I had arrived there after teaching at 'plate glass' (Lancaster) and 'red brick' (Manchester) universities, having previously acquired a 'red brick' BA and a 'plate glass' PhD. Such qualifications were not, however, enough for me to be allowed to supervise graduate students in as hallowed a place as Oxford. For that, I also had to acquire a locally awarded 'MA'.
For graduates of Oxford University, the normal route is pretty straightforward: all you have to do after your first degree is not to take any more exams, wait around for a few years and pay a fee for your BA to be automatically 'upgraded' to an MA.
For the rest of us to be allowed anywhere near a graduate student, we first had to be elevated to 'MA Status', achieved by the even simpler procedure of signing a form, returning it to the university offices and paying nothing at all.
MA Status, Oxford?
The year before this happened to me, my name in the College Record was followed by 'BA Reading, PhD, Essex'. The following year, the actual degrees were relegated to their proper place, i.e. in brackets after the more important news: 'MA Status (BA, Reading, PhD, Essex)'.
In the latest College Record, the brackets after names are still there, but 'MA Status' has been replaced by 'MA' - thereby implying that the person in question had been a proper Oxford graduate all along and in the first place, even if s/he had had to spend a few years somewhere else to pick up another degree or two.
One name on the current list caught my attention as something that might amuse (or annoy) American readers and/or graduates of Cambridge (England), followed as it is by: 'MA (BA Harvard, MSA George Washington, PhD Cambridge)'.
Q: What to wear for tea on an Oxford college lawn?
Nor was the elevation of fake local 'degrees' above proper degrees from other places the only evidence of Oxford asserting itself. 'MA Status' also entitled you to wear proper dress for formal dinners and other official occasions (i.e. an Oxford MA gown and hood - top right).
Each year, those of us blessed with 'MA Satus' would also get a luxurious-looking invitation, edged in gold leaf, to Encaenia (the honorary degree ceremony), followed by tea and strawberries on the Vice-Chancellor's college lawn.
At the bottom there was another invitation inviting you to turn over the page - where there was a reassuring message that, if my memory serves me correctly, went as follows:
'Graduates of universities other than Oxford and Cambridge may like to know that, on this occasion, they are permitted to wear the academic robes of their originating institutions.'
A: Robes by Essex man
So one year, mainly for my own amusement and education (as I'd never seen them before then), I went to the expense of hiring Essex PhD robes (above left) - designed in the 1960s by Hardy Amies, a local Essex boy who'd become dress-designer to the Queen.
That, you might think, should impress the locals with a real touch of class - except that I'm pretty sure it didn't...