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Graduation ceremony delayed - by 35 years

Waiting in line at a graduation ceremony is usually a matter of five minutes on a podium. But for one group of students, the wait lasted somewhat longer, writes the BBC's Bob Walker.

Graduates on Graduation Day
Lanchester Polytechnic's class of '74 were denied their graduation moment

In November 1974, IRA bombs ripped apart two pubs in Birmingham, killing 21 people and maiming scores of others.

Amid fears that public gatherings were potential targets, Lanchester Polytechnic, now Coventry University, cancelled the graduation ceremony due to take place just a week later in the city's cathedral.

As a result, around 700 students were denied what should have been their proudest day.

Now, the class of '74 are finally being given their turn in the spotlight - only 35 years after they sat their final exams.

'Bitter disappointment'

Last year's graduation ceremony at Coventry proved to be a bitter sweet occasion for one alumnus.

Robert Leek studied Business Law at Lanchester in the 70s. He watched his son graduate last year and wrote to the university saying how glad he was to have finally attended a graduation ceremony at Coventry Cathedral.

"To my bitter disappointment the graduation ceremony (in 1974) was cancelled due to the terrorist pub bombings in Birmingham," he wrote.

"I was denied my proud day in Coventry Cathedral. It was a day which my family and I had so looked forward to for five years."

Geoff Upex now (l) and in 1974 (r)
Life has changed considerably for Geoff Upex since his university days

As a result of the letter, the university decided that better late than never, they would hold the ceremony.

More than 120 former students will be attending, among them Geoff Upex who, after spending a career in the motor industry, is now a lecturer himself at Coventry University.

Sitting in the Students' Union building on campus he remembers the 70s as a time of industrial strife but also one of hope.

"I left college believing I could change the world, that may sound clichéd but it's true," he says.

Ding a Ling

The students' union is just about recognisable as the dark cave where Geoff and his mates used to spend much of their time drinking Newcastle Brown Ale and listening to prog rock.

While they may have missed out on the robes and mortar board, some of those who graduated in 1974 have an unusual claim to fame.

Two years earlier at the Lanchester arts festival, the legendary guitarist Chuck Berry recorded a novelty song in front of an audience of students who sang along with the chorus.

My Ding a Ling went on to top the charts for four weeks.

His performance was so popular that his encores delayed the appearance of the next band - Pink Floyd.

Birmingham bomb blast 1974 - Scene of the devastation after IRA attack
IRA bombings in Birmingham destroyed two pubs in 1974

Over 35 years the institution that was once Lanchester Poly has changed out of all recognition. This year around 6,000 students will graduate from Coventry University.

But in many respects, says Geoff, it's a case of plus ca change.

"It was quite a weird time," he says.

"In 1974 there was a three day week, it was the second year of the stock market crash all around the world and the price of oil went up four fold overnight and we were being bombed by the IRA.

"So if you think now is bad - things are never quite as bad as they seem."

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