Memories of the 1973 graduation ceremony presided over by Prince Philip

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Following the death of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in April, we look back to the 1973 graduation ceremony in Paisley and ask staff and alumni of their memories of the day when Prince Philip conferred degrees.

HRH Prince Philip delivering the address at the 1973 graduation in Paisley

By 1973, the then Paisley College of Technology, now University of the West of Scotland (UWS), had outgrown the Brough (Chancellor’s) Hall on Paisley Campus as a venue for its graduation ceremonies and so the fifth graduation ceremony took place for the first time outside the campus in Paisley Town Hall.

Tuesday 10 July 1973 was a day of many firsts for the institution: the first time in which a graduation ceremony had taken place outside of the Paisley Campus; the first time anyone other than the Principal had carried out the capping and delivered the address; and the first time Prince Philip had carried out his duties in Scotland as the first President of the CNAA.

The Duke of Edinburgh ‘Capped’ 171 graduates from the 3 schools at the time: the School of Science; the School of Engineering; and the School of Social, Planning & Management Sciences.

Frank Montgomery who graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Civil Engineering that day commented: “I certainly remember the graduation ceremony. By chance, my father’s second cousin from Boston, Massachusetts, was our house guest at the time and came to the ceremony. She was of course even more impressed to see Prince Philip than we were!”

Frank Montgomery receiving his award in 1973 with Thomas Boa (top) and George Walker waiting to be capped

“I don’t recall any large crowds outside, in fact there was hardly any security at all in those days. It was the days before email and social networks, so I don’t think the general public would have been aware that the Duke was present.”

Recalling his brief experience with a member of the Royal Family, David Picken who graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Electronics in July 1973 commented: “My closest encounter with Prince Philip was the brief capping moment. There was no hand shaking or small talk as far as I can remember. After the ceremony we went as a family to a restaurant called Centurion in Paisley at the top of New Street.”

1973 graduation ticket

I remember the event as a happy occasion.

Professor Iain Macleod

Staff of course, would have had slightly more interaction with the HRH Prince Philip as Professor Iain MacLeod, former Head of Department of Civil Engineering, recalls: “That was my first graduation at Paisley. There was a reception after the ceremony and the Chairman of the Board of Governors, Robin Elles of J & P Coats, called on people to be introduced to the Duke. He waved at me to come forward so I was introduced as the newly appointed Head of Civil Engineering recruited from Glasgow University.  Being a bit of republican, I was expecting to be unimpressed but we had a lively chat. He was well informed about the universities in Glasgow and we joked that since there was a University of Strathclyde maybe the University of Glasgow should become the University of Strathkelvin.  My wife said to me ‘Trust you, who normally scoff about the Royal Family, to get on well with the Duke.’ I remember the event as a happy occasion.”

From the time of its inception the College was recognised as providing courses for external degrees of the University of London and this policy continued until 1966 when a relationship was established with the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) under whose auspices degrees were then awarded until 1993. The CNAA was an autonomous body established by the royal charter in 1964 to and empowered to award Degrees, Diplomas, Certificates and other academic awards.

1973 stage layout

The graduation ceremony commenced with a procession from the cloisters at Paisley Abbey to the adjacent Town Hall followed by processions in to the main hall where graduands and guests were seated. Principal Tom Howie was joined on the stage with, amongst others, HRH the Prince Philip, Vice-Principal Tom Gaskell, College Secretary John Oswald, Chairman of the Board of Governors Robin Elles, and Chief Officer of CNAA (and former College Principal) Dr Edwin Kerr.

Music is an important part of all graduation ceremonies and for this occasion a Hammond RT3 was installed next to the platform in the Town Hall and played by George McPhee Organist and Choirmaster at Paisley Abbey.

Graduation ceremonies continued to take place in the Town Hall until 1992 when, in April, the Queen signed legislation for Paisley College to become one of the ‘new’ universities. From summer 1992 the College had the right to call itself the University of Paisley and a new venue was found for graduations – the Thomas Coats Memorial Church.

If you have any memories of the graduation ceremony please get in touch.

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