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Mary in a white flowy dress as one of the Chorus members of the Greek play Medea. ;

We Met At King's - Mary and Philip

Mary (née Russell) and Philip Morton were both Classics students and met on their first day of term in 1974. With a relatively small department and an enthusiastic (if compulsory) group participation in the legendary Greek play, they soon got to know each other. They married soon after graduation and have been together ever since. We spoke to Mary and Philip about their experience at King’s in the 1970s and what they have gone on to do after graduation.

Why did you choose to study at King’s?

Mary: I grew up in Birmingham and attended St Paul’s convent school in Edgbaston. I was very taken with Latin right from my first lesson, hence my decision to study Classics at university. I was the last student at my school to study Latin and Greek. My teachers recommended the course at King’s because the department had relatively young staff – and it was known for the Greek play. I was interviewed by the Professor of Latin, Alan Cameron. After my interview, he showed me the sneaky way of leaving the rabbit warren which was the Classics department by using the fire-escape stairs down to the disused tube station at Aldwych (Strand). There was a newsagent’s kiosk down there, too, which was a very useful source of crisps and chocolate bars for members of the Classics department during my time.

Philip: I didn’t so much choose to study at King’s as it chose me. In late August 1974, having failed to land a place to study Law, I was trying via Clearing to find somewhere that would offer me a place to study Classics, which in any case appealed rather more than Law. I had been the only one in my school year doing all three Classics A-Levels: Latin, Greek and Ancient History. Fortunately, one of my otherwise fruitless calls got through to Professor John Barron, head of the Classics department at King’s. He agreed to meet informally that day, which was easy for me as I’d been working near the top end of Kingsway that summer, and he showed me round King’s. I don’t recall that we discussed anything much to do with Classics but to my surprise I left with an offer of a place. I’m still grateful to Professor Barron for taking a chance on me.

How did you both meet at King’s?

Mary: Philip and I met on the first day of term, October 2, 1974. We had to line up on the stairs outside the office of the Professor of Greek, John Barron, for an introductory talk – there were about a dozen of us. Philip was notable for wearing a suit. The whole department numbered only about 30. Coincidentally, we were both allocated the same tutor – Dr, now Professor Emeritus, Michael Silk.

Philip: The department in 1974 had seen a decline in numbers as Latin and Greek gradually disappeared from state school syllabuses, so there were only 30 undergraduates across all three years. It was one of the smallest departments but had the benefit of a sizeable common room with a balcony that looked out on to the Aldwych. We were a close-knit department as a result. Mary and I met on the first day of the first term, both part of that year’s intake of 13 would-be Classicists. After that we were in each other’s company several times a day, attending most of the same classes or talking in the common room. We had lots in common – both asthmatic Catholics with older siblings who had influenced our tastes in pop music. By half-way through our second year Mary and I were an item – I think it was the mead-fueled Medieval Latin sessions in the charming surroundings of Bedford College in Regent’s Park that did it. Intercollegiate lectures and special subject tuition meant finding the fastest routes round London — such as from King’s to Bedford in half an hour or less.

Classics department group photo 1975-1976 with red arrows and circles to show where Mary and Philip are in the group of students.

Classics department group photo 1975-1976 with red arrows and circles to show where Mary and Philip are in the group of students.

What are some of your favourite memories of the Classics department?

Mary: The Classics department was very congenial and cohesive for several reasons. Its location in the East Wing was rather isolated; the department was small, so you soon got to know everybody; it had its own common room – and there was the Greek play, which was a great unifying force and involved every member of the department in one way or another: onstage, backstage or front of house. I had no experience of performing in any shape or form, but everyone was pressed into service. I was a member of the chorus in Hippolytus (1975), appeared in and choreographed the chorus in Medea (1976), and choreographed The Clouds (1977). I can honestly say that I have appeared on stage in the West End! – the theatre was in the basement of King’s back then. We have attended most performances of the Greek play since we left in 1977.

Philip: The Classics department year revolved around the Greek play – an annual production of an ancient Greek play in the original Greek. Started in 1953, it had become a unique selling point of Classics at King’s, and pretty much everyone in our tiny department had to take part, even if not at all inclined to do so. I was reluctant and in the first year got off fairly lightly with a non-speaking part as half of the chorus of huntsmen in Euripides’ Hippolytus. Mary, though, became both choreographer and chorus member, with long passages of Greek to learn, speak or sing. She did it so well that she remained as choreographer for years two and three. I managed to avoid acting parts and instead contributed to the play programmes.

I also got involved in cartooning for the student journals: the King’s magazine Magus and the University of London students’ paper Sennet. For both I drew a comic strip called Gleitzman which was criticised, with some justice, as obscure and self-indulgent, and which was even satirised in other London colleges’ student papers.

Mary (far right) as a member of the chorus in the Greek play Medea wearing a white flowy gown.

Mary (far right) as a member of the chorus in the Greek play Medea.

A strip of a black and white comic called Gleitzman

One of Philip’s Gleitzman comic strips from a 1977 issue of Sennet.

What have you gone on to do since graduating?

Mary: Since graduating, I have worked, and still work, in publishing, for several organisations and publishers both in-house and as a freelancer, including Anglia Television, CIPFA, the BBC, Usborne, EMAP, LexisNexis, and most recently Oxford and Cambridge University presses specifically on their Classics titles. Both of us are still working full time: myself for Cambridge University Press primarily and Philip on crime magazines.

We have been married for 45 years and have three sons (one of whom studied Classics at Exeter) and now two grandchildren.

Philip has an encyclopaedic knowledge of superhero comics since the 1940s (it’s our modern mythology, he says unconvincingly), while my big enthusiasm is fans (of the elegant hand-held variety).

Philip: We graduated in 1977 (and were unofficially told that we came first and second in Medieval Latin in that year’s finals — but who was first and who second?) and got engaged. We married in 1978, with quite a large proportion of the King’s Classics department in attendance, and we still return each year to see the Greek play. Classics has shaped, and continues to shape, our lives together.

Philip and Mary on their wedding day in 1978

Philip and Mary on their wedding day in 1978.

Philip and Mary together in July 2022

Philip and Mary together in July 2022.

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