Thursday 14 July 2011

News: This Year's Honorary Degrees

Christopher Bigsby on this year's Honorary Degrees.

Patrick Stewart, boldly coming to the UEA
Graduation is next week and I'm the public orator for three of those who will be receiving honorary degrees. Patrick Stewart, who has boldly gone where no person has before, and Juliet Stevenson (Truly, Madly, Deeply), currently on TV, are two of them. I know them through Arthur Miller connections (we have an Arthur Miller Centre for American Studies here and I have recently published a two-volume biography). Juliet was in a gala show that we did with Miller at the National Theatre to mark his 80th birthday. That show was followed by a dinner at UEA complete with fireworks outside the Sainsbury Centre (a Norman Foster designed art gallery). Since Salman Rushdie was one of ths speakers and the fatwa was still in place, the first explosion had an interesting effect on the 200 guests -- writers, directors, actors, critics. Patrick Stewart played the main part in the Broadway production of Miller's The Ride Down Mount Morgan and is now back at the RSC as well as appearing with Ian Mckellen in a highly successful production of Waiting for Godot (UEA has a strong drama programme which has produced, among many others, Jack Davenport and the current Dr. Who). The third person I will be introducing is Gareth Malone (of The Choir etc), whose new television series will be transmitted this autumn. He was a student at UEA. Indeed, he reminds me that I once threw him and the rest of the group out of a seminar because they hadn't read the book! Now he gets an honorary degree. There must be a moral in that somewhere.

Others honoured will be the director Richard Eyre and the nature writer Richard Mabey. Graduation is the highlight of the year in which suddenly students dress respectably and so do the faculty members who appear in fancy gowns with, in some cases, Elizabethan hats. Parents, who 3 or 4 years earlier delivered their sons and daughters in cars loaded down with electronic equipment, finally get to see where GCSEs, A levels, and frequent visits to cash machines have ended up.

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