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Honorary Graduate's Speech: Professor Maurice Beresford, FBA, Doctor of Letters (DLitt)

Emeritus Professor of Economic History at the University of Leeds, Professor Maurice Beresford, FBA was awarded an honorary degree for his contribution to the study of local history. Professor Beresford's research has transformed the world of medieval archaeology and stimulated the study of landscape history. He received his honorary degree on Friday, July 12, during the afternoon degree ceremony. The following is an edited version of his response after the degree ceremony oration.

Fellow graduates and graduates-to-be, and friends and visitors. I am allowed through an infirmity to be able to sit through the rest of the ceremony without, I hope, disrespect. Better than that to show too much infirmity by falling over or something of that kind. Sitting down like this and seeing faces in front of me is rather therefore more like giving a tutorial than giving a lecture, although I rarely lecture to quite so many people or so many who are at the moment so attentive.

All over Britain these weeks - with the excitement of finals and tennis being over - the English are devoting themselves to this particular type of pageantry, with generation after generation of students taking part in this sort of pageant and procession with their families and with their teachers to receive their degrees. In doing that they are already encircled by history - not least of all by what we the graduates and graduands of today are wearing, that is, a dress that is now a little outmoded for public use but which was once the normal dress of the clerical of members of the clergy in Britain particularly before the Reformation. Since then it has become much more an academic dress only.

I was reminded by this by reading the reaction only last week of the mother of a well-known honorary graduate - not of this University but much better known than me anyway - and that is the mother of Sir Elton John. When she went to see her son receive an honorary doctorate of the University of London the week before last, the press asked her what her main reaction was to seeing her son in full academic dress and surrounded by undergraduates. She said that she had often seen Elton wearing a frock but it was a surprise to see so many other males dressed the same way. Well, quite a lot of you are dressed in that way for historical reasons as well as practical reasons.

There is also an aspect of history surrounding me. I am reminded that I have once been in this hall before, and it was not this sort of occasion. It was to see and hear Sir Thomas Beecham conduct the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the days of exile from London when regional centres like Leicester were receiving regular concert performances from him. I have seen his characteristic figure many times - portly, cheerful, joking, even retelling the same jokes but never less retelling but never less joking, climbing on to his podium or the equivalent of it to turn his back on you, the audience, to face his orchestra - and now to come to magnificent sounds echoing here. It was in those years - the 40s and early 50s - at Leicester that William Hoskins who made in every sense Leicester, the University College and University as it was becoming at that time - the real centre of local history for the whole of this country. 

I am coming back home - stranger though I am to this particular building, except for musical purposes. I was given the strictest instructions - that I would never have obeyed as a lecturer - to speak for three minutes only. I apologise to those of you who have been kept waiting for what is most probably the most interesting part of the day - getting your own degrees - which you will be enabled to do as soon as I shut up - which I have now done.

July 2002

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Last updated: 26 July 2002 17:00
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