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Some remarkable Balliol alumni

Selection is not easy - it is a remarkable fact that about 1% of all those who appear in the British Dictionary of National Biography were Balliol-bred. And it is worth reflecting on Ecclesiasticus ch. 44, vv. 1-15, the traditional reading at Balliol Gaudies. It is a resonant passage, which begins

"Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us",

and waxes lyrical about various categories of greatness, before pointing out

"And some there be, which have no memorial, who are perished as though they had not been, and become as though they had not been born: …….. But these were men of mercy, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten".

A few of these may not be known to everybody, and some may be thought eccentric choices, to which my response is that I think they deserve to be more widely known; there are many more contenders.

People who joined the College in a senior capacity after establishing their reputations (e.g. Robert Browning the Poet, and the many distinguished Eastman Visiting Professorial Fellows such as the double Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling and Felix Frankfurter of the US Supreme Court) are all excluded.

The list is thin for the College's first 500 years mainly because the College was much smaller than at present for much of that period. Also, our knowledge of the membership before around 1630 is incomplete, and suggestions that, e.g., Sir Thomas More (executed 1535) and Humphrey Duke of Gloucester (d.1447) were Balliol students in their time, cannot, frustratingly, be documented.

The range of distinction produced by post-Jowett (i.e. 20th century) Balliol has if anything exceeded its previous record. Leaders of religion once more - Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie, Shogi Effendi, Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, Cardinal Heard and Archbishop William Temple; statesmen too - Lord Beveridge, Sir Edward Heath KG, Lord Roy Jenkins, Sir Seretse Khama, Harold Macmillan, Vincent Massey, Viscount Samuel; writers - Robertson Davies, Graham Greene, Aldous Huxley, Anthony Powell, Nevil Shute; creative artists in other media - John Schlesinger in film and Laurence Whistler on glass; sportsmen - the Nawab of Pataudi and his son `Tiger', both famous Captains of India at cricket, and Richard Sharp, Captain of England at rugby in the year he took his degree; Nobel Laureates - Baruch S. Blumberg (at Balliol as a graduate student 1955-7; Master 1989-1994), and Sir Cyril Hinshelwood; a modern martyr, Adam von Trott, executed for his part in the abortive attempt to kill Hitler in 1944; HM King Olav of Norway and HM King Harald his son; many Law Lords, Cabinet Ministers and Ambassadors; and Fellows of the Royal Society and of the British Academy beyond number.

It may strike anyone unfamiliar with the College's long history that it is extraordinary that no women are listed. Although founded by a great lady of her time, Dervorguilla of Galloway, Lady of Balliol, women were not admitted until 1979, and so almost all the Balliol-educated women there have ever been are happily still alive and not yet eligible for these lists.

For the period 1860-1960, anyone wanting to dig deeper in the lucky dip of Balliol talent might find HB Hartley's Balliol Men (1963) interesting, but Hartley is unselective and his choices are all rather stuffy.

Follow the links below for:

N.B. The alumni listed on these pages are no longer living. Current remarkable Balliol alumni can keep in touch with the College and each other via the Old Members' website.

- John Jones

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Updated 10.iv.18
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