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RAG is an essential part of every student's experience and Keele kicked off the tradition very early...
The first Keele RAG was organised in 1956. It grew out of the 1956 Charity Ball which was a way of collecting for charity and to break down any barriers between “Town and Gown”. RAG day soon consisted of a long procession of decorated vehicles and floats around Newcastle and Stoke, accompanied by student collectors in fancy dress. There were bucket collections and sales of a “humorous” magazine called WOOP! Stunts, whether planned or impromptu, were a regular feature. RAG gradually lost momentum as health and safety regulations restricted the permissible activities… but RAG was revived in 2009 as “Raising and Giving Week”. This has once again become a successful charity fundraising event – but without a procession until that also was resurrected in 2013 by Danny Walker (2013)
Above: Keele University Student Union's RAG Raising And Giving Week Logo 2010
KEELE RAG PROCESSIONS
One of the best things about the pre-Rag jaunts was the tremendous comradeship and competitive spirit which blossomed quite spontaneously among our students. I shall remember the Trentham trip - eight of us packed into the back of a tiny Mini van singing a beautifully harmonized chorus of "I ain't gonna grieve my Lord no more!" for a long time. Packed and uncomfortable, jolted and bumped, legs and elbows everywhere - but what a spirit…. The floats closed up in Lower Street, Newcastle and we inched our way through cheering, laughing crowds along High Street and the Ironmarket. Part-way along, we underwent a minor attack from Nelson Hall Training College and Newcastle Art School, which fizzled out after Diana Hilton broke a bag of flour over the head of an N.H. girl she knew and didn't get on with… Collectors and salesmen were having a field-day of it - the floors of the dustcarts in the procession were ringing with thrown pennies which piled up in heaps. We stopped at the Fire Station in King Street for the walking parties to board coaches, and off we went to Hanley…. On Newcastle Bank there was an incident where a Stoke Tech man was hurling wet cement at the procession. Unfortunately for him, in the process a passing woman and her child were liberally bespattered with it, and a large man on the spot did him up.’ Excerpts from my diary: Sunday March 2nd 1958. Tony Powell (1959)
Photo Right: Collecting in cleaners' buckets in Stoke
A "TRIUMPH" FOR 1968 RAG
David Harris (1970) shares some memories of the 1968 RAG Procession: "I headed the Procession in my “famous / infamous Triumph TR4A and the Rag Queen. I was dressed up in anticipation of Potteries weather and a drop-top sports car - but she was freezing."
Tim Gibbs (1970) remembers: "David Harris was most famous for having the best car of any student (including a new white Triumph TR4A and for some of the time the best looking girl on campus as a girl friend - Jackie Cassels. I travelled from Keele to David's home in Devon in his TR4A one weekend and we came back to Keele with a Welcome to Exmouth road sign. I wonder if he still has it"
David Harris adds: "When Judgement Day came for the RAG Queen the student panel included me, George Hilton and Phil Soar. The criteria would have been very politically incorrect by today’s standards, and I don’t think I
've worn a tie since."
Photo below left: The Car's the Star with RAG Queen Jackie Cassels (1971)
"As to the question 'Who was the Rag Queen on the bonnet?' – her name was Gill Mansell and she came from Crewe College of Education. I am not sure about the claim that Jackie Cassells was the prettiest girl at Keele in the period – Marion Dain, Chris Curtis and Ollie Miller tended to win the Cygnet polls (I edited Cygnet as well as being RAG Chairman) – I imagine that Harriet Harman would prevent us from publishing them now. Ron Gallimore was often quoted as the prettiest – but he was excluded on the grounds of being male." Phil Soar (1969)
Photo Right: A Crewe "dolly bird" - to use contemporary parlance - on David Harris' bonnet.
THE TELEPHONE BOX ESCAPADE
"One of our pre-Rag stunts was to get 17 people into a telephone booth. Keith Clement (1955) at the BBC fixed it so that it was shown on TV. A coach was run to Birmingham and after a couple of rehearsals we - that is, Bob Mantle, Lee Lyas, Alan Turner and John Rogers of the Rag Committee, myself and a bunch of others, repeated the trick. We tried to squeeze 18 in, but just couldn't make it. Too bad! Tony Powell (1959)
"I have a newspaper cutting reporting a telephone box stunt but it is not clear whether it refers to the1959 stunt or a repeat in 1960. The cutting refers to beating a record 16 in a box set up by Manchester University and it is clear that the stunt took place at Keele. After the 'men' achieved 17 the 'girls' had a go and managed 13." Brian Vale (1960)
"I was the RAG Chairman in 1960. I have a newspaper cutting reporting a telephone box stunt but unfortunately it is undated. It is not clear whether it refers to the 1959 stunt or a repeat in 1960 (I clearly remember the stunt but not the year). The newspaper cutting, inter alia, refers to 'beating a record of 16 in a box set up by Manchester University' and it is clear that the stunt took place at Keele. After the 'men' achieved 17 the 'girls' had a go and managed 13. Students mentioned in the cutting are Colin Christmas, Jack Telling, Peter Didcott, Colin Thomas, John Lowe and Bob Mantle." Jack Telling (1962)
"The telephone stunt with Jack Telling and Bob Mantle was in January 1959 in the phone box outside the Union building. Nottingham University, our big Rag competitors at stunts did it first but Keele got more people in. Manchester were in there somewhere. There was always a tremendous rivalry between Universities to get national newspaper publicity. Remember not much television then. We had a good year in 1958 with the Kidnapping of a beauty queen, putting a spaceman (a teddy bear actually with a space helmet on) in the newly opened Jodrell Bank radio telescope bowl (the crew actually climbed into the bowl).... I think we even stole the anvil from Gretna Green wedding smithy, but I can`t be sure. There was even a national conference for Rag organising committees held at Nottingham uni to discuss and coordinate stunts and rag timing. We really wanted to organise a student Saturday to highlight what likeable lovable people students were. As I remember it the conference deteriorated into a disorganised, drunken, debauched and very, very enjoyable weekend. Ticker Hayhurst (1960)
Photo: Squeezing the hordes into the phone box
"I forget if it was the 1959 or the 1960 stunt but I can remember going to the TV studios in Birmingham with the team who did it. I think that Bob Mantle was the last out of the box." Alfred Kendall (1962)
The Phone Box "action photo"on the right was taken by John Mack (1961)
"Thanks for the reminder of the telephone box record. I didn’t take part in the attempt at Keele but wangled a trip to the TV studios in Birmingham by waiting for the coach alongside the Registry. I was one of the two “structural supports” in the ‘phone box which was OK at rehearsal but when we went live I remember buckling under the weight and spending an uncomfortable few minutes until the presenter made his announcement and we all tumbled, photogenically I am sure, into the studio. I also seem to remember that after the show a bottle of whisky was found on the table and was consumed; only later did we discover it wasn’t meant for us." Stuart Riley (1962)
There was always a tremendous rivalry between Universities to get national newspaper publicity. Remember - no television then. We had a good year in 1958 with the kidnapping of a beauty queen , putting a spaceman (teddy bear with a space helmet on) in the newly opened Jodrell Bank radio telescope bowl (the crew actually climbed into the bowl), and something else which I can’t remember. I think it was stealing the anvil from Gretna Green wedding smithy, but I can’t be sure. Ticker Hayhurst (1960)
"I have a copy of The Cygnet for 19 March 1958 with the front-page story of the spoof Sputnik planted by students at Jodrell Bank.... While I was a student I heard a first-hand account on the day after the Jodrell 'raid' from Alan Stewart who was in my hut, and I was surprised to learn from Tony Scrase at the last reunion that he too was among the group on that night." Alan Self (1961)
Left: Cygnet spills the beans about the Sputnik prank...
"The hushed-up Jodrell Bank stunt of 1958 was an enterprise by Hut 28 and friends. People involved besides myself included Godfrey Minay, Peter Simpson, Roy Preston, George Ferguson, Colin Stephenson and George’s room-mate called Brian. The West Midlands and Geordies were strongly represented in the team. We were already heavily committed to the rag with projects for two floats, one for a lorry and the other for the horse-drawn section. Then the Rag Committee asked for publicity stunts. After considering a range of more or less outrageous and impractical ideas, we settled for Jodrell Bank. The inspiration or provocation was Professor Lovell’s constant appearance in the media announcing that Sputnik 2 (the one with the dog) was about to re-enter the atmosphere (which it equally regularly failed to do). We decided it should come down at the radio telescope with an appropriate message. The Rag Committee thought it a good idea and were supportive, particularly ‘Ticker’ Hayhurst. They helped with materials and also with transport. The group was, like most students then, car-less so they found a helpful cook who had a car and was willing to drive us. The sputnik was basically a wire frame coated with paper-mâché, coloured with aluminium paint and with the inscription Fred I. This was in Cyrillic script on one side (to be placed on top) and in English on the other. Inside were a fluffy soft-toy poodle and various messages. There was a rag poster, a scroll stating ‘The Keele Konquering Sputnik was launched 20th February’, a note saying ‘It has come down at last Professor Lovell’ and around the poodle’s neck another note saying to Professor Lovell with the compliments of the Keele students. Godfrey was selected to plant the sputnik with two others on site in support and look out roles (I was one of these but can't recall who was the other). The number was limited by the need to fit driver, party and a four foot sputnik into the Morris car. I remember George and Brian putting in a good deal of time on constructing the sputnik and it was definitely me who bought the poodle in Newcastle – I remember the odd looks I got on the bus back! There were two reconnaissance trips. They revealed that, at the time, only a standard agricultural fence surrounded the site. However, the only discrete approach was along the railway and across two ploughed fields. One had to look out for trains and vanish into undergrowth as they passed so we ended up with very soggy and muddy trousers. This was worsened as we crawled across the field on the first trip to find this unnecessary as the place was deserted in daylight. In contrast the telescope site was lit by flood lights at night so Godfrey would have to walk in as crawling would just be conspicuous. The original date for the raid was 22nd February but it was brought forward two days as the Committee had rumours that Manchester students had heard something was intended and were preparing a reception committee. All went well. There were people about but nobody noticed Godfrey who had time to look about for supports to hold it in position under the telescope (an area probably now surrounded by warnings that one would be fried by microwaves). However, we were deflated when we stopped at the first phone box to let the Committee know it was done and they could inform the press. Godfrey was told that it must be hushed up as the University authorities were doing their nuts over a previous stunt (an attempt to kidnap a beauty queen) and had announced that those involved in any further stunts would be sent down. In fact, it did get a little post-rag publicity in The Cygnet of 19th March. The reporter discovered it initially provoke a panic at Jodrell Bank as it was thought it might be a bomb but that Professor Lovell must have seen the joke as he put the dog on his desk. However, the report does contain at least one picturesque exaggeration – Godfrey did not stop to light a cigarette on leaving the site. Neither he nor any of us smoked. We were consoled in that our horse-drawn float, Keele Konquering Konstruction (or some such alliterative title) was liked by the crowds and won a prize for humour. It featured four building workers mainly sitting around on wheelbarrows, piles of bricks, etc, (borrowed for the day from real Keele construction) largely playing solo and a brass bed (where on earth did we get that?) with a sign Foreman’s Office. From this Roy periodically emerged with cries like ‘work you scum’ and laid about him rather too enthusiastically with a whip. Happy days!" Tony Scrase (1960)
"What was left under the radio telescope? It was manufactured in Hut 28 that was then a hive of (rag-related) industry as we were also kitting out two floats. It was as near as we could manage a replica of Sputnik 2 (the one with the dog), given that we were working with a wire frame, layers of paper and aluminium paint. It was about 4 foot long and inscribed Fred I in Cyrillic script on the side left facing up and in English script on the reverse. Inside it had a soft toy poodle, various pieces of rag literature and a message for Professor Lovell stating that it had come down at last (he had been announcing that Sputnik 2 was about to re-enter the atmosphere for some time). We hadn't thought that it might be taken for a bomb but I gather that was the initial reaction." Tony Scrase (1960)
A CRIMEAN CANNON
Fanaticism was enhanced in 1959 by a proposed bid by the Council of the City of Stoke-on-Trent to “absorb” the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme into its boundaries. Such a blatant strike against the proud people of Newcastle was unprecedented and there was considerable sentiment that Newcastle needed to be defended from this imminent threat. This was in the days of the “cold war”, and ultimate weapons (not necessarily one’s of mass destruction. So emerged the idea of a “WEAPON TO DEFEND NEWCASTLE”. It just happened that outside the Orme Girls Grammar School there stood a Cannon from the Crimean War. In today’s terms it was the Queen Mary 2 of all cannons – quite massive and imposing. So how does one acquire such an ultimate weapon? You either steal it or negotiate with the arms dealers in the local area. I had the job of arms acquisition and assembly into an appropriate Rag Day float to show those Stokites that the Newcs were no pushover – and our weapon meant business as it was displayed through the city streets. “Defend Newcastle” was our adopted motto – very crudely displayed on cardboard on a rapidly constructed float - once we had secured the cannon on campus. Alan Jones (1961)
Right: Cygnet, February 1960 - is there always a plea for more helpers?
THE KEELE MISSILE CRISIS
Another Rag Float that year that deserves a mention featured a second weapon – a magnificently constructed 15 to 20 foot rocket missile that frankly looked like the real thing – painted in Keele’s colours of black, red and gold.
The constructors (I believe Robert Parry) stored the mock missile outside their residential “hut” for a few days after the Rag Day. But one night someone had a bright idea of relocating the life-like object onto the construction site of the new concrete water storage unit on the hill on the Newcastle-side of the campus. The loud noise resulting from a large number of flyovers by jet fighter aircraft from the US and Royal Air Forces drew the campus’s attention to the new location of the “missile”. Keele now apparently had its first and only missile base firmly established in the eyes of the defence forces. I’m only surprised they didn’t bomb it. I have no idea what the repercussions were, but following the reconnaissance missions the missile rapidly disappeared into total obscurity. Alan Jones (1961)
Photo: Keele's Missile Launcher:
That's me standing on the lorry next to the missile in question. It was actually constructed by a local school as a project. Whilst admiring it we learnt that the school had no further use for it and it would sadly have to be broken up. We asked if we could borrow it for our rag float and were promptly given it. I don't know what became of it finally but I have a vague feeling we passed it on elsewhere to someone outside the University who asked if they could have it. John Alcock (1960)
A RAG DAY FATALITY
"Here's an excerpt from my diary dated Saturday, February 28, 1959: We (the Jazz Group) played the procession in - four-deep crowds along the entire route - and headed up the Ironmarket for Hanley, with coins hailing onto the lorry from all sides, even from upstairs windows…. Money was showering onto the procession from all angles, upper floor windows as well as street level. I estimate there were at least five thousand people present. The entire area was humming and swaying, and the police were having a devil of a job to marshal the crowds.... A little later, the jazz float moved on towards Stoke, where I was due to pick it up again. Just before the bridge a rumour began to run round the procession that an anonymous someone had been seriously injured in an accident, and we came across a thick layer of sawdust just by the Station Road bus-stop. By this time I was aboard one of the leading floats, and it suddenly occurred to me that the only one ahead of us bar the loudspeaker van and the mascot Squidge, was the jazz lorry. I began to get worried, as the lorry supervisor was of course in the cab, and couldn't see what was going on at the rear. I couldn't discover at that time any more details than that someone had fallen off a vehicle unknown and been crushed under the wheels of a following vehicle that couldn't stop in time. 1.10 a.m. Back at Keele. I've now discovered a little more. Apparently the accident victim was a friend, aged 17 or 18, of one of the band, who climbed aboard immediately after Hanley, and was apparently engaged in collecting on the near side of the lorry just behind the cab when he slipped and fell over the safety rope. It appears that the impact with the road killed him instantaneously. The lorry was of course withdrawn from the procession at once by the police, who were there within seconds." Tony Powell (1959)
"On the subject of the very sad death on the 1959 Rag Day (2 March 1959). The young man was called Jeffrey Wood and he was just 17 years old. He joined the Ceramic City Stompers (or was it the Crescent City Stompers) and died as Tony described. The police suggested that the procession should continue as it was the easiest way of getting everyone back to Keele. There was an announcement at the Rag Ball." Ticker Hayhurst (1960)
A MISSISSIPPI RIVER BOAT
"The highlight of 1958 was an enormous Mississippi River Boat manned by Southern Belles and Beaus and built by George Hurdley, Kit Peck, Leo Lawrence, John Hughes and others. Second place undoubtedly went to Dave Pollitt and Peter Read, and consisted of Dave’s Austin Seven pulling the Students’ Union trolley on which was screwed a toilet. A trouser-less Peter Read was seated on this throne reading ‘The Times’ above a slogan (in imitation of that newspapers current advertising campaign) which announced that ‘Top People Use the Times!’ It caused much hilarity." Brian Vale (1960)
Photo right: 1957, Ned Lusher left, cyclist unknown, Bob Mantle (RAG Chairman), and Brian 'Bush' Webb with a message for the Mayor of Brighton.
I remember travelling through the streets of Stoke on Trent one rag week in the early to mid sixties on the back of a lorry which was decorated to look like a desert scene. There were paper palm trees which slowly disintegrated in the drizzle while I nearly froze to death, as I was clad mainly in net curtain remnants. I was supposed to be a harem girl! Liz Walton (Le Poidevin) (1968)
WHAT ABOUT THE WORKERS?
We had two floats one year - probably 1960 or 1961. The first was labelled "Men at Work" and was just loaded with picks and shovels, bricks etc. borrowed from the campus, then largely a building site; the boys sat on piles of bricks or drain pipes and ate and drank from flasks... and then "Women at Work" which was a table and chairs, us dressed in borrowed pink cleaner overalls with various brushes and pans and other cleaning gear - we too sat around drinking from cups and mugs and eating. We all thought this a brilliant wheeze because we could keep warm and well fuelled as we went through the cold, wet streets. Mary Mainwaring (Hankins) (1963)
Phot righto: Ticker with the vicar. Ticker Hayhurst (1960) sells a scurrilous WOOP! to the unsuspecting clergy....
A WOOP-UP IN THE BOOZER!
We went around during the Rag Week selling joke books to the locals. A friend and I, both females, went into several pubs where the donations tended to be higher for these books. We went into a bar and chatted up the local fellows and one challenged me, saying he'd give me a pound for a joke book if I could drink a double whisky. I don't think I'd ever done such a thing before, but I agreed, took the drink (neat) and tossed it back immediately - thinking I'd better get it over with. This was greeted with a great roar of approval and money passing over to us in (fairly) large quantities. Mary Mainwaring (Hankins) (1963)
Photo left: The first ever Charity Ball at Trentham Gardens 1956 featured the Flying Swan
LAMP-POSTS AND FOOTPRINTS AND TUBES
On the subject of RAG weeks, they were obviously going during my time and in my last year the rugby club of which I was fixture sec at the time decided it was a good idea to go drinking to celebrate. Harper Brown (1983) ended up climbing one of the lamp posts (not any old lamp post but a ceremonial one in the market square) and was brought down by two less than delighted officers. In the meantime someone had put a concentrated foam tablet in to the fountain in Newcastle and it sent out suds for days afterwards. Not sure if we raised much money though.’ Mark Whitehead (1982)
“One jape I remember was the work of a student from Hong Kong, but I have forgotten his name. As part of a Rag stunt around 1962, he painted white footprints from Queen Victoria's statue in Newcastle to the public toilets. There was a photo subsequently in the Sentinel of his punishment - scrubbing the pavement on his hands and knees.” Richard Barton (1964)
One Saturday evening - Rag day hop - the Union was decorated most convincingly as a London tube station. Of course the geometry was perfect. Then there was the bar. Did it only serve bottled beer? Those were the days before I grew to appreciate real ales and was content with Watney's Brown. Peter Worsley (1962)
TOILET HUMOUR: KEELE RAG 1970
Being a student in the Sixties and Seventies was a serious business. Attending lectures (sometimes); staying up all night discussing Nietzsche to the soundtrack of Leonard Cohen; falling in and out of love....
One of the least edifying diversions from this demanding lifestyle was the annual student charity Rag Week (quaintly described in the Union handbook as “Carnival”). One way of raising money was of course the rattling of buckets and collection-tins on the streets during the student procession on decorated lorries through Newcastle, Hanley and Stoke.
The other source of revenue was the sale of the RAG magazine – a publication with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Traditionally a collection of feeble and occasionally smutty jokes interspersed with cartoons, and funded entirely by local advertising, it gave us an excuse to mount expeditions to sell the publication around the pubs of the Potteries and in universities across the country.
Keele’s RAG mag had traditionally borne the title “Woop!” In a rare burst of creative thinking the editor of the 1970 magazine decided to re-name it “Potty”, neatly combining the notion of slight craziness with an elegantly witty reference to the principal local industry. RAG’s symbol instantly and inevitably became a “gazunder” and the 1970 rag magazine cover featured a ‘potty’. (left) Topicality required it to show a lunar module landing on the surface of the moon. Sadly the lavatorial theme persisted throughout the magazine....
Brian Stewart (1972). ‘Potty’ editor 1970
Photo Right: Brian Stewart performing a time-honoured RAG ritual 1970 - swinging the bucket
A Celebrity Kidnapping (1980)
Kidnappings have always formd part of RAG escapades.
"The cutting on the right is from the Stoke 'Sentinel' about a stunt members of the Drama Society pulled for Rag round about 1980, We 'kidnapped' local DJ and club owner Mel Scholes and then in the evening collected his ransom by taking buckets around his club audience. Debbie Eaton in the photo became one of the country's leading barristers specialising in family law." Steve Barks (1982) If the kidnap demands had not been met the famous moutsache would have been shaved off!
We acknowledge the work of students Jess Lukat (2010) and Sam Shephard (2010), who compiled this feature as part of their History studies at Keele.
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