Chapter 9. The Aftermath

We both saw him at the same time — a single constable, standing staring up at the building. Had he seen us? We watched anxiously as he peered through the darkness. Then he turned away, and for a wild moment I thought we had got away with it. He paced up and down the pavement, seemingly undecided in his own mind — undecided as to what he had seen or to what he proposed to do.

He's using his radio.” Brian gasped in my ear. This was it then. Quickly we scrambled our equipment into our rucksacks. We may have left the odd karabiner or sling, but for once it did not concern us. Our position was serious, but not yet desperate. If we could jump back over the Senate House leap into Caius College, we could still make a getaway in the darkness. It would be a dangerous attempt; there would be no time for any safety precautions. The prospect of imminent capture, however, docs marvellous things for the nerves.

It was at this point that our luck began to run out. As we made our way to the jumping all place, Brian tripped on the parapet. There was a horrible noise as he fell on the roof. He got up immediately, and tried to carry on, but stumbled as he put his weight on his left foot. It was hopeless, of course. His ankle was badly sprained, and he could scarcely hobble along. In his condition the Senate House leap was out of the question.

Our only hope now was to abseil down the blind side of the building (facing the Old Schools) before police reinforcements arrived. When I looked over the edge though, even that slim hope disappeared. There were police everywhere, circling, talking, flashing torches. A spotlight flashed on, and then another. We were trapped.

Never had our hearts beaten so fast, or the sweat poured so profusely. Whatever we decided to do had to be done quickly. I crawled round the edge of the roof and surveyed the scene. Never had I seen so many policemen, their torches anxiously scanning the roof tops. At the Kings Parade end of the Senate House Passage stood a police car surrounded by uniformed men, one of them directing a spotlight. At the other end was a Black Maria.

The police could do nothing for the moment, so I spent the next few minutes strapping Brian's ankle. He was then able to use it, and I decided that we ought to try escaping over the Senate House leap. At the edge of the leap I suddenly stood up, to be immediately dazzled by the mass of lights shining from below. I called out to the Police: “Switch off your torches and we'll come down by the Senate House Leap and the south face of Caius.” There was an agonising silence before a voice called out their assent. It was a gamble but I reckoned our only chance of escape was to get onto Caius and then create a diversion. I planned to start descending the south face, whilst Brian tried to escape through a corridor in Caius and thence out into Trinity Lane. If I could capture the attention of most of the police then we had a chance.

As the lights were switched off, I prepared to jump. Midway through the air, an unthinking policeman switched on the searchlight and I was very lucky to reach the other side intact. The words on my lips at the time are unprintable. As I threw a rope to Brian, I explained what I was doing to the watchers below. Above all, in such at delicate situation, it is essential to hold the attention of the audience. Brian managed marvellously, taking off and landing on one leg. I coiled the rope and made for the route downwards, leaving Brian standing next to the open window.

Luck was not on our side. Defying all the laws of average, an intelligent policeman emerged from the mass beneath. Noticing the open window, he rushed around to the front gate of Caius, knocked up the porter, and soon had other constables patrolling every means of escape inside the college. Now there were only two possibilities of escape. One was to climb down to within ten feet of the ground, jump and run like mad. The other was to come down and be very nice to the police, explain what we had been doing, and trust the rest to their humanity. This latter course was forced upon us by Brian's injury. Reluctantly, we descended.

We soon got into conversation with the constable who had first spatted us. He thought we were burglars (an extraordinary assumption, considering the building), and would have dealt with it himself had he known otherwise, he insisted. It had now gone too far, too many men and cars were involved, and the Inspector would want to know why. He would have to take details and make a report. False names? False Colleges? As fate would have it, a sergeant reminded the novitiate that he should check the details on the radio telephone to the police station. We were foiled. Our only hope was that the report would reach the police station and no further. We left the scene dejectedly looking at the baffled throng, who were still trying to decide among themselves exactly what we had been doing.

For two days there was official silence. We began to relax. We felt like men reprieved on the execution morning. We began to talk of climbing again.

Life carried on normally until Tuesday night, four days after the police had caught us. It was then that I stumbled on a curt note from my tutor in my pigeonhole asking me to go around and see him. Brian too had been summoned. It was pretty clear that he was not inviting us around for sherry.

The meeting was a four-cornered one — Brian, myself and our respective tutors. We were told coldly that the police had reported our nocturnal activities. Had we been on the Senate House? We nodded. Had we anything to say? Of course we did, but this did not seem the most opportune moment. We decided to hold our fire. There were bound to be more meetings.

Meanwhile our friends were at work. Twenty-four of them offered sureties of £10 each to the college, as a guarantee of our future good behaviour. Then, ten pounds was a lot of money to a student. There were pleas for leniency to individual fellows, and a circular letter, urging clemency, was sent to all the dons in college. Six of our more imaginative friends even went to the lengths of “confessing” that they had been on the Senate House roof with us, in the hope that the college would hesitate to expel eight undergraduates. Their story foundered under the efficient individual cross-examination conducted by the Senior Tutor.

To be fair, the college authorities also did their best for us. Our tutors, who were already labouring under the onerous duties of prosecuting council and members of the jury, very generously offered to defend us as well. They had obviously swatted up their Alice in Wonderland.

  “Fury said to a Mouse, that he met in a house. 
  ‘Let us both go to law: I will prosecute you — come. 
  I've nothing to do.
’ Said the mouse to the cur, 
  ‘Such a trial, dear sir, with no jury or judge, would be wasting our breath.’ 
  ‘I'll be judge, I'll be jury,’ said cunning old Fury, 
  ‘I'll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death.


Entering into the spirit of the game we accepted.

Yet still they stalled for time. They decided nothing on the Wednesday, except to believe us when we admitted to the misdemeanour. Thursday was a pretty poor day all round. As I recall we only had one meeting and no one had much fun. Still there would always be another day. Then someone realised — Friday, November 5th. How superb! Surely the bullets would fly? Eventually, at 9.00 p.m. on the 5th November the College Council met. They had all met each other before, but now they had something to talk about.

The College Council is composed of all senior members of the college, and chaired by the Master. It is the governing body of the establishment, deciding college policy, coordinating college facilities, and occasionally sitting as the supreme court of the college. It is rather like a mini-Parliament. Since major decisions are arrived at by an ostensibly democratic vote, our only hope lay in convincing the majority that expulsion was too harsh a penalty in our case. It was a forlorn hope, but it was all we had; and by this time we were only too ready to clutch at straws.

Our trial was held after Hall on the Friday. We were told to hold ourselves in readiness from 9.00 p.m., and this we did, smoking and drinking coffee in Dave's room. We were dressed in unaccustomed suits, sparkling white shirts and sober ties. If clothes really make the man, we were just about the best men in Cambridge at the time. For over ninety minutes we sat there, growing more nervous by the minute. Besides Brian and myself, Dave and Nick were there, and so were Dave W. Bernard, Mick T., and Carol. They all did their best to cheer us up, but we could see that they expected the worst. At last the porter came and told us that the Council wanted us. We had a few cheerful words with our favourite college custodian, shrugged on our gowns, and walked across the dark courtyards to the Master's Lodge. Up the stairs, an agonising wait, and in we went.

Our judges sat solemnly round a long polished table. All were in academic robes, all looked stern. I recognised a few of them immediately, but the majority were new faces to me. We sat down in very comfortable chairs, and were then asked by the Master if we had anything to say. Brian said something about us both having better Tripos results than half the college, but no one was quite sure if that was really relevant After all, that was not the point at issue. The decision that we were to be sent down was delivered in a fine, solemn tone, with the merry afterthought that we had to leave college by 6.00 p.m. the next day. We took our leave of the proceedings and went first for some coffee, and then re-climbed the Senate House to get some photographs. It had been a curious day.

In many ways it was an unforgettable experience. One moment we were protected, isolated students, the next we had been abandoned, jobless, penniless in the last stages of a degree course. Being cut off in this way, makes quite an impression on one's whole feelings. It was, then, in many ways a sad experience to leave college on our last day.

The Council's decision had two aims: one was to stop climbing activities, the other to stop us from entering college. The first was stillborn. The second posed some interesting problems. On one occasion, about a week late I went into college with Dave to remove the last of my belongings, when I was apprehended by an irate Tutor. The conversation went as follows:

Have you any permission to enter college?


Will you leave at once?


No, not by the back gate, I want the Porter to see you.

How thoughtful.

We made our way to the Porters lodge and the Tutor called on the porter. He then had a few words in the servant's ears and stood back. “Have you your Tutor's permission to enter college?” the porter said.

Ah,” I replied, “I have no Tutor.

They were both stunned to silence as I smiled and took my leave.

Our departure created a storm in college. There were noisy demonstrations in hall (students banging spoons on the tables), petitions, a boycott on lectures given by the Master, and an angry and rather intemperate article in a University magazine. Mick T. and Bob actually went so far as to write to the Minister of Education, asking for an enquiry into College discipline, and a question was asked in the Commons by Mr. Raphael Tuck, M.P. for Watford. All this fed the pressmen for days and days.

It is hard to assess our own personal feelings at the time, though we obviously felt bitter about the whole affair. Looking back I can even sympathise with the college for its trials at the time. It was sadly lacking a good public relations officer.