English professor meets his ‘maker’ at gold medal ceremony

In a bizarre example of life imitating art, novelist Ian McEwan was presented this month with a University of Sussex gold medal by a member of faculty whom he feels he ‘created’.

The Booker Prize-winning author received the award from Professor Tom Healy, Head of the School of English, for his global contribution to literature at the 50th-anniversary commemoration dinner on 16 July at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

As McEwan revealed in his acceptance speech, his latest novel Sweet Tooth contains a character who is a Sussex English professor specialising in the works of Edmund Spenser and whom he had originally named, by chance, Tom Healy.

“When my publisher found out that there actually was a professor at Sussex in renaissance literature called Tom Healy, we had to pulp 500 copies of a proof edition and replace the name with Tom Haley,” McEwan said. “‘But the real Tom Healy tells me now that he would have been delighted to see his name in the book.”

However, McEwan doubted that Professor Healy would really have enjoyed sharing the life of his character and “having his sex life opened up”. He put the coincidence down to “the intellectual mischief that embodies Sussex”.

Three other gold medals were also presented at the ceremony, whose audience included broadcaster and author Melvyn Bragg and the chief executive of Bloomsbury Publishing, Nigel Newton.

Turner Prize-winning artist and Sussex alumnus Jeremy Deller was given the honour by his former MA supervisor, the curator and art historian Professor David Alan Mellor. Deller, who will represent the UK in the 2013 Venice Biennale, said: “David really inspired me. He sparked off a lot of ideas in me.”

Former President of Botswana and Sussex alumnus Festus Mogae was presented with his medal by Professor Richard Black, Head of the School of Global Studies.

The distinguished historian and former Sussex Vice-Chancellor Lord (Asa) Briggs was unable to attend the ceremony due to ill health. His wife Lady Briggs accepted his medal on his behalf from the current Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Farthing.

Three further medals, which were designed by architect Anthony Blee and crafted by Spink, are being awarded to Nobel Prize-winners Sir Harry Kroto, Sir Paul Nurse and Sir Anthony Leggett – all of whom carried out ground-breaking research during their academic careers at Sussex.

Professor Emeritus Margaret Boden OBE, a world authority in artificial intelligence and creativity, completes a prestigious list of gold-medal recipients.