50 Years Ago, Today: A Personal Look Back at Portsmouth College of Art

Acceptance letter, Portsmouth College of Art, 1967. Image credit David and Sue Gibbons.

S&C contributor Andrew Larder takes a trip back in time with former alumni of Portsmouth College of Art, Sue and David Gibbons and reflects on whether life was better for students in the sixties, whilst taking a few liberties with the lyrics to Sgt Pepper.

Sue and David Gibbons on photo shoot, Southsea beach, 1968. Image credit: Sue and David Gibbons.

‘It was fifty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play’

Watching the first-year students arrive at Portsmouth University on the first day of their first week of their first year, you might speculate over what the future holds for them. They are probably thinking about their courses, how the next three years will go, maybe where to get the cheapest Pot Noodle, but I doubt they will be thinking fifty years ahead.

As a mature student, I was in the Eldon Building on 18th September 2017 when I met Sue and David Gibbons, who had fifty years to the day entered the Portsmouth College of Art (on the same site the Eldon Building now occupies) wondering what lay ahead for them.

What, if any, are the differences between then and now?

‘They’ve been going in and out of style, But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile’

Fashion has certainly changed. Sue was nearly 17 years old when she entered the old building to start her course, the Southern Regional Diploma Course in Photography and Graphic Design, dressed in a mini skirt, and described by David as looking ‘every inch an art student’. David says he had long hair, sideburns and was wearing a coloured shirt and scarf. Coloured shirts were difficult to find, so David had bought a white one and dyed it purple himself.

David says they had no idea they were ‘children of the sixties’ at the time, and many students turned up for the first day of the course in suits and business attire as if they were office workers. He adds that as a result, some of the class sneaked home at lunch-time to change clothes. Today, fashions range from uber cool outfits to super smart, and in my case relaxed casual.

Students also had to provide a certificate to prove that they had a clear chest X Ray in past six months (image below).

Guidance from Portsmouth College of Art requiring students to have a chest x-ray. Image credit David and Sue Gibbons.

‘It’s wonderful to be here, It’s certainly a thrill’

Today’s students experience a pretty similar first day as David and Sue, most of which is taken up with introductions. In the Lecture Hall, courses mix together: Fine Art, Technical Illustration and Fashion. The courses on offer still include Graphic Design and Fashion, and now run alongside Computer Animation, Gaming, Illustration and Broadcasting. Technology has completely changed over the last 50 years; the University now has whole suites of computer and motion capture equipment along with state of the art teaching aides. The college working day was 9.30 am to 6pm, similar to the University timetable today.

Portsmouth College of Art Admission Fees. Image credit: David and Sue Gibbons.

One of David’s memories particularly strikes me as still being true today. He says everyone was grouped into the Lecture Theatre ‘and it is a truly a motley crew, wonderful.’

I agree with him, because for all the technology, courses and exams, one of the most important aspects of University for me is the opportunity to meet and collaborate with others. The experience and joy of learning rather than just obtaining a qualification, is still at the centre of the university experience for some, if not all, of us.

Fees were slightly different in 1967: around five pounds to register and £60 per annum, paid by the local authority (see image, right). Sue did not qualify for a grant to start off with but got £68 a year towards travel costs. David had a grant of £350 a year, or £7 a week.

In the last ten to five years the way in which young people socialised has also changed, with social media dominating everything, it seems.

Back in 1967, David and Sue were more accustomed went to a good, old-fashioned party. Where the Co-Op and Trafalgar House halls of residence now stand (on the junction of Middle Street and Winston Churchill Avenue) was once the haunt of the art students. The Black Prince pub, later known as Churchills and then latterly the slightly seedy Jimmyz, would have seen David and Sue sharing half a pint and a baguette on more than one occasion.The Black Prince was demolished in 1999 after a fire.

For art students seeking non-alcoholic treats in 1967, popular haunts included Verrechia’s ice cream parlour near the Guildhall. How odd, David says, that after all this time ice cream parlours have recently made a bit of a come back.

We’d like to take you home with us, We’d love to take you home’

No doubt back in 1967 – as with today – lecturers had to face the occasional hung-over student, looking like an extra from the Walking Dead. Back then students socialised with their lecturers. David said that he and Sue ‘became an item’ ( after knowing each other for 17 months) at a Valentine’s Day party held in 1969 at the house of Art College Senior Lecturer Chris Heywood’s house. With phone cameras and the second it takes to publish to Instagram now, would a lecturer be brave enough in 2017 to invite his class to his house?

The University of Portsmouth now have a number of on-campus cafes, including a Starbucks and one in the library. The Eldon Building has several vending machines, and two cafes. But in 1967 the canteen was small, staffed by scary ladies, and the house speciality was not avocado, or cous cous sandwiches but pie and beans.

Members of the Graphics Group go to France circa 1968. Image credit: David and Sue Gibbons.

The four storey Art College an iconic 1960s design, full of ‘mayhem and fun’ David says. Looking out in 1967 you would see Winston Churchill Avenue – then comprising just one lane in each direction. From the Art School looking north, you could see the town train station, and opposite, where the Crown Court now sits, was open waste land used by travellers to graze horses. Inside, in the age before digital photography, many art students spent vast amounts of their time in the dark room experimenting with images, and developing film by hand.

‘I don’t really want to stop the show… But I thought that you might like to know’

Reminiscing, David makes his course sound like real fun, with field trips abroad and afternoons in the dark room. Sue and David got married in 1972. David went on to work for the BBC in the Graphics Dept and then for the Open University, while Sue got a job as a Graphic Artist at Macmillan Publishing.

David makes this observation of the latest students as we prepare to part ways.

‘Do the students look the same? Not sure. They certainly look young and full of ambition.

‘Will they have as much fun as the “children of the sixties”? Not sure. I hope so.’

Sue and David Gibbons in 2017. Image credit: Sue and David Gibbons.

With apologies to The Beatles and their fans. Lyrics quoted from ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, by Lennon and McCartney.

All images by Sue and David Gibbons.