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Alumni of the Month December 2008
Brian Walker (1970 English & French)
1. How did you get to where you are now?
By living long enough and earning enough to be able to retire early, I suppose. I had no career plan as such.
2. What has been your biggest achievement so far?
I never was a high-flyer, nor wanted to be, so I suspect that many of your readers will find what I have to say quite modest. I enjoyed dabbling in radio as a young man and recall with fondness making a documentary for the BBC about John Peel and his producer at that time, John Walters. Later on, when I had my own PR consultancy, I made promotional films, mainly on videotape but occasionally on film which is much more expensive. Diana Rigg voiced the last one I made for the National Blood Service.
3. And your biggest mistake?
This has to be going into teaching. I mistakenly thought it was about firing children with enthusiasm for one’s subject, whereas much of the time, it’s about crowd control.
4. What are your ambitions now?
Just before Alison, my late wife, died, she expressed the wish that I would continue to be involved with the Keele Oral History Project and that is what I intend to do. While the project is amassing a wealth of printed and photographic material from early alumni (who seem to have acquired the accolade “Pioneers”) my main interest lies in collecting their oral recollections. My ambition for the project is to collect as many interviews as possible from alumni before the older ones – including my generation - pop their clogs and then to use the recordings to make a documentary-style programme of the kind we’re currently working on to coincide with Keele’s Diamond Anniversary in 2009/2010. Once we’ve completed our work on the 1950’s, there’s talk of our embarking on a similar exercise for the 1960’s/1970s cohort. Back home in Harrogate, I shall continue with my Italian lessons and my work for the local talking newspaper group.
5. What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
If we’re talking about teaching, don’t. If we’re talking about communications, I’d advise students to think carefully before they commit to a media-related degree. It’s a tough world in which success is more often dependent on luck and genuine talent, rather than an academic qualification.
6. What made you choose Keele University?
Oxford University. Jesus College turned me down, so I was pleased when Keele offered me a place because I had already realised that I was more of a generalist, rather than a specialist.
7. How has Keele influenced your life?
Keele has had an enormous influence on my life. Academically, it provided me with the basis for a very varied and interesting working life which has encompassed broadcasting, economic development in local government, operating my own PR consultancy and, until I retired, working in medical politics for part of the BMA. It’s interesting to note that so many of my Keele Oral History Project interviewees have said that they owe a similar debt to the original Keele four-year course comprising the Foundation Year, followed by three years of Dual Honours study with subsidiary subjects. I would concur with that. Living on campus throughout my four years at Keele has left me with friendships which have endured 42 years so far and which have been among the most important to me.
8. What is your favourite memory of Keele?
Although I said earlier that I was a generalist at heart, there are two memories which give me great pleasure to recall. Both involved minute textual analysis. The first was with Professor Andor Gomme, as he was later, analysing the sentence structures in “Euphues”. The second was an “explication de texte” exercise on an extract from the works of Buffon about the woodpecker. The latter was with Professor John Broome who was one of the most stimulating and amusing of academics.
9. And your worst?
Having to read virtually the entire output of Dickens. Give me Voltaire or Jane Austen any day!