What was everyone’s involvement with the Union?
We were a group of people who met at the Union. Some of us got involved pretty much from day one. As you can appreciate, music was very big in the seventies at the Union, with gigs including the Stones and The Who, although we were a few months too late for when The Who recorded the Live at Leeds album. I was backstage for Elton John a couple of times and for Paul McCartney. We were all involved one way or another; music was very important to the Union — the whole place revolved around it.
The other thing was Leeds Student [now The Gryphon], where I was News Editor for a while, and then Sports Editor later. Leeds Student kept winning the Student Newspaper of the Year award – with various famous alums. You’ve got Nick Witchell, the BBC’s Royal correspondent, Paul Vallely who has worked for The Independent and The Telegraph, and Ian Coxon, who for about 20 years edited the Sunday Times Good University Guide. A number of people I knew went on from the student newspaper to do journalism.
And then the third element was Union itself including student politics. I was Union Secretary and had a sabbatical year 1973-74. For example, Brian was Treasurer for a few months, Fiona was on Student Council. So there were all sorts of things going on. Some of us worked behind the bar as well, in senior student roles. Our life really revolved around the Union – that’s where you’d be on a Saturday night, and actually most nights of the week.
How different is the Union now to how you remember it?
The Union has obviously changed physically – although the front doors are still the same. And I’m sure the floor of the Refectory is what was there when we were students, but so much of the Union beyond that has changed. Old Bar was there, but it’s much bigger than it was.
And the student newspaper is called The Gryphon now.
In those days we used to sell the student newspaper, about two or three thousand copies a week at five or six old pence each. It was aimed at Beckett and the University, and Leeds Trinity too – that’s why it was called Leeds Student.
And how about an elected council? Now we have Exec Officers, who are elected by students.
We did have those. I was elected Student Secretary in 1973/74. It was a different system in those days – now I think they pay them – but we were technically postgraduate students. There was a President, two Vice Presidents, there was a Cultural Affairs Secretary, and a Treasurer.
Now, a lot of the election campaigns are social media led. How did the elections work when you ran?
Well in effect it was a bit like the elections for a local council. In most of the elections you weren’t allowed any paid materials – you couldn’t put any posters up, it was word of mouth. And you went to the ballot box and you were given a ballot form – a bit like when you vote in a general election. Leeds Student printed all the manifestos. Of course, social media really is a phenomenon from what? Mid nineties? But it’s the same in the sense that it’s all about the message. The thing that really has changed is the incredible speed with which you can get a message round using social media.