of the University’s earliest students include Elsie Ward (Geology 1919), who was the first woman Fellow of the University. “LUOSA members have always been enthusiastic,” reports archivist Jen Zwierink. “Photographs in the collection recall ice skating trips, hikes and theatre nights, amongst many other social events.” LUOSA continues to this day and welcomes former Leeds students to regular meetings and events.
“It’s all down to my great-great-grandfather,” explains historian Lucille Campey (MPhil History 1987) about why she became a leading expert on emigration to Canada. “He left Scotland for Nova Scotia in the early 1800s. I wanted to discover his story and this led me into Canadian immigration history.”
Twelve books written by Lucille have now been published in Canada about the Scottish, Irish and English who left their homes behind to settle lands across the Atlantic and the thirteenth will be published next year. Lucille, herself, crossed the Atlantic in the reverse direction in 1967 when she left her native Canada to marry her English husband. Her MPhil dealt with the medieval settlement patterns of villages in the north of England. “Acquiring the techniques needed for my dissertation provided a grounding for my later immigration research,” said Lucille. In 2016, she was awarded the prestigious Prix du Quebec in recognition of her ongoing contribution to Canadian immigration studies.
American politics have been keeping two Leeds alumni very busy. Tim Gallagher (Broadcasting 1997) was Washington DC Correspondent for Sky News until recently, whilst David Smith (English and Sociology 1996) is the Washington Bureau Chief for The Guardian. Their investigative journalism skills were honed at Leeds, as both had a stint as Editor of Leeds Student in 1994 and 1997 respectively.
“When I was political sketch writer of Leeds Student newspaper, I never dreamed that one day I would be standing in a New York hotel watching Donald Trump become the 45th President of the United States,” says David. “At the White House for a Trump speech or briefing by the press secretary, I know I’ve got a front row seat for events that will still be talked about decades from now. For a journalist, it is exhilarating to be covering the biggest story in the world.”
Tim concurs. “It’s been a remarkable time to be a journalist in the USA. The election of Donald Trump confounded pundits and pollsters and will no doubt enthral students of history for generations to come. We were lucky enough to witness it first hand.”
Leading woman Molly Blincow (Economics and Mathematics 2011) is listed in the Hedge Fund Journal’s 50 Leading Women 2017. Molly joined international investment firm Murano straight after Leeds, initially as Head of Research. Within four years, Molly had risen to Director before she turned 30. Molly also sits on the steering committee of the Diversity Project, an initiative to tackle the lack of diversity in the Asset Management industry. “Our biggest challenge is trying to create an inclusive and diverse team to serve our equally diverse client base,” explains Molly. “It is an industry-wide problem that we are trying to confront head on.”
James Urquhart meets researchers at Leeds to find out how virtual reality could transform our lives – and how we think.
Leeds’ Special Collections contains one of the world’s outstanding collections of cookery books. An exhibition ‘Cooks and their Books: Collecting Cookery Books in Leeds’ is on show in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery until 31st January. Here are six of our favourites.
There aren’t many choreographers who’d base a work on their personal genome, but Wayne McGregor isn’t just any choreographer. With his new work Autobiography in performance, Suze Olbrich looks at his life in dance.
Emma Mackey (English 2016) has seen the drama Sex Education draw 40 million viewers on Netflix since she landed the lead role of sharp-tongued Maeve. Whilst starring opposite Asa Butterfield in this English language production, bilingual Emma has also recently acted opposite French cinema icon Romain Duris in the film Eiffel. Her work has made such an impression that Screen International named her a Star of Tomorrow.
Drowning in Plastic, an environmental film by documentary maker Tom Watt-Smith (Geography 2001), beat David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II to a Royal Television Society gong. In November, the BBC aired Tom’s documentary Meat: A Threat to Our Planet? “My ability to make films about our planet and its people has come, in large part, from studying at Leeds,” he says. “I suppose I turned all those qualitative research techniques into a job!”
TV producer Ish Kalia (International Studies 1996) picked up a 2019 Bafta when his Sky One show A League of Their Own won Best Comedy Entertainment Programme at a ceremony held at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Ish also series produces A League of Their Own: European Road Trip and recently produced panel show There’s Something About Movies, hosted by Alan Carr.
Idris Elba may be Luther on screen but, behind the scenes, the character is the brainchild of series creator Neil Cross (English and Theology 1994, MA English 1995). Neil’s also making Mosquito Coast with Apple and a new four-part thriller, Because the Night, for ITV. He describes the latter as “a tale of psychological suspense, of guilt and ghosts and murder.”
Kate Phillips (Theatre and Performance 2010) joined the cast of Downton Abbey as Princess Mary in the hit show’s big-screen outing. Since her first TV role as Jane Seymour in Wolf Hall, Kate has become a regular face on screen. She has appeared in War and Peace, The Crown – written by Peter Morgan – and Peaky Blinders, in which her character stirred things up by marrying Arthur Shelby.