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Life at Cambridge in 1957

Dr Christopher Hall (1957) reflects on his time at Pembroke and remembers some of the famous faces from his year group.

Chris Adams cutting the ribbon at the opening of the Chris Adams House on Pembroke Street

It was only twelve years after the end of the war and life was very different then from what it is now.

I remember how cold it was with only a small gas fire in my room, which I shared with Chris Adams (1957) as we were both medical students.

We had supervision from Vernon Pennell, Senior Surgeon at Addenbrooke’s, who taught us anatomy in the room above the Porter’s Lodge. We were all pretty dunderheaded and Vernon Pennell would get exasperated with us and would say the policemen on point duty outside Pembroke could answer questions such as ‘What are the relations of the tongue?’ We all sat in embarrassed silence and he would say, “The palate, you fool, and the teeth.”

It was before the time of the transistor radio and I had no radio or TV or gramophone to distract me. Some students, especially those who had come out of the Army, were worldly-wise and brought in the latest hi-fi record player, I think it was called the black box. So for entertainment after dinner in the Hall, we would retire to somebody’s room and talk until late in the night because we had no other distraction apart from work.

I rowed in my first term and played rugby in the spring term until the pitches got frozen, and then I played hockey.

Winters seemed much colder in those days. I remember waiting for the thick frost to come when the fens froze and we could go ice-skating. I had a pair of ice skates and we seemed to manage it every year. Also I was a keen follower of the Trinity Foot Beagles, not that I approved of hare coursing, but it was a wonderful way to see the country. One of the Fellows, I can’t remember who it was, was keen and used to take us out in their car. This taught us to appreciate the countryside around Cambridge, and it kept us fit by running. I don’t think they ever caught any hares.


Peter Cook

The summer term was pure heaven. All medical students had to do this extra term in the long vacation to complete their medical training, with long summer days, dissection and then an evening by the river, perhaps, or playing bridge and eating cherries, with Rev. Dewey, who was the Dean, until the early hours. I also served for the Dean in Chapel and at Little St Mary’s, and I sang in the Pembroke Choir.

Pembroke had an active theatre group which performed in the old Reader (now part of the Library) and Peter Cook (1957) was prominent in that. In Hall at dinner time he would sit beside me and carry on as if he were having a Peter and Dud conversation. We perhaps didn’t realise what was to come and that he was about to hit the headlines with Beyond the Fringe and other satirical programmes. These had probably been hatched in the famous Pembroke Smoking Concerts.

I knew Ray Dolby (1957), who in a similar way to Peter Cook would meet in Hall for dinner and talk. Again I had no idea he was to become world-famous. Pembroke was obviously a melting-pot of ideas and talent.

One doesn’t necessarily realise the influence it has on you at the time.

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