The Who’s Who of Nottingham University: The Real BNOCs

We all love a good BNOC (Big Name on Campus). The jaunty swagger, the tagged photos of every Cri-Isis night of the year and more BBM contacts than you can shake a stick at; this particular breed of students is as lovable as it is irritating, and Nottingham just wouldn’t be the same without them. But there is a whole crew of people associated with our university, from past students to current members, who have achieved things even more impressive than an AU captain hoodie and all without the help of Facebook.  Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the real Big Names on Campus.

The Nice Boy: Jesse Boot

The University of Nottingham has been around since 1881, when it was a mere cluster of buildings in the centre of town, but after the First World War it had outgrown the space there. This problem was solved by Sir Jesse Boot, who kindly gave the university 35 acres of land at Highfields. It moved in 1928 to what is now the main University Park campus. Some of our University’s rejected buildings in town are now part of Nottingham Trent, so read into that what you will.

Apart from giving us all that land, Jesse Boot himself was a pretty top bloke. He inherited the Boots chemist business from his father, John, and developed it in his lifetime into a worldwide chain; going from a single Nottingham branch in 1880 to the thousandth shop opening in 1933, growth even the Dragons couldn’t fault. Boot was concerned by Victorian poverty and aimed to make his products affordable to all, advertising ‘Health for a Shilling’, the same good old Boots value that brings us 3 for 2 on selected hair care products and the fabled meal deal. Boot — along with his wife Florence, or should I say ‘Flo-Bo’ — was also pretty keen on worker’s rights and conditions. They provided welfare and education, organized trips to the seaside, and tea parties at the family home for their employees. One employee, who was blind in one eye, was even sent to London for specialist treatment. Boot sounds like the brand of BNOC famed for his loveliness; that chap in your hall that’s always got time for everyone — and who everyone secretly fancies.

The Brainy One – Sir Clive Granger

Clive Granger: nice café, handy bike racks, the cosy habitat of Economists and Geographers. But what did Sir Clive do that made him worthy to have his name on a building?

He has been described as one of the most prominent econometricians in the world, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economic Science in 2003 for, are you ready, “his development of the concept of co-integration, a scheme for recognizing and understanding stable relationships in the midst of an otherwise constantly changing economic environment.” Not the catchiest tag line, but pretty darn important. “It may not be glamorous,” BusinessWeek said, “but as the Nobel committee recognised, it’s indispensable.” Granger was told the news of his Nobel Prize win via a 3am phone call which he, as many would, thought was a hoax.

So whilst the economists among you may well need to explain the ins and outs of his theories to the rest of us, the study of Economics owes an awful lot to Sir Clive Granger. And he rode a very cool motorbike.

The Lad – Bertrand Hallward

Out of all the BNOCs on my list, this one probably fits the mould the most. Although we’ve all spent some painful hours in the Hallward library, there are few who can deny their affection for the place and I doubt we’d feel any different about Hallward, the man. Bertrand Hallward started off his academic career by winning a scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge, where he quickly became the biggest BNOC of the day: christened ‘the Babe’ — he was sporty, brainy and an absolute fitty. He was even cast as Apollo in a play.

After his university success, he moved onto teaching where his exuberance and enthusiasm made him very popular with students. He came to Nottingham in 1948 to become its first Vice-Chancellor. We’ve got him to thank for eight of our halls of residences, the securing of indispensable funding from benefactors such as the Cripps, and significant academic leaps forward in both Sciences and Arts. Every evening he ran round the lake and went skating on it in the winter. A staff member even described him as a “whirlwind” and students called him “Tigger” on account of his bouncy enthusiasm.

Hallward retired in 1965, spent ten years sailing round the Mediterranean, and celebrated his 100th birthday with a garden party where guests drank Champagne from teapots. There can only be one word to describe this man: Lad.

The Film Adaptation Waiting to Happen – Sir Peter Mansfield

Our final BNOC, who still works at Nottingham University, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2003 for his contribution to medicine. After being told at school he would never make a boxer (after ten minutes in the ring dodging blows he was advised to take up dancing instead), nor, more ironically, a scientist, a 15-year old Peter Mansfield started work at a printers, while studying towards his A-levels at night school.

His work in Physics started at the University of London, which then carried him into a post-doc in Illinois, before he ended up in Nottingham, where the real work in MRI scanning began. Mansfield said that, “the whole business started actually over a discussion at coffee time, and it was the custom – and still is, in fact – to have coffee in the coffee room down in the Physics Department at about 11 o’clock”. There’s an argument for the importance of coffee breaks if ever there was one. Over the next years, Mansfield and his colleagues continued to develop the technology. The night before a conference in Virginia in 1978 where they had been hoping to exhibit an image from the new machine, Mansfield, against advice that it could be dangerous, climbed into the machine in an attempt to picture his abdomen, with his wife ready to pull him out if needed. He emerged after 50 minutes in the pitch black, boiling hot machine, and an image was processed the next day at a high street U.S chemist. This is the stuff that films are made of.

Mansfield won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2003, and MRI is now a routine technique in hospitals, its contribution to medicine having been compared to the x-ray; it improved diagnostics in many areas and replaced several invasive, painful and dangerous modes of examination. More than 60 million investigations using the technique are performed worldwide every year. Mansfield has a list of awards and honours as long as your arm, and even has his portrait in the National Gallery.

And if that’s not enough to convince you that he’s one sharp cookie, he appeared on Desert Island Discs in 2006 and picked a helicopter as his luxury object (he’s got a license) which, as opposed to the standard messing about with coffee machines or monopoly boards, is definitely the sign of a logically-minded chap.

Jennifer Newbold

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3 Comments on this post.
  • JWM
    30 September 2011 at 13:32
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    “Some of our University’s rejected buildings in town are now part of Nottingham Trent, so read into that what you will.”

    I love the Arkwright Building at Trent University. I think it’s one of the original University College buildings. It reminds me of buildings that you might see in Oxford or Cambridge.

  • JRN
    24 October 2011 at 09:20
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    Interesting piece – but why nothing about the BNOCs of the main University campus – the one in Sutton Bonington?

  • Rich
    2 November 2011 at 12:56
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    Came across this while snooping around other student newspapers and noticed the striking coincidence with my feature (on the shoulders of giants) for the Manchester university paper. Quite unbelievably, they went out the same week meaning we were probably sitting in the library at the same time researching this stuff! (although I redrafted it online recently, hence the later date on the website).

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