Principals Blog: Mid November 2019


blogBowerscrop1Great Brasenose Lawyers event about Peter Birks:
There was an excellent attendance for a series of talks about Peter Birks who was a Law Fellow at Brasenose from 1971 to 1981. Firstly, Prof Andrew Burrows spoke about Peter’s work on Unjust Enrichment, then Prof Helen Scott of LMH about him as a Roman lawyer and finally Prof Bill Swadling on his contribution as a scholar. It was wonderful to have in the audience Peter’s wife Jacqueline and son Theodore, now a doctor. The talks gave a fascinating insight into his very significant legal career, and offered up some of his aphorisms which we would all do well to abide by, such as: if you can’t explain it in simple language, you do not know what you were talking about.

Andrew said that when he worked now, he could see Peter looking over his shoulder. He said that the two words that best described him were charismatic and passionate so that he made the room come alive. He described his Introduction to the Law of Restitution as "ground-breaking" and his tutorials as "electrifying".

Helen emphasised the influence that Barry Nicholas (one of my predecessors) had on Peter and Peter’s interest in taxonomy. Bill Swadling stressed how as a scholar he was interested in the big picture, and avoiding what Peter had described as the “stove pipe mentality”. He never used notes to lecture; everything was in his head. Bill had first encountered Peter when Bill was a young lecturer at Southampton University. He also stressed Peter’s role in legal education even down to what was then O and A level Law.

It was wonderful to see so many Fellows who were colleagues of Peter present to give their own recollections of Peter as a colleague and also to hear that his name is still used a lot in the Restitution Seminars for the Bachelor of Civil Law degree. Many who could not attend the event sent in affectionate tributes.

I write a lot of birthday cards to alumni and it was wonderful to recognise the 100th birthday of Brian Robinson. It was later very heartening to read this in Somerset Live “When Somerset Live spoke to the Glastonbury resident before the big day, he was excitedly awaiting his birthday card from the Queen. But it was the birthday card from Brasenose College that moved him the most”.

‘Blurbs’ events are a twice-termly fixture, now held in the wonderful setting of the Amersi Foundation Lecture Room. Speakers from the HCR and SCR give short talks on their research for a diverse audience from both common rooms, followed by dinner in Hall. Despite the Hallowe'en timing, there was a good turnout for the first Blurbs of the academic year, which trialled a slightly new format: rather than talks from the same broad discipline, we were entertained and enlightened by speakers from very different fields. Nicholas Kurti Junior Research Fellow Dr Carolyn Nielsen discussed her research on malaria vaccines and the human immune response. Davide Morassi, whose DPhil in Ancient History is investigating military generals in the ancient world, talked on 'Shepherds of (bronze-clad) men: a reassessment of the Athenian strategoi'.

On 8 November, Bethany Reeves, our versatile and extraordinary musician and Organ Scholar, did a one-woman concert. She played the organ, alto saxophone and piano, to rapturous applause.

It is sad to record the death of Frank Giles, the alum who edited the Sunday Times. I worked with him on two cases.

I have enjoyed reading Equal by Carrie Gracie about her fight for equal pay against the BBC.

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