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  • 30 August 2006

When Sussex was Martha Kearney's playground

Martha Kearney with her father, Hugh, a former professor of history at the University of Sussex.

Martha Kearney with her father, Hugh, a former professor of history at the University of Sussex.

Martha Kearney, presenter of BBC's Newsnight and Woman's Hour, revisits her childhood memories of the University of Sussex this week for a major BBC Radio Four series charting the post-war history of higher education.

Ms Kearney, whose father Professor Hugh Kearney was one of the first academics to join the University in 1962, presents the second programme in the series, The Idea of a University, which is broadcast at 9.00am and 9.30pm on 31 August, 2006.

Recorded on campus, Ms Kearney reminisces with her father about the development of the Basil Spence buildings, including Falmer House where she used to play as a child, and the temporary hut where her father taught before the arts faculty buildings were completed. She and her family lived in nearby Ditchling from 1962 until 1970.

"I have such happy memories of the campus and Falmer," says Ms Kearney in an interview with The Argus (27 August). "It was a building site then and wellies were mandatory. Initially, Dad taught in a Nissen hut but, later, he moved into the School of European Studies and my brothers and I used to chuck pebbles into a lovely fountain outside. To us it was like a giant playground."

The programme also features one of the University's founding-fathers and former vice-chancellor, Lord Briggs, who talks about the vision and ethos of the University in its early days.

And some of the first cohort of 52 students remember their first impressions of the nascent campus, including Carol Kedward, now head of the department of social work at Sussex, and Adrian Mugridge, who was the first president of the students' union.

Producer Phil Tinline says: "Each programme concentrates on a major innovation in British universities in order to tell the story of Britain's journey from an elite higher education system to a mass system.

"The second programme looks at the creation of new universities in the 1960s, the first and most prominent being Sussex, and at the impact of the Robbins Report of 1963, which recommended a major expansion of higher education."

The new universities were very focused on the future - shaping people who would be flexible enough to go out into the world and deal with rapid change.

But the programme also examines the opposition to expansion and how some of the founding ideas of the new universities contributed to the student unrest at the end of the 1960s.

Notes for editors

The Idea of a University, is on BBC Radio Four, 9am and 9.30pn on 31 August 2006


University of Sussex press office contacts: Jacqui Bealing or  Jessie Mangold, tel: 01273 678888, email:




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