Times obituaries subs. Explain yourselves!

This looks a little odd, don’t you think?

John Lucas was born in Lavender Hill, London, in 1929, the son of Joan (née Randolph) and Egbert, an Anglican clergyman who soon took a parish in Guildford. The family then moved to Durham, where his father was appointed dean, and where John grew up in the shadow of the cathedral.

Educated first at the Dragon School in Oxford, where he was unhappy, he found the rigorous intellectual culture of Winchester College more congenial, and went from there to Balliol College, Oxford, to study chemistry on a scholarship. In an early display of his polymathy, he soon switched to maths, and then to Greats, in order to study the Greek philosophers. At Balliol he became friends with Peter Tapsell and Dick Taverne, future Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs. Having taken his MA in 1954,

Erm, do you actually take an MA at Oxford? M.Sc etc, yes, but isn’t an MA just a BA plus 10 years and a fee?

13 thoughts on “Times obituaries subs. Explain yourselves!”

  1. The Meissen Bison

    You don’t sit it but you ‘take’ it in the sense that you attend the degree ceremony in the Sheldonian.

  2. Yes you take an MA at Oxford. How else would you describe it? You don’t have to study for it. You don’t have to work for it. But you need to have a first degree. It’s a puzzle that other universities thought that you should work for an MA. Why did they get it wrong with the example right there in front of them?

  3. I never took (right word) my MA because I think the whole thing is now outdated, and has become something of a sham. I don’t have anything against people who do, but if I see that they’ve put it down on their CV/resume (and some people do) or they always sign their letters/emails MA (Oxon) or MA (Cantab), I know immediately I’m dealing with a certain kind of person that I’d rather not be…

    Re Dick Taverne, well he is a Lib Dem in the Lords and he was an MP (originally for Labour and then for his own Democratic Labour outfit after the famous Lincoln by-election) but he was never a Lib Dem and an MP at the same time. So bit odd to call him a “Liberal Democrat MP”! By the time the SDP had come into being, which was more his natural political home, he was long gone from parliament, and he only was appointed to the Lords in the late 90s.

  4. @ Clovis
    Took his BA in 1951. Seems to have sidestepped National service by getting a scholarship to Oxford (entitling him to deferment) and then a Senior Scholarship (further deferment).

  5. Ah right. So the MA in ’54 is an irrelevance to the obituary (rather like saying “after he had lunch in 1954”). I admit I took my MA (at the other place) but that was to get the dining rights; trading in my part III cert for an MMath seemed more relevant (but only just).

  6. @ Clovis
    Quite! A scholarship at Balliol, followed by a top First and a Senior Scholarship at Merton, assorted Fellowships and they list his MA …
    There was a reason beyond dining rights – for some academic posts one needed to be a “Senior Member of the University”

  7. Taverne was deselected as Labour MP for Lincoln for being too pro-EEC, and stood as an “Independent Democratic Labour” candidate, winning the seat twice before losing it a few months later (it was 1973-74 and there were a lot of elections about). This was one of the factors leading to the Labour split that created the SDP, of whom he was a leading light from early on.

    He was a director of the insurance company I worked for then, a pleasant enough bloke. I recall him arriving for board meetings on his bike.

  8. His MA is important, though the obituarist doesn’t bring out the reason. John Lucas was proud of being an MA. He would point out to students who got his title wrong that he “had never been doctored,” (alluding, if this is not obvious, to the veterinary meaning of neutering an animal). The MA was the mediaeval degree giving one a licence to teach in universities, and the PhD or DPhil was an unnecessary innovation. But less ingenuously, his point was that he had been able to leapfrog that step in his academic career: he was far too brilliant to need a PhD certificate to be employable.

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