International Serpentarius – an anniversary
Was it Monty Python? Was it 70’s student protest? Was it the politics of class war...? Whatever it was, the loss of a charismatic professor and the difficulties of “interim management” stimulated a response amongst research students in the Zoology Department that became “International Serpentarius” (IS)”, in the academic year 1975-1976.
What’s in a name? The official Zoology Department newsletter of academic events and staff information was titled “Serpentarius”. Taking a leaf from the student activist’s favourite publication, “International Socialist”, the alternative publication was branded “International Serpentarius”. On the subject of branding; the publication logo was the letters IS in “bubble writing” followed by a panda, remarkably like the WWF’s panda... A key part of the history of IS was a long running battle with the acting head of Department, Don A Parry and his secretary Betty Gray-Lucas. With fiendish use of the anagram Rory Panda and Lucy Gay-Batters were the target for many IS articles and the Panda logo entirely appropriate.
“IS” was the vehicle for research student comment on department operations, decisions and the process of appointing a new Professor. “IS” was also the communications vehicle for Research Student talks – Beer Talks and social activities, in particular the “Brass Monkeys” Darts Team, named after the brass frieze of gibbons brachiating over the entrance to the department. The publication was inevitably a gossip column for the graduate student body and the wider department.
The battle was fun... “IS” provided the means for research students to satirize the department’s operations and decision making. The core department management team saw the challenge as unacceptable. The hunt to find the editors of this scurrilous publication failed miserably, not least because the editorship was regularly changed. When asked if we were producing “IS”, we were genuinely able to say “NO”! The attempts to prevent photocopying and distribution were thwarted, not least with assistance from several “sympathetic” secretaries in the department.
Over time content for “IS” came not only from research students, but also department staff members, notably “the Vicar of Swivelling Parva”, otherwise known as the Director of the Unit for Insect Chemistry and Physiology, John Treherne. The research students in the Unit provided the motor for IS and John was always keen to encourage our creativity. An unsung hero and active supporter of “IS” was the Departmental Librarian, Ron Hughes. A lifelong socialist and enemy of the forces of reaction, Ron backed the IS editors with everything from copying and distribution support to insider gossip gleaned from around the Department.
This year is a 40th anniversary for IS, many of its editors and contributors are Professors and Heads of Department and all will remember the powerful cohesive force created by a protest movement. They will remember their part in covert operations and recruiting allies across the department. I hope they will also remember an outburst of creativity which launched them and our old department on the path to success. “IS” was an expression of preparedness to challenge the status quo and a demonstration that creativity plays an important role in communication and delivery. It was a formative experience that coloured our approach to our careers and hopefully we are more responsive to the ambitions and concerns of a new generation of creative young minds as a result.
On behalf of all the editors, contributors and supporters of International Serpentarius