A golden age of hoaxes?

Let me introduce myself:  I am Mike Trier; I was an engineering undergraduate at Churchill from 1967 – 1970.  Sometimes I ask myself if I made a difference when I was there.  Well, I was chair of an organising committee for the Churchill International Student Conference in 1969.  Did that make a difference?

Forty years on, and one of the other committee members, Michael Norwich, recently organised a reunion for a few cronies at the Vaults in Trinity Street, to which I went.  Quite amusing meeting people I hadn’t met in 40 years.  Like going into a time machine.  I was impressed that everyone seemed to be functioning adequately.

But back to the central question:  did that conference make any lasting impact?  I went up into the attic to dig out my archives to try and answer that question.  And found something unexpected:

Diabetes Test

In co-operation with the University Health authorities, the college is carrying out a simple diabetes test on all members. This is merely a routine te3st, since there are always a small number of people who are unknowingly diabetic. There is no cause for concern. The test is straightforward and is carried out on urine; college members are asked only to leave a small sample of their urine in the college sick-bay for collection by the Health authorities. The sample must be taken before a main meal, and it should be left by 9 p.m., Monday 6th May. If a clean bottle is not available a well washed out milk carton may be used. Each sample must be clearly labelled with the form below.



 URINE SAMPLE                      (Block Capitals Please)

 Name ——————————–Year ——–

 Have you ever had any diabetic complaint? ———-

 We all got a copy of this, seemingly from Denys Armstrong, the domestic bursar at the time.  I mentioned to this at our recent re-union, and there seemed to have been a variety of reactions.  I was outraged and refused to have anything to do with it.  Many were apathetic and did nothing.  But come Sunday there was a collection of assorted bottles and even a few ‘well washed out milk cartons’ outside the sick bay, which was adjacent to the bursar’s office.

That Monday, the contributors got a genuine letter from the domestic bursar:  ‘you have been the victim of a hoax – please remove your sample’.  No-one did, so someone had the onerous task of disposing of the samples.

This was such a good hoax in that everyone was fooled – this was actually what he might have done, having somewhat autocratic tendencies, and it captured his style.

A friend of mine at the time, Tim Ravenscroft, apparently caught a bit of a rant from Captain Roskill, a Churchill Fellow, complaining that hoaxes weren’t what they used to be.  I think he had in mind the time when Engineers put an Austin 7 on top of the Senate House roof, and it took weeks for the authorities to get it down again.

I’m probably at a similar age now to what Captain Roskill was then and I’m wondering the same thing.  What on earth do students get up to now – do they just work (and I must confess that that is actually what I did most of the time!)?

There were other splendid hoaxes.  For example, the Barbara Hepworth sculpture, then at the front of the college, had been removed temporarily to an exhibition. One morning, we found that someone had erected a brick version of the sculpture on the plinth.  A photo was sent to Barbara Hepworth and she was apparently flattered that someone had bothered to create a substitute whilst the original was absent.

There were a lot of bricks around because the college was still being built.  April 1st, and Dick Tizard the Senior Tutor, opened his door to find he’d been bricked in.  They were loose, but he couldn’t push them over for fear of breaking the widow opposite.  He rang up the college porters, but they assumed he was trying to play an April Fool joke on them and didn’t believe him.  He was thus trapped for several hours!

One final story:  when it was time to elect the President of the JCR, someone nominated a goldfish.  The goldfish came second!

 So, I’d like to know what is currently happening on the hoax front?



Text: Mike Trier 2010
Photo: John White 1967