A whale of a time at University

CLARE DOVER former medical correspondent of the Daily Express, remembers the days before she entered the Black Lubjanka

Liverpool University was an excellent training ground for Fleet Street. There was a wonderful streak of silliness in the chemistry department.

We got rapidly bored with spending Tuesday afternoons doing recipe chemistry – drawing small amounts of that week’s chemicals from the stores and using them to produce whatever crystal was required. So we had a whip round to go to chemicals supplier Oakes Eddon round the corner to buy enough crystals for all of us, and sloped off to the cinema. The film was Moby Dick.


In honour of this splendid film, we formed the Whaling Society, subscription three ha’pence, and kept up the grand tradition of sloping off on Tuesdays, apart from when Oakes Eddon could not come up with the goodies. Then, one person would be left behind to produce industrial amounts of whatever chemical was required. This was dodgy work as some of them were highly explosive.

Non chemists queued up to join Liverpool University Whaling Society because three ha’pence was such a silly amount.

One chap, whose father was a tie manufacturer, produced a wonderful tie with a lumpy cross-eyed whale swimming through a shield and the letters LUWS (Liverpool University Whaling Society) and another dad, who was a card manufacturer, produced a Christmas card with the same logo and the address of the students union inside. These spoofs sold like hot cakes, and we sent the left-over cards to dignitaries at universities all over the world, including Harvard etc.

When I joined the Express I encountered Peter Grosvenor's dog, Blackie, followed on all fours by a couple of barking Hickeys. Definitely the right place

Letters started to arrive from earnest Americans congratulating us on trying to save the whale, asking exactly what we were doing, could they join in and could we go international? Aagh. It was time to disband. The President, a chap called Melvin, took the Lady President cum Hon Treasurer (me) out for a Chinese dinner, duly paid for in pennies and halfpennies. We continued to keep up the aims of the society in sloping off. So you see, Lord Drone, we were pioneers in the noble art.


The laboratory’s 95 (95% alcohol, 5% water) was the basis of strange home made liqueurs known as Cistercian (Benedictine failed). A few pints of 95, some water and orange juice, made our fruit punch parties memorable (provided you didn’t drink too much of the stuff).

Tutorials were held in pubs by our splendid tutor Dr Dean, who posted them on the wall under the title BEER AND BUNS. We would tick if we were coming and also tick the column DON’T EAT BUNS. Chemistry was never mentioned once at these tutorials, that is if we could find Dr Dean, who was always in the wrong pub.

Thank you, folks. I felt truly at home when I joined the Daily Express. On my first afternoon, I encountered Peter Grosvenor’s dog Blackie being followed on all fours by a couple of barking Hickeys. The sound of a clarinet drifted from a room. Definitely the right place.


© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre