Awards & Honours

 

In July this year (2010), Billy was awarded an Honorary M.Ed Degree

of the University College Plymouth St Mark & St John

 

The invitation from the university college reads:

 

"Dear Mr Hopkins,

"The University College is empowered to confer honorary degrees upon persons who have achieved great distinction in their professional and personal lives and made outstanding contributions to the fabric of our society.

"My colleagues and I have considered a number of nominations and are unanimous in wishing to recognise your significant achievements by awarding you the Degree of Master of Education Honoris Causa. In particular the University College would wish to recognise your contributions to teaching and literature as a highly successful author and teacher having gained your teaching qualification at the College of St Mark and St John in Chelsea in 1947."

Previous recipients of honorary degrees from this University College have been:

Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu for his worldwide fame as opponent of apartheid and his invaluable work as Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa;

Sue Barker for her achievements as professional tennis-player and TV personality;

Peter Lord & David Sproxton as directors and producers of the enormously successful animated films, Wallace and Gromit. 

 

Graduation Ceremony

Receiving my Degree

 

Graduation Ceremony

Giving my speech to a happy audience

 

 

 

My wife Clara, Myself and my daughter Catherine

Graduation Ceremony

Signing the M.Ed Register

 

 

 

Speech Given by Wilfred Hopkins on Conferment of Honorary Degree

on July 16th, 2010

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Principal, Chair of University College Council, Lord Mayor, and Honoured Guests

 

Let me begin by saying how deeply honoured I feel to have been invited by the University College to receive this prestigious award.  As an old boy of Marjons I was also deeply moved.  Must admit though that my first reaction on receiving it was that there had been some kind of mix-up and the College had somehow confused me with my name-sake, Sir Anthony Hopkins, the famous Welsh film actor.  Then I saw the Marjon crest at the head of the letter and I knew there’d been no mistake and they really did mean me.

 

I said just now “old boy of Marjons” but perhaps the term “old” is something of an understatement. Maybe “Ancient” is a more appropriate epithet because on the way here I realised with a sense of profound shock that it was 65 years ago that I first came to Marjons as a callow seventeen-year old hoping to become a teacher.  The year was 1945; the Second World War had just ended and the college was just starting up again in Chelsea with about 150 students.

I don’t know how many of my particular year group are still surviving but in some ways I feel – with a sense of sadness - as if I am representing them here today.  Our first view of the college in 1945 was not encouraging; it was not a pretty sight. The place had fallen into disrepair during the war and was badly in need of a lick of paint. There was even a rumour that the basements had been used as a mortuary during the London blitz.  The dilapidated buildings were most unlike the magnificent campus you have here today in Plymouth.

 

Quite a few years ago now, I retired after a forty-five year career in Education half of which was spent teaching in secondary schools and teacher training in Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow.  The other half being spent in Africa – in boys’ secondary schools in Kenya, teacher education at the University College of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe of course) and finally at the University of Malaŵi.

 

On retirement I tried to occupy my time creatively by indulging in one or two disastrous hobbies, like wood-turning, dolls-house making and most disastrous of all, wine-making until my family fed up with the constant noise and mess suggested that I write my memoirs but for family consumption only.  I was about seventy years old by this time.

“Start with your childhood,” they said, “and describe what it was like growing up in a poor district of Manchester during the war until you finally went off to Marjons to train as a teacher.”

I did as suggested and a year later had produced about 150,000 words which I entitled OUR KID – a popular expression in the north of England.  I turned out a few copies which were read by friends and close relatives.  “Worth publishing,” they declared.  (Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?).  So urged on, I approached about 30 literary agents.  Six months later, the rejections began coming back thick and fast.  The replies were worth a book in themselves.  Here are one or two examples.

 

First one said "What s charming story! What a pity, you're not a little girl. Why not write it again and pretend that you are?"

Though I was keen to be published, I wasn’t prepared to change my sex for the privilege.  The second rejection said simply "You should try to write sideways." (Years later I am still trying to understand what this meant.  Only time I wrote sideways was when teaching in a tough school in Manchester and writing on the BB could be a hazardous experience.  Had to write sideways like this.  (Demonstrate).

And so the rejections continued. I was assured that any kind of comment from an agent was a bonus since most answered, if they answered at all, with a cryptic 'No thanks'.

One agent answered several months later: "Just found your manuscript which you sent me last year. It had fallen behind the radiator. What a pity as it has great potential and I'm sure I could have done something with it." Needless to say I rushed off a copy to her. I heard no more. 3 months later, I learned that she’d gone bust! I hoped I wasn't a contributory factor. But who knows, maybe she had a cornucopia of masterpieces hidden behind her radiator.

 

In the end I decided to publish the book myself. Had a couple of hundred paperbacks printed and advertised in a few magazines.  The books sold like the proverbial hot cakes.  Maybe the book has something, I thought. Perhaps the story strikes a chord or rings a bell or something.  Then much to my surprise the book was taken up by a London agent. Six weeks later “Our Kid” entered the Sunday Times best seller list at number 8.

Over the next ten years, I followed it up with six more books in the series.  Strange really, when you think about it. I set off to write my memoirs for the family and ended up writing something the length of the Forsyte Saga.  The second book in the series, by the way, entitled “High Hopes” is all about my time at Marjons and you may be entertained by some of my experiences – all true I hasten to add!

Our chief concern in those far-off days though was getting enough to eat (the whole country was on starvation rations) and staying warm (1947 was the coldest winter that century.  We had to do our study shivering ‘neath the blankets!). I must admit that at times a number of us were tempted to pack it all in and go home but when the Principal, Michael Roberts — a distinguished scholar and poet -- told us that the survival of Western civilisation was resting on our young shoulders, we thought we’d better stay and help civilisation out. 

 

And now you have reached the end of your own studies here at the University College and I congratulate you on your success and the hard work I know you must have put into them.  It is customary I suppose for someone like me at the opposite end of the educational spectrum to offer a word of advice to young people like yourselves about to embark on your professional careers.  Not sure I am qualified to do so as the educational world has changed - and is continuing to change at breath-taking speed every day.  I would simply leave you with this thought:  Your degree is only the beginning.  The real learning process begins as it were at the coal face when you take up your first appointment.  And you never know where or how far that is going to take you. (Would be interesting to know what you’ll all be doing 30 years from now.  Perhaps you could drop me a line and tell me but don’t expect a quick reply as I shall be 112 by then.)

 

I wish you every success in your career and, in conclusion, may I say only this: if you derive as much happiness as I have enjoyed from my own career of teaching, then you have a wonderful, exciting and fulfilling life ahead of you. I envy you in so many ways and only wish I could have my career all over again.

Thank you once again for inviting me and offering me this honorary degree which I am more than happy to accept.

 

Wilfred Hopkins (a.k.a. Billy), July 16th, 2010

 

 

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The Society of Medical Writers* has awarded Billy the prestigious Gustave Plaut Medal “in commemoration of a man who brought distinction upon our Society by his membership.  Also for his substantial and sustained contributions to literature as a member of the Society over a significant period.”

Billy was General Factotum of The Society for twelve years.  Below is a picture of Billy at the Winchester Meeting of the Society receiving the award from the President, Professor Brian McGuinness.

 

 

The Gustav Plaut Medal presented by

the President of the SOMW, Professor Brian McGuinness

September 2006

 

The Gustav Plaut Medal

 

And the Certificate

 

 

 

* The Society consists of around 250 doctors who write not only for the medical press but also for a wide variety of publications of general interest, including articles, novels, and poetry.

 

 

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