16 Nov College honours Malcolm Bishop, QC
On Friday 2nd Week (21st October), the College honoured one of its most distinguished alumni, Malcolm Bishop, QC, with an honorary fellowship. Malcolm is a great friend of the College and supporter of the student-led Le Quesne Law Society, named in recognition of Sir Godfray Le Quesne, QC, a former Chairman of College Council and Governing Body who died in 2013. In the presence of staff and students who had passed first-year examinations with Distinction, Malcolm gave a witty and engaging address, reminding us of Regent’s track record of producing lawyers who go on to serve in their profession at the highest level:
With great humility I thank you for the undeserved honour you have conveyed on me. It is now over fifty years since I first walked into the beautiful quad we have at Regent’s. I was eighteen years old, from a small mining village in Wales, and it was my first time in Oxford. I was looking forward to that day: I thought that I would be able to unpack quite quickly and explore the City and the delights of the University. But it was not to be, because no sooner had I put down my suitcase than the senior Scout, Mr Kennedy, came bounding up: ‘Mr Bishop you’re late! You were expected in the Collier Room half an hour ago for your collection’. I had no idea what he was talking about, but was swiftly disabused because I was more or less frogmarched into the Collier and made to sit a Hebrew exam which I had started to study earlier that summer. Let me draw a veil over the results of that exercise by saying that the examiner, none other than the Principal, a great Hebrew scholar, either forgot to look at my work or in kindness to me pretended that he had done so.
I came up to read Theology and was persuaded to read the Honour Moderations course. The impetus was to have an extra year at Oxford. But I did not bargain on the cost of that benefit: it was Hebrew at 9 o’clock on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday; Greek at 5 o’clock on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and, in between, all sorts of courses on Ancient History, Philosophy, Mathematical Logic, the Ancient World, the Church Fathers, and so on. Can anyone wonder why after doing Mods I decided there must be an easier way of getting a degree and so swapped to Law: at least it was written in English!
And there followed over the ensuing seven terms a feast of legal delights: one learned about drinking ginger beer with a snail in the bottle, fireworks factories exploding, reservoirs bursting their banks and flooding the surrounding farms, not to mention how to manumit a Roman slave, which I am bound to say was not of particularly great use in the Abercwmboi Magistrate’s Court, although I would not advise you to do what I did when asked what was the penalty for bigamy…to reply ‘two mothers-in-law’.
But on the whole, reading Law here in Oxford was and is, I feel sure, great fun. Let us face facts: a Law degree from this university is, of course, of absolutely no use at all in legal practice. The purpose of the course, apparently, is to teach you to think like a lawyer. And I feel sure you will get the hang of it when you begin to practice. I’m not sure what you have in mind to do when you leave (and I address all members of the JCR and the MCR, not just our lawyers), but I would like to put in a good word for the Bar for anybody who enjoys the rough-and-tumble of everyday argument. I know you will be told that the publicly funded Bar is in low-water at the moment and has suffered grievously with successive government cuts. Certainly it’s not the area of law to go into if you want to make a lot of money. But if you want an interesting life, if you want an exciting life, if you want worthwhile life, remember there are no sweeter words in the English language to the ears of a defence lawyer than ‘not guilty’. To all of you, whether you are reading Law or not, I say give it serious consideration.
Life in College, in my day, was very agreeable. Let me just reminisce about living costs in those days. We all had a local authority maintenance grant. In my case it was £300 a year (£100 pounds a term). That doesn’t sound very much but when you bear in mind that college battels for three meals a day, seven days a week, plus room and heating and lighting was £65 a term with, of course, all tuition fees paid by the State, then you can see how lucky we were. I had a fantastic four years in Regent’s for which I will be eternally grateful. Like you, I made lifelong friendships and I now look back on my time in the greatest university in the world and in this college, one of its glories, with unmitigated gratitude.
There were, however, some dark moments too. Coming into Hall on a Friday in my first term at Oxford I heard the tragic news of the assassination of President Kennedy. And on a Friday, fifty years ago tonight, came the devastating news from Aberfan, which plunged the College and the University into gloom and despondency, particularly those who, like me, came from Wales. The tragedy cast a long shadow over the whole University but especially here in Regent’s with so many Welsh undergraduates. In the ensuing months we were constantly reminded of that devastation because the tribunal of enquiry was presided over by Lord Edmund Davies, a member of College Council, who would frequently report back to the Principal about the ordeal of presiding over those proceedings.
Let me just say this, I hope that all of you will remember that many former members of the College are ready to help each and every one of you in your chosen career as best we can. We have former students who have made their mark in the theatre, in the city, in the arts, in business, in the church, and in the universities, eager to give you all help. In its two-hundred and fifty year existence this College, from its inception, trained lawyers. After a break, we resumed that hazardous enterprise in 1965 with me! And we can claim remarkable success which those thinking of a career in the law, whether reading the subject here or not, should exploit. We have, for instance, one of the busiest Crown Courts in the country presided over by His Honour Judge Inman, QC, the Recorder of Birmingham; in Swindon, His Honour Judge Blair; and, of course, Sir Malcolm Evans, the world-renowned international jurist and Chairman of College Council.
Finally let me say this: enjoy your time here, give thanks to our saviour Christ for your good fortune in being here, and when you leave, take with you and cherish all you learnt here. And as you make your way in life let the College motto be your guide and your inspiration: Omnia probate quod bonum tenete (‘Test everything; hold fast to that which is good’).