‘I drove the car into the fountain’: causing mayhem at Essex University, 1969

By Hannah Booth

Brian Caldwell on the sideshow he and his friends created during the university's ‘revolutionary festival'

Essex University had quite an anarchic reputation during the student unrest of the 1960s. It's partly what drew me to it. My English teacher at school suggested I might benefit from a less traditional university, and encouraged me to apply to one of the new ones. Essex had its first students in 1964 and was known for its innovative courses. I studied English and American literature – one of the few places that offered the course – joining in 1966.

In February 1969, it staged a “revolutionary festival”: students took over for three days, and held seminars and workshops on subjects including racism, capitalism, black power, imperialism and immigration. It doesn't sound very radical, but these were subversive topics back then. It was described at the time as “an experiment in revolutionary thought”, its aim “to turn the bourgeois concept of a university on its head”.

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Source: ‘I drove the car into the fountain’: causing mayhem at Essex University, 1969