May 68 - 50 years on

A 30 year reunion was held on Saturday, 24th October 1998 for those who were at Essex University during the Academic Years 1967/8 and 1968/9, and who considered it to have been a positive experience worth celebrating. Over 120 people came and shared a wonderful, memorable evening. Friendships were renewed.

Jack Straw quote

Lives remembered - Ken Montague

From Chris Ratcliffe

From the notes I made for Ken’s memorial

Ken and I started at Essex University at the same time, October 1966. It was an exciting time to be a student and so much happened during our few years at Essex, culminating in our setting up our own free university.

Ken Mont ague and Chris Ratcliffe

During that time, Ken was one of my closest friends. We did so much together. Much of it lost in the mists of time, demos, meetings and lots of hanging out, young men in our early 20s. So many hours spent trying to make sense of life and the universe. We even did the occasional DJ double act at the Sunday evening discos.

One of the first activities I remember being involved in was an Arts Festival which Ken was organising. I love the arts and literature but at that time Ken was way ahead of me, so I was a very willing volunteer. I’d never heard of an Arts festival. 30 years later I would be helping to organise one in Hebden Bridge, where I live. I don’t remember much of Ken’s Festival except trailing around Colchester looking for poet Tom Raworth’s house.

Another memory. We were in the TV room - yes, one TV for the whole university - watching very exciting events unfold in Paris. It was May 1968. People were talking of going to join in. Ken said to me, “If you don’t go you will regret it for the rest of your life.” He was right. His saying that made up my mind.

One of the most exciting things we did together was create one of the first ever alternative student papers, Ginger. By 1968, new kinds of printing had recently made such things possible.

So we created Ginger to represent the growing alternative voice at Essex. I can remember we often spent 12 hours at a stretch, laying it out, often competing with each other to see who could get the neatest Letrasetted headlines, setting them in place with cow gum

To pay for it, we walked into Colchester, walked round a few shops and within a morning had more than enough in advertising for the first issue. We had to design some of the ads as well. On one, Ken wrote a little piece of verse. The trader was so impressed he used it on his other ads.

The first issue came out just before Enoch Powell came to try and talk at the university, just after his River of Blood speech, and we had a scoop for the first issue, a bomb scare.

The next year, late 1969, Ken stood for election to be Editor of Wyvern, the main student paper. In his campaign leaflet, we wrote:

"Remember GINGER ‘?
* GINGER was seized by Colchester, Clacton and Chelmsford police.
* GINGER was sent to the Home Office for "pornography".
* GINGER was mentioned in the House of Commons for being "seditious".
* GINGER was "the most exciting and original, but unfortunately the most shocking magazine produced at Essex. " — Keith Ives, 1967

He was elected. By this time I was banned from the campus so I was given the job of Consultant Editor. We got ourselves taken on by the layout firm at £1 each an hour so we could have total control of the look. We transformed the student paper from a dull black and white broadsheet into a full colour smaller sized paper reflecting the political zeitgeist of the time

Sadly, except for meeting up again at the reunion in 1998, I lost touch with Ken. We had a flurry of emails in the 1990s and early noughties, both saying “We must meet up”. But somehow life got in the way and now I really really regret it.

Finally, students would often say to me, You were so luck to have been around in the 60s. Yes, I was. But the 60s didn’t just happen. People like Ken Montague and the rest of us went out and made it happen.

Vietnam demo