Think of a Rector: Johnny Ball

As Johnny Ball makes an early exit as a contestant on the BBC’s flagship show Strictly Come Dancing, it is an opportune time to consider his longer tenure as Rector at the University. During the early nineties, the University consisted of a student body who nostalgically remembered his educational programmes from their childhoods such as Think of a Number, so he was a popular choice for the role of Rector.

In March 1993, with a majority of almost a thousand votes, Ball managed to defeat the widest field of candidates that has ever been contested. His main rivals included Liz Lochhead, the poet and present Scots Makar; Pam St Clement, the actress best known for playing Pat Butcher in Eastenders, and Helena Kennedy QC, now Baroness Kennedy. Other candidates also included a member of the Scottish Monster Raving Loony Party and two recent graduates from the University.

Johnny Ball rectorial election pamphlet

Archive Services holds a pamphlet from the Ball campaign that promotes him as a ‘working’ rector and an independent candidate who would represent all students equally. His Scottish ties also given prominence – it is pointed out that Ball’s mother was born in Govan and he wishes to maintain ‘the Scottishness of Glasgow University’. The more practical aims of Rectorship were to decrease class sizes and improve student accommodation.

Johnny Ball proved to be an enthusiastic and committed Rector. The rectorial correspondence held by the Archive Services demonstrate that he was interested in all aspects of the role and dutifully attended official proceedings on campus. He threw his weight behind the Faculty of Science’s Centenary Celebration in 1993.

Other correspondence also shows that Ball was disappointed not to become only the second Rector to be re-elected for a second term. In a letter to Student Representative Council dated April 24th 1996, he expresses his dashed hopes but thanks the University for ‘such a happy three years’. He was given an honorary DSc by the University in 1997.

Keir Harper (Club 21 volunteer)

Categories: Archive Services

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