Tanner scheme portrait display
In 2015/16, Hertford displayed a new set of portraits in Hall, featuring 21 beneficiaries of an initiative that defines the college's commitment to fairness and opportunity: the Tanner Scheme.
Through these portraits we want to highlight social mobility in action. These alumni – among many more, too numerous to photograph! – came from modest backgrounds and were admitted to Hertford at the instigation of Neil Tanner and his colleagues. They have gone on to a wide range of rewarding and impactful careers, and just as importantly, with the mind-set that anything is possible. Diversity and excellence go hand in hand. - Will Hutton, Principal of Hertford
Hertford Physics Fellow
Neil Tanner was a Physics Fellow at Hertford from 1960 to 1997. He was Tutor for Admissions from 1965, in which role he and other colleagues developed and pioneered the famous Hertford admissions initiative known now as the ‘Tanner Scheme’.
Former students of Neil have paid tribute to his enthusiasm, encouragement and dedication. One of Neil’s former students Mike Shiels (Physics, 1983) has written: ‘Once at Hertford, my memories of Neil Tanner are of an enormous flamboyant presence. It was clear that he was a dedicated and talented scientist, but seemed to operate largely on the basis of an intuitive understanding of how physics worked. He taught me that the people, who make change happen, dive into things boldly. It was how he did science, it was how he did admissions, and it was how he lived his life.’
In his academic life, Neil supervised an expanding group of students exploiting new ion beams and new detectors such as multigap spectrometers to explore the theory of the Giant Dipole Resonance and resonance fluctuations. During the 1960s his interest in pion physics brought him to the Synchro-Cyclotron accelerator at CERN.
Business strategy leader
We take much for granted, and so gratitude is in short supply. Are we aware of the forces that shape our lives and others?
As a youngster from a modest background with a troubled adolescence – bright, hard-working, from a broken home, slightly wild and lost – I had no idea that my grammar school and sixth-form college, in a depressed working-class area, provided opportunities unavailable to many. Nor was I aware that fertile ground had been prepared at Hertford College to encourage applications from frankly unprepossessing students like me. I had no idea the extent to which, like Blanche DuBois, I depended on the kindness of strangers. My school principal Fred Bleasdale almost physically forced me to apply and the splendid Neil Tanner accepted me as a physicist, so I enjoyed the life-long benefits of the Oxford experience as a result.
Many years later, my wife unexpectedly met Neil and was regaled with several amusing anecdotes of my antics at Hertford. It seems he remembered his many students individually, which suggests he cared for us all. That’s an incredible legacy that the college should be proud of and continue to celebrate, embody and express. I hope some of that generosity of spirit and ethos of serving others has rubbed off on me.
Physics for me is fun and an adventure. Even though it is one of the loftiest of logical intellectual pursuits, even among the sciences, doing physics can be an art. In the hands of its greatest and most famous practitioners, it has produced some wonderfully elegant theories and examples of logical reasoning; examples so elegant, and so perspicacious, that the excitement and sense of wonder I experience on finally understanding them is equal to that which I experience on admiring the world’s greatest works of art, music, literature or architecture.
My offer under the Tanner Scheme, and Neil subsequently allowing me to read Theoretical Physics, was pivotal. He was inspiring, and although he himself was an experimentalist he made sure he found the best and most dynamic theoretician to tutor us – none other than Chris Llewellyn-Smith, eventually Head of Physics at Oxford and subsequently Director of CERN and provost of UCL! Neil instilled a strong sense of self-reliance which was valuable preparation for success in postgraduate work. I was lucky enough to have Rudolf Peierls as a supervisor, a former student of Heisenberg and one who had also worked with some of the other all-time greats such as Dirac, Pauli and Landau. To say that being supervised by him was inspirational is an understatement indeed – it was a wonderful springboard for my research career applying theoretical physics to night vision devices, solar energy and optical fibre communications, the backbone of the internet and the world wide web.
To Physics students, I would say try to learn to love the elegance of the theoretical and experimental techniques that tease out nature’s secrets. By all means strive to do well in exams but, above all, learn to love the subject and inspire, in turn, the next generation of physicists. Indeed, I would say the same to any student whatever their subject.
First, a confession – until earlier this year I had no idea that I was a Tanner student. In fact, to be honest, I didn’t even know who Neil Tanner was until a few months ago.
Completely ignorant of the fact I was doing anything unusual (and rather uncomfortable as I was wearing a new scratchy tweed skirt when I never wore skirts or tweed but didn’t think jeans would go down well) I rocked up for an interview at Hertford. The two male interviewers and the room were so scruffy (flip flops, frayed combat trousers, cardigan with holes in, overflowing ashtrays) my jeans would have been really smart by comparison. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed it – it was like a combination of solving the best puzzles ever and a verbal game of three-dimensional chess, and so I took up a place to read Law.
I had a brilliant three years (hard not to) but the one lasting thing which I believe has shaped my path since is the rather combative approach to learning that was a hallmark of my degree – the constant challenging, arguing, finding new perspectives and seeking the best possible answer. This has stayed with me, and grown with me to this day, and is probably the origin of most of the key decisions I have made so far. I have been lucky enough (and perhaps brave enough?) to have worked for 15 years overseas, mostly in Asia. Full-on, high pressured, energising – fabulous.
It’s clear that having the courage and confidence to challenge and ask questions, and the curiosity to really understand has allowed me to succeed in my career, across different cultures and in such a male-dominated industry. My family would tell you it can work less well in a domestic setting!
And leaving the best ’til last: my family. I managed to squeeze in (or perhaps I should say squeeze out!) four boys. My lads are amazing, and my husband is long suffering and the rock that keeps me sane.
Advice… from me…? Oh look, I’ve used up my 300 words already.
I ended up at Oxford out of sheer bloody-mindedness. The heads of my sixth form college had told me I had ideas above my station by applying to do three A levels when I could get into a ‘perfectly respectable polytechnic’ with just two. In defiance, I applied to Oxford choosing Hertford College solely on the basis that it claimed to welcome state school applicants; it was worth a try and surely a comp-kid like me would stand a better chance not only of getting in but fitting in...?
Wrong! I turned up for interview with my big hair, black leggings and oversized cardi, looking like a bad backing singer from Bananarama… only to find that most of the other female hopefuls looked like Lady Di complete with skirt, upturned collar and pearls. My interview was a disaster: I’d apparently done the wrong type of Geography A level and my CV was a joke. I stormed out declaring ‘I wouldn’t go there if they paid me!’
Of course, I did go. My fabulous, feisty Geography teacher told the tutors in no uncertain terms that the only reason I’d done the ‘wrong’ A level was because my school couldn’t afford the ‘right’ text books. And so I learned the value of having champions – those like Neil Tanner who encouraged state school kids to apply, and those like my teacher for making sure I got in.
Despite this, my first year was spent in mortal panic and confusion: everyone seemed so confident and clever. It took a while to discover that the loudest voice or poshest accent wasn’t always right. Slowly, I learned to relish the slipstream of being both ‘Oxford’ and ‘Hertford’: privileged access and ‘oiky’ upstart, not afraid to ask the cheeky question or challenge tradition. That edginess and integrity defines the group of Hertfordians from all backgrounds that I’m proud and honoured to call my friends – brilliant people doing brilliant things with their feet planted firmly on the ground. 25 years on, I’m still in awe of them. For at its best, Hertford is not just a college, it’s an attitude.
In a Scottish school with no record of Oxbridge preparation, and a different curriculum and tests from the English system, the then-standard Oxford entrance exam felt insurmountable. But the pioneering conditional offers scheme included a particular focus on facilitating access from Scottish schools. This made Hertford one of only two colleges at the time offering me an attainable prospect, without reference to gender (that was important), of an Oxford education.
My degree unlocked my future not by opening doors in itself but in what it did to my outlook. My career so far has been in central government, in both law and justice/constitution policy, and I have loved all its political dramas, intellectual excitement, and sheer scale and variety. More, I have keenly appreciated the freedoms, privileges and responsibilities of public service, and of organisational leadership. Looking back at the Tanner Scheme from that perspective, its real significance lies not in the competitive edge it gave colleges like Hertford in the admissions market, not in improving Oxford’s reputation as an engine of merit-based social mobility (still work in progress), and not even in the rightness of extending precious educational opportunities to those most capable of benefiting from them and of benefiting others in turn. Together with the early lead the college took in admitting women, the real genius of the Tanner Scheme was the opportunity it gave Hertford to develop as an enriched academic community. Students learn not only from tutors (the legendary and charismatic Roy Stuart in my case), but from each other – and a genuinely diverse and mind-broadening range of perspectives adds up to a far more stretching and enlivening educational experience than the monocultural alternatives of the day could offer.
That’s a lesson in leadership from Neil Tanner. I remember him very warmly, and I’ve kept some brilliant, different, inspirational, life-enhancing friends from college – the best legacy of all.
Oxbridge was the light at the end of the tunnel in my lower sixth. Home life had been difficult due to my mother developing a neurodegenerative disease, and success at school became an escape. Initially I’d toyed with studying Medicine but an English teacher encouraged a passion for the arts and I changed A levels.
A friend’s boyfriend encouraged me to apply to Hertford. He had also been at a local comprehensive and thanks to the Tanner Scheme was reading Maths! I was heartbroken after the initial interviews though. ‘You shouldn’t put yourself forward for things like this if you can’t take it’ was my older sister’s despairing advice! My headmistress was relieved to be able to deliver the PPE tutors’ good news: if I sat the exam later that term, I was likely to be offered a place – and I was! I gained a lasting confidence, the experience of meeting a wide range of people, and the encounter with some great minds.
After Hertford, I did a journalism course and worked in television for ten years, becoming a political correspondent. However, I was idealistic and every so often wondered if I should have done Medicine.
I had young children when I learnt of a new medical course that was open to people like me: older, from another professional background, who might have done an arts degree. I was so excited and was offered a place when expecting my third child.
I qualified five years ago. I began speciality training in Emergency Medicine. However, last year I switched to Psychiatry. An art as well as a science, where ethics pervade, communication skills are key and life experience enhances understanding, psychiatry offers scope to my range of skills. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to be a doctor, journalist and mother. Undoubtedly an important part in the turn of events was my luck in coming to Hertford in the first place.
Looking at things with hindsight often gets a bad press – usually because we are second-guessing what might have been. If only I had made that investment, taken that job, worked harder! It is good advice, on the whole, to keep your eyes forward. However, sometimes a bit of critical thinking about how you ended up where you are, by looking backwards, can be very illuminating.
In the context of the celebration of the Hertford Scheme I have done this look-back-in-time and I have been surprised how clear the lessons are: first that the behaviour of elite institutions really matters to our society – striving for inclusiveness, reinventing how things are done, not accepting the status quo. These are critical behaviours for our leading universities. Secondly our age has tended towards a check-the-box approach to recruitment. The competitive pressure is simply enormous and some filters must be used. Yet, we are missing something if this is allowed to go unchallenged. Perhaps technology can be harnessed to get closer to judging individual merit, to harnessing the talent of those who are not the obvious choices. I was invested in by my school and by Hertford, who colluded to overcome my 18-year-old arrogance and ignorance, got me to interview twice in college and even to take the entrance exam on the spot – ‘or go home!’ I have tried, in my turn, to invest in people in the same way, to look again at the candidate that doesn’t fit the mould, whose approach isn’t polished, whose background is far from the norm of the elite institutions I have worked for. I have been richly rewarded in doing so.
My school, Morecambe High, was a grammar school turned comprehensive which regularly sent a few students to Oxbridge. The decision to apply to Hertford was mainly determined by the fact that someone else from my school had got in to read English the previous year. The possibility of receiving an offer solely on interview was obviously attractive too, though I did not know this as the Tanner Scheme at the time. I had scarcely ever met anyone from a private school before arriving in Oxford, had no real perception of odds massively skewed in their favour and thought it was quite normal for state school pupils both to apply to Oxbridge and to get in. Possibly I was not typical of the people the Tanner Scheme was designed to help, but was no less delighted to benefit from it.
I have no doubt that the discipline of the tutorial system, having to turn up with an essay on a different topic once or twice a week, often with the ink almost literally still wet, and sometimes breathless from running over the bridge (try reading out your essay before you’ve got your breath back!), developed skills which have stood me in good stead ever since. What I most enjoyed though was the fun I had making new friendships, several of which have survived the intervening years, and enjoying many and varied aspects of student life: rowing, singing madrigals, Oxford pubs, summer plays in college gardens, putting the world to rights late into the night. I also remember Hertford as a tolerant and inclusive place with a strong sense of community, characteristics which I sense it still has today.
I count myself extraordinarily lucky to have experienced all this free of charge. Hertford’s continuing efforts to make the benefits of an Oxford education available to applicants from all backgrounds regardless of means certainly deserve to be supported.
I did my A levels at a technical college. No one knew whether anyone there had ever gone to Oxford. When I read about Hertford’s scheme for state schools I wrote seeking guidance. Neil Tanner personally took the trouble to send an encouraging reply. I will never forget waiting on a stone staircase for the interviews to begin, with no idea what to expect. The PPE tutors John Torrance, Roger Van Noorden and Richard Malpas saw something in this anxious schoolboy in a borrowed suit, and opened the door to a world of intellectual adventure, sleepless nights of study, and the sheer joy of learning. A decade later I returned to Hertford to teach Politics. Old tutors became new colleagues. It was a privilege to work with them, especially during admissions, the miracle of birth, the wheel turning full circle. After working in diplomacy and energy I now teach in Southeast Asia. Education here is traditionally passive, rote and deferential – a world apart from the Oxford tutorial. So now we learn to reason, argue, explore questions together. There is no greater joy than seeing young minds light up, especially the least privileged ones. It all began with the Tanner Scheme, on that chilly staircase, when the switch-points of my life shifted forever. It has made all the difference.
Company and charity chairman
The idea of going to university at all was strange enough; it had never been remotely realistic or relevant for anybody in my family. My mother certainly could not see the point and my father, who might have done so in a moment of sobriety, was dead. As for Oxford, that was just ridiculous; I’d never even met anyone who had been there. I’d hate it because my North London twang would just be derided by the public schoolboys. Anyway, if I needed a chemistry degree to get a decent job, why not study in London?
My form teacher gently suggested otherwise and a few weeks later with a mixture of misgivings, apprehension, awe and excitement I walked into OB Quad to meet Neil Tanner. I cannot honestly say that I immediately fell in love with Hertford or Oxford but I left knowing that the privilege of being tutored by people like Neil was something from which I just could not walk away.
The love affair with Oxford didn’t start until a few months after matriculation. In the first weeks the challenge of learning to learn rather than just being taught was unsettling. Some of the public schoolboys did indeed mock my twang; the chip on my shoulder probably didn’t help. Then Keith McLauchlan challenged me to think, and soon Oxford was opening up ideas, relationships and interests of which I had never even conceived.
Approaching 50 years later, I am nearing the end of a career of which I have loved almost every moment. I have been, possibly uniquely, chief executive of both a FTSE 100 company and a top ten charity and I know I have Hertford to thank for that and many other life events thereafter.
Teacher; former banker
Back in January 1977 when my headmistress heard of my offer from Hertford, she was incredulous, and to be frank, I think she thought it was a way in through the back door! But far from it – I was the first in my family to go to Oxford and was determined to get there, so worked to get top grades, just as good as those who got to other colleges by more traditional means.
When I got to Hertford, it was refreshing to be in such a friendly college, with others regardless of their background, who had entered on the same basis as I had. There were so many opportunities presented that it was impossible to take them all up but I particularly enjoyed the musical life of the college and remember that Neil Tanner was a regular supporter of Hertford’s concerts.
I remember meeting Neil Tanner on numerous occasions, though I was not aware at the time that the entrance scheme was his brainchild. My husband is one of Neil’s former Physics students so I got to hear so much more about his sense of humour.
And so what happened after Hertford? After 16 years in financial services, I changed to a career in education. Little could I have imagined on my first day at Hertford, that I’d now be advising sixth formers on their university choices. And that the current application process for Oxbridge is one that has been transformed by the visionary scheme Neil Tanner introduced 50 years ago. I’m proud that my lasting enthusiasm for my time at Hertford has helped encourage today’s pupils to apply. Our daughter graduated from Hertford in 2012, and a steady stream of students, from my current school, are now heading to Oxbridge including Hertford.
Kathryn Shore & Adrian Hough
The well-thumbed University of Oxford Undergraduate Prospectus 1980-1981 sits on a bookcase in my study; inside is a letter from N. W. Tanner, Tutor for Admissions, inviting me to a pre-A level interview for Chemistry on Friday 5 October 1979. I thought that as a female, comprehensive school candidate the special scheme at Hertford was my opportunity to be offered a place at a university still dominated by males from public schools. I was not offered a Tanner place but the exposure to Oxford had confirmed my ambition and I proceeded to take the pre-A level entrance examination. Running was my passion and by Christmas of my first year I had already raced in the cross country varsity match. For two years I was women’s captain of the cross country section of Oxford University Athletic Club.
I went on to study Medicine and work as a GP but this career change was facilitated by experiences at Hertford. A Geography undergraduate two years above me took a similar route. A PPE undergraduate introduced me to a club which enabled me to visit brain injured young people and adults with severe learning disability. I attended college chapel and was stimulated by eminent speakers including members of the medical profession. I still never hear John 1 without remembering Geoffrey Warnock reading it in chapel.
I met Adrian on day one but ironically we were never a couple until the summer following my part two year, after we had both left Hertford. Our wedding two years later was conducted by the college chaplain Michael Chantry and attended by our Chemistry tutor Keith McLauchlan. Hertford provided the environment for important life changes – meeting my future husband and deciding on my career as a medical doctor, rather than the research chemist I had envisioned in 1980.
Episcopal vicar; chaplain to the Bishop of Exeter
It began when my aunt bought me a chemistry set for my eighth birthday. From then on I wanted to study Chemistry, but it never occurred to me that I should apply to Oxford until my head teacher persuaded me and suggested Hertford because of the Tanner Scheme. A year later I had both a place and a scholarship. I suspect I was successful because Keith McLauchlan only asked me questions about spectroscopy! I’m also grateful to Keith for teaching me not to write too many words in answering examination questions when a few short equations are far better. I took the concept to heart and still use this principle today.
On arrival at Hertford I also purchased my first SLR camera and began a commitment to regular attendance at chapel evensong. The outcome of both these decisions now plays a far larger part in my daily life than chemistry, although academically I describe myself as a chemist who is also a theologian and a photographer. Photography is both an art-form and chemistry, whilst the thought processes for theoretical chemistry and theology are very similar.
After staying on for a doctorate (in spectroscopy and theoretical chemistry) I spent six years building computer models of the atmosphere before returning to Oxford to read Theology and train for ordination. My parish ministry was spent mainly in Worcester Diocese with one year in Shetland Islands, but in 2006 I moved to Exeter where I work in the Bishop’s Office. Along the way, I’ve written several theological books and a number of papers, many of them on science and religion.
Keith McLauchlan’s biggest legacy in my life, however, was that he later went on to offer a place to a girl named Kathryn who became my wife. The final part of the equation (to date) has been censored by our daughter, so, in the words of a well-known writer of chemistry text-books, its content is left as an exercise for the reader.
I went to a South Wales comprehensive school where nobody had ever before been to Oxbridge. My headmaster received a letter from Neil Tanner telling him that Hertford wanted to encourage the best state school pupils to apply and outlined the Hertford Scheme. I was told I should apply.
I bought The Times and The Guardian every day to prepare as that is what my school told me to do. It was no use at all. I was given six legal cases to read and examined on them the next day. I only picked them up late in the evening after drinking in the college bar – I had missed the note at the lodge and only found out about the papers when asked by another candidate how I had found them. So it was a panic visit to the lodge, lots of coffee and an all nighter – not of course the last! I still shiver at what my life would have been if I had never picked up the papers and turned up without having read anything.
The interview was with Roy Stuart and Stuart Anderson. Roy’s room was full of books and papers stacked perilously all over the room. It was like a minefield to get to the chair without knocking them over. The interview was supposed to be for an hour but after 45 minutes I could not go any further.
I thought it had not gone well. I walked around Oxford afterwards feeling low but captivated by the beauty of the city. Three weeks later the offer letter arrived.
I have never looked back. Hertford was a wonderful experience, it was life changing, it gave you confidence to believe that anything was possible.
A 54 year old Queen’s Counsel now looks back at that 17 year old boy with incredulity. It is difficult to believe it is the same person and everything is due to Hertford.
Entrepreneur; exective coach
I grew up in Liverpool in the late 70s and early 80s when the city was wracked with unemployment, poverty and rioting. I remember sitting on the playing fields outside the sixth form centre, reading the prospectus for Oxford. The Tanner Scheme drew me to Hertford, mainly because I thought it was the only chance a state school girl like me had to get to Oxford, but also because of what it revealed about the open, earthy and pioneering spirit of the college.
Hertford gave me many things: my dearest friends, most vivid memories, richest experiences, hardest lessons, most dreaded deadlines and a commitment to never take another exam.
Since then a lot has happened. I navigated the corporate world and became a CEO. I did several start-ups, some of which were very successful and some definitely were not. I hung out in the Arizona desert with self-help gurus and studied with Buddhist monks, becoming a master in reiki and neuro-linguistic programming, as well as teaching undergraduate courses in happiness along the way. I certified as an executive coach at Columbia University and founded my latest company in New York where I now live, which helps the biggest and brightest stars of global companies to become even better than they already are. I also enjoy my three children, three stepchildren and two grandchildren who live on both sides of the Atlantic.
Sounds random? Yes, I think it has been except for one thing: everything I’ve done in some way has its origins in my time at Hertford, whether it’s the qualification on my CV, the inspiration, the friendships, or the self-confidence that’s helped me.
Author; political commentator; broadcaster
If I ever needed reminding that Hertford was no ordinary college, that moment came just a few days before the start of Finals. I was on my hands and knees crossing the bridge to get to the library. We’d been told not to walk upright because Michael Cimino was in the street filming a movie – John Hurt and Kris Kristofferson were hanging around outside looking bored.
The film, Heaven’s Gate, was a financial disaster but I assume Hertford did nicely out of the location fee. And happily, despite my fears, my degree didn’t suffer.
The bridge was helpful later in life. ‘Which college were you at?’, ‘Hertford.’ Blank look. ‘You know, the one with the bridge.’
I’ve always hated those conversations. For many years I was rather embarrassed to tell people I’d been to Oxford at all. It was a nagging guilt that the name alone opened doors that other equally talented graduates found much harder to get through.
But fortunately Hertford has never really been home to the kind of person who sees an Oxbridge education as an entitlement rather than a privilege.
I’ve rarely been back to college since graduating. I’m not a good old-Hertfordian. But thanks to two far more worthy alumni who I happen to have worked alongside, I did speak after dinner in Hall a couple of years ago. Jacqui Smith – a big supporter of the Tanner Scheme – invited me, and the guest of honour was the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood. 35 years ago I knew him as plain-old chain-smoking, party-loving Jeremy. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to remind him of that.
So while there are many people more deserving of a photograph, I am honoured to be included. If nothing else, I think of it as a reward for not spoiling Mr Cimino’s shot.
At my newly established comprehensive school the prevailing attitude was that the chance of getting into Oxbridge was poor. The head of sixth form suggested I write lots of essays and lent me two out-of-date admissions booklets. Undeterred I sat the fourth term entrance exam, was interviewed and offered a place to read PPP. I hadn’t appreciated that women at Hertford in 1979 were still such pioneers. The JCR was intimidating when rugger was on TV, the college bar was not a joy to behold and domestic facilities were non-existent. Nonetheless, I had an extraordinarily unforgettable and confidence building experience. In my second year I founded The Alice Society, and, with a Hertford contemporary Helen Morley, made costumes for OUDS and later on my own for OTG (Edinburgh Fringe, 1981).
I studied Psychology because I wanted to be someone to whom GPs referred patients when they didn’t have the time to talk to them. My undergraduate dissertation was published; my earliest postgraduate work was in a residential special school; I became a community psychologist. I fell in love with the work. It provided the opportunity to be creative and make a difference to the lives of many extremely disadvantaged people. I qualified as a clinical psychologist and I have had over 31 years’ experience working in health and social care mostly with people with intellectual disabilities. My principal research and service development interests have been in Intensive Interaction: an approach to facilitating rapport between service users with the most profound and complex intellectual disabilities and their carers. I am now head of a large NHS Psychological Service.
This once shy comprehensive schoolgirl from rural Devon is extremely grateful for the opportunity to succeed in such diverse ways both at Oxford and thereafter – including being a role model for my two daughters.
Coming from a comprehensive school without an Oxbridge tradition, Hertford’s early interview Tanner Scheme was perfect for me, especially as the college was actively seeking students to study German with Leslie Seiffert. The scheme’s aim was to recognise candidates’ potential and the interviewers usually did get it right. In my case, the tutors made me that unconditional offer, and four wonderful, intensive years later, I achieved the longed for First in Finals.
The academic rigour and focus I developed at Oxford have been essential life skills. On a personal level, student friends have become friends for life. I even met my husband in a German conversation class. Outside my tutorials, I rowed for Hertford, became a student librarian, and immersed myself in music, both in college and beyond. This has led to numerous musical encounters and opportunities as a soloist and ensemble singer which I still enjoy today.
I have used German and other languages throughout my career – in the City, in marketing and market research, and now as an EU translator in Luxembourg. How appropriate to be photographed in the college ante-chapel in front of William Tyndale, an eminent linguist and translator of his day.
Looking forward, I hope that when focusing on open access, Hertford is also willing to look beyond the British education system to other excellent qualifications from students further afield, such as those I meet when supporting prospective applicants through the Oxford Society of Luxembourg. I am alarmed by the increasing introspection of some parts of British society, and even in parts of the education system, and I urge the college, and the university, to sustain openness and continue to face outwards towards the rest of the world.
I remember my Oxford interview well; with a charismatic, effervescent gentleman who charmed me into believing that a sixth former from a comprehensive could win a place at Oxford. Here was a man who inspired me to believe anything was possible and I left Oxford that day filled with a new belief in myself. Thanks to Neil Tanner’s vision I went on to study Music at Hertford, followed by a postgraduate year as a cellist at the Royal Academy of Music. I then changed direction (having to admit that I was not a world class soloist!) and joined a City stockbroking firm, reminding myself of Neil’s words to ‘believe in myself’. After all, what does a cellist know about stockbroking?
Nearly 30 years later, I am a Managing Director of Bank of America but much more importantly to me, I am a mother of two wonderful daughters and a wife of a professional violinist. Balancing a career and a family has been an incredible challenge, even harder than winning a place at Oxford! As a woman with children on a City trading floor I am, today, still very much in a minority. Oxford has embraced its women but we still need to fight for change in the City; for a work life balance that allows us to combine our families and careers. Neil Tanner and my Oxford experience equipped me with the resilience and belief to find a pathway to succeed. For those of you heading into the financial markets today, it’s an invigorating and challenging world and your demands for change will, I am sure, shape its future!
I was a beneficiary of the Tanner Scheme in 1972 and I’m an example of exactly the kind of student it was intended to reach. I attended the local grammar school in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire. Borehamwood was a town built and owned (lock, stock and barrel) by the Greater London Council to house Londoners who couldn’t find housing after the war. Neither of my parents stayed on in school after 14, and this was true of most of my family and neighbours.
I really wanted to go to Oxford to read Chemistry, which was my passion at the time (my nerd roots run deep!), but my school had never been successful in placing a pupil at Oxford or Cambridge. Many of my teachers thought it was pointless to apply, but the headmaster learned of Hertford’s new admission process and suggested it.
I took the second-year sixth exam in December 1971 and was offered a place and an exhibition. Several others from the school later followed me.
My time at Hertford was a period of major personal growth – social class was an issue for me. There were relatively few students with my background at Oxford and at first I had a chip on my shoulder. However, as I made friends with other members of college, I realized that the class issue was in my head, not theirs. I relaxed and became comfortable with myself. Perhaps this is the most powerful thing I learned at Hertford.
Looking back, I would tell any student entering Hertford that what you can do or be is limited only by you and no one else. My life story has been a fairy tale, so far removed from where I started. Hertford has been a large part of that and the Tanner Scheme made it possible.
Neil wasn’t just a brilliant Physics tutor, he took his sub-title ‘moral tutor’ very seriously, and encouraged living thinking, far beyond rote learning. In my 1965 interview, he asked if I had studied combinations and permutations. My heart sank: ‘no’. ‘Good’ he said, and then guided me to work out formulae from first principles. Thinking like that landed me on Catte Street, when cars drove at 30mph and screeched on down New College Lane. Neil’s provocation didn’t end with an interview.
My resumé includes cleaning toilets, editing an international professional audio magazine (Studio Sound) and writing extensively on classical music (The Guardian, classical concerts, Hi-Fi News, contemporary classical LPs, and more) and pop (too many). Film scores include Memoirs Of A Survivor, after Doris Lessing. Production includes pop and classical recordings (Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy, the Communards’ Don’t Leave Me This Way, Soft Cell’s Tainted Love, and for Carmel, Laurie Anderson, John Cale, Roger Daltrey, Wire, and the Sex Pistols, a definitive version of Ives’ Universe Symphony). My own musical efforts (Sprawl and The Contessa’s Party) provoked my online label (stereosociety.com). You can’t really retire from what I do. Classical piano is my amateur joy, I’m still apologetic for breaking a string on the ancient grand in the basement of OB1 and glad that hammering out Bartók at 1am in the chapel didn’t disturb anyone.
By admitting this naïve, Sunderland 17-year-old from a town suffering from declining ship-building and coal-mining, Neil did me an enormous favour. As our radical 60s progressed, we revised our rules. His iconoclasm was an example to us. We thought for ourselves, confidently. After being lumped together in Sunderland from age 11 as physics nerds and by the alphabet, Dick Temple (Hertford alumnus, 1966) and I graduated ten years later – in Natural Philosophy. We all continue.
- Read more recollections from students who came via the Tanner scheme
- See the co-education and Tanner portraits brochure
All photographs are by Robert Taylor.