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Sanjeev Bhaskar leads the cheers at graduation

"I'm honoured, I'm privileged, I'm thrilled and I'm petrified", said writer and actor Sanjeev Bhaskar OBE as he donned his Chancellor's ceremonial robes for the first time at the University of Sussex's summer graduation ceremonies this year.

The opening ceremony on 22 July began with his official installation by the University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Farthing, which included a video montage of some of Mr Bhaskar's television successes, such as 'Goodness Gracious Me' and 'The Kumars at No. 42'.

In an acceptance speech that raised as much laughter as it did applause, Mr Bhaskar praised not only the families of the graduating students for their continued support, but his own parents and brother-in-law, who supported him throughout his career and attended the first ceremony. He outlined his own turbulent time in academia, the lows of being a struggling actor/writer and the highs of an internationally successful television career.

As its figurehead, the Chancellor plays a leading role in the life of the University, most prominently as the person who confers degrees on students at the summer and winter graduation ceremonies. This year Mr Bhaskar conferred degrees on more than 2,000 graduands during the course of five summer ceremonies.

The Chancellor is also the chair of Court, which meets once a year to receive a report on the University's activities, and works closely with the University in its external engagement with the wider world of business and the community.  

Mr Bhaskar is only the fifth Chancellor since Sussex's inception in 1961. He follows on from Lord (Richard) Attenborough and noted in his speech that all of his predecessors had become Peers. He said, to much amusement: "Lord Bhaskar has a nice ring to it, as does 'get off my land', 'fetch me my slippers' and 'milk and two sugars if you're making one anyway your majesty'".

Mr Bhaskar's first duty was to confer an honorary degree on his mentor and friend Anil Gupta, producer of the BBC TV series 'Kumars at No 42' and 'The Office'.

Also receiving honorary degrees this year were:

  • His Excellency Mr Festus Gontebanye Mogae NYB, MCC, PH, MP, former President of Botswana, who is made Doctor of Letters (22 July)
  • Professor Adetokunbo O. Lucas, OFR, international health specialist, who will be made Doctor of Medicine (23 July)
  • Phyllida Stewart-Roberts CVO OBE, Lord Lieutenant of Sussex (2000-2008) who will be made Doctor of the University (23 July).
  • The Honorable Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland (1990-1997), who will be made Doctor of Laws (24 July).
  • Rt Hon The Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond, PC, DBE, the UK's first woman Lord of Appeal, who will be made Doctor of Laws (24 July)
  • Sir Michael Holroyd, CBE,  biographer and author, who will be made Doctor of Letters (24 July).

Among the students celebrating their successes this year were those who overcame difficulties and challenges to complete their degrees, and many of them excelled in their subject areas.  Here are some of their stories:

 Obi sets his sights higher

Peter joins international study to look at distant galaxies

Susie discovers the secret of the eternal yew

Nikki's musical career takes a new direction


Graduating alongside Sussex students on Thursday (23 July) for the first time were medical students from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS).

Elaine invests in medicine

Chris transfers his army skills to medical practice

Matthew's travels brought him to medical school

From dispensing to prescribing for former pharmacist Ian



Honorary biographies

Anil Gupta

Anil Gupta is a comedy writer and producer. He has produced many shows on radio and television, including Goodness Gracious Me, The Kumars at No. 42 (which both featured Sanjeev Bhaskar), The Office and Bromwell High. He won BAFTA awards in 2002 and 2003 for his work on The Office.

Mr Bhaskar, who presents the honour to Mr Gupta, says: "It was Anil Gupta and the fortuitous flip of a coin that first brought me into my current profession.  Anil and writer Sharat Sardana came to see a comedy show I was performing in at  a small studio venue in South London, where Anil told me of his plans for an Asian sketch show. Anil and Sharat flipped a coin as to whether to go and see my comedy show or head off to the pub. I guess I got lucky.  They went to the pub afterwards anyway."

 Festus Mogae

Born in Botswana in 1939, His Excellency gained a BA in Economics at University College, Oxford, and an MA in Development Economics at the University of Sussex in 1970. Following a number of distinguished roles in the Government of Botswana, including as the Governor of the Bank of Botswana, and as Minister of Finance and Development Planning, His Excellency was elected as the Third President of the Republic of Botswana in 1998, stepping down ten years later. He has received many prestigious international awards, including the Legion d'Honneur Grand Croix of the Republic of France, and the Mo Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership.

 Professor Adetokunbo O. Lucas

International health specialist Adetokunbo O. Lucas was born in Lagos, Nigeria. Having received medical degrees from the Universities of Durham, Newcastle, Belfast and Harvard, a distinguished international career followed. Professor Lucas's greatest challenge and success was establishing the World Health Organization's Special Program for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases. Under his ten-year directorship, the programme awarded 2,400 grants in 100 countries, spawning the development of new products, some of which are being applied successfully to combat leprosy, onchocerciasis, and other tropical diseases. Professor Lucas has been awarded many academic honours, including the Harvard Medal and the Honorary Fellowship of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He is currently the Adjunct Professor of International Health at Harvard University.

 Phyllida Stewart-Roberts

Phyllida Stewart-Roberts has had a long and distinguished career spent almost entirely in the voluntary sector. Having been a member of St John Ambulance in Sussex since 1962, she was appointed national Superintendent-in-Chief, and from 1991 to 2001 chaired the Joint Committee of St John and the British Red Cross, a body established after World War I to provide relief to wounded servicemen. In 1991, Phyllida was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of East Sussex, and in 1996 as Vice-Lord Lieutenant. From 2000 to 2008 she served as Lord Lieutenant of the County of Sussex, which includes the City of Brighton & Hove. She was also a member of the Governing Council at the University of Sussex between 1995 and 2001.


Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson is the President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative. She served as President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. She is a member of the Elders. She is co-founder and former Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders and Vice- President of the Club of Madrid. She chairs the Fund for Global Human Rights and is Honorary President of Oxfam International and is Patron of the International Community of Women Living with AIDS (ICW). She is Chair of the GAVI Alliance. She is President of the International Commission of Jurists. She is a professor of practice at Columbia University and member of the Advisory Board of the Earth Institute and Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. She serves as Chancellor of Dublin University.


Baroness Brenda Hale

Brenda Hale became the UK's first woman Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in January 2004, following a varied career as an academic lawyer, law reformer, and judge. After graduating from Girton College, Cambridge, she taught Law at Manchester University while practicing at the Manchester Bar, specialising in Family and Social Welfare Law. She was the first woman appointed to the Law Commission, in 1984, and the work of her team led to the Children Act 1989, the Family Law Act 1996, and the Mental Capacity Act 2005. She became a High Court judge in 1994, a Court of Appeal judge in 1999, and a Law Lord in 2004. She is Chancellor of the University of Bristol, and holds several honorary degrees. She takes a keen interest in equality and diversity issues, and is President of the UK Association of Women Judges, and President-elect of the International Association of Women Judges.


Sir Michael Holroyd

Biographer and author Michael Holroyd was born in London in 1935. Following an education at Eton College and the Maidenhead Public Library, he published his first book, a biography of the writer Hugh Kingsmill, in 1964. Critically acclaimed multiple-volume biographies of Lytton Strachey, George Bernard Shaw and Augustus John followed, each taking many years to produce. He served as Chairman of the Society of Authors in 1973-4, and President of English PEN 1985-8. He was a member of the Arts Council in 1992-5, and has been president of the Royal Society of Literature since 2003. He was awarded the British Literature Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2005, and was knighted in the New Year Honours list in 2007.

By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Wednesday, 29 July 2009