I came across an old professor of mine in the Graun’s Birthday announcements today. Professor William Stewart by name, and I well remember one of the few face-to-face meetings that I had with him.
It was at the start of the summer term in the third year of my four-year degree course in Dundee. I had been called in to explain why I had walked out of a pre-Easter ‘class’ exam without answering any of the questions. The short answer was that I couldn’t, so I told him that, but added (truthfully) that it was because I had spent the entire term training for and playing rugby.
Such is the arrogance of youth that I also told him he shouldn’t berate me for it, but that he should celebrate the fact that someone from his Department was the University’s only first choice player in that year’s Scottish Universities Rugby XV. With an eloquent flourish I then demanded that he judge me on my junior honours exams in the summer and not on a meaningless class exam!
Quietly, he lowered his glasses down the bridge of his nose, tilted his head forward to look over them, smiled malevolently and whispered threateningly in his soft Islay lilt: “Aye, Phil, I’ll do just that!”
That had more effect than any ‘hairdrier’ kind of bollocking could have ever had and my goodness did I work hard to make up for what was effectively a missed term. He has since been dubbed a knight, so “thank you” Sir William Duncan Patterson Stewart DSc, FRS, FRSE (and former Government Chief Scientific Advisor), your understated menace had the desired effect.
Postscript: a former colleague and I once disagreed over a detail on a poster that he had created for our library to highlight the fisheries research work of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, a leading scientist of the Victorian school and, like Sir William, a knighted professor. I argued that he should be entitled ‘Professor Sir D’Arcy …” whereas my colleague had labelled him “Sir Professor D’Arcy …”. We asked our Librarian to arbitrate, each confident of inviolability, at which point she quietly put us both in our place by referring to Debrett’s and announcing that he should be referenced by his senior honour only, so, Sir D’Arcy it should be. That’s my kind of pedantry, but clearly not the Graun’s; it announced the birthday of ‘Prof Sir William Stewart’ – see pic, above.