65 years and still going strong

THA - Chris, Bob and Colin

By Bob Ely (1950)


Photo: (l-r) Chris Angus, Bob Ely and Colin Hayes

I arrived at the Old House from the Army, National Service. We felt it an advantage to have that bit of maturity and get more out of university. I needed a grant to afford it and got it from my Higher
School Certificate results from East Suffolk CC. Fees paid and £225 a year for living! When I said I thought it very generous the Education Officer said, “Mr Ely, we are sending you to Cambridge not a technical college. There will be extracurricular activities, which you will enjoy but which all cost money. Besides, you may wish to keep a bottle of sherry on you sideboard for visitors to your rooms!” What a true concept of education.

As now, it was a small college and thus more intimate than some of our mighty neighbours and more friendly. No ladies of course, so we marched across the court in our dressing gowns to the baths and loos and those of us on higher floors agreed to pee in the sink! We all shared rooms. A few years back I stayed in College, before refurbishment, and was asked what I thought of my room, “fine” I said. “Not a bit primitive?” And then I realised my standards were marginally out of date.

Some famous characters there were. Daddy Dean the Master who called himself an anachronism; Lancelot Fleming, Antarctic explorer and later Bishop of Norwich like our Founder; Tony Tremlett, Chaplain and also later in the same Bishopric! His rooms were a constant source of Nescafé and conversation for all and sundry; and J W C Turner the world’s leading criminal lawyer and Secretary of the University Cricket Club. As  a Life Member I sat on the roof of the Pavilion at Fenners with him during matches and met many famous masters of the game, including Jack Fingleton, Richie Benaud, both Australians and our own Raman Subba Row. In those days, half the Test team were Oxbridge.

But some things have not changed. The wisteria outside my ground floor room on E staircase, punting on the river, hoards of cyclists rushing to lectures, eating in Hall. But the menus are different because those were days of pretty severe rationing! And we had to be in College by midnight and no ladies after 10pm. Girls were scarce, outnumbered 9 to 1 by men. And, contrary to some impressions, we actually worked pretty hard, though perhaps with a broader and more contemplative outlook than the modern world of headlong rush and social pressures allows.

I was a member of the Union and spoke in one debate when Greville Janner was president of the Union. The topic appealed to me and I supported the motion, “This seat of learning needs patching.”

These days I am still in touch with a couple of very old Hall friends and a delightful selection of new ones who have done me the honour of making me an Emeritus member of the THA Committee. In
fact, I am still on three committees to keep me out of mischief. And two dining clubs and two lunch clubs, all in London, help keep me in touch with the world. They all help take up my day as does catering for myself and playing croquet with my fellow residents in our supported living complex; a wonderful and beautiful setting for those us of mature years. We are 28 in all; nine nonagenarians and a lady aged 105! I also run an annual lunch for my year with great help from the office.

So you can imagine how I look forward to the THA autumn dinner where I meet so many friends and enjoy greatly the cross generational contact that is so typical of our College.

It’s more than worth the effort of a four hour journey each way and I warmly commend it to all. You will meet so any people who are not strangers but merely, as the Irish put it, friends that you have not met before! www.trinhall.cam.ac.uk/alumni/events

Bob Ely (1950) has been an active member of the Trinity Hall community for over 65 years. He arrived as a student in 1950 and has since volunteered as a Year Rep and member of the Trinity Hall Association, arranging events and keeping alumni connected with College.