A Magdalen reunion – Paul & Nigel

28 March 2024

The Magdalen community, made up of students, alumni, staff, Fellows, and visitors extends far beyond the College walls. We’ve heard stories about people finding love through Magdalen connections, or finding new career paths, and recently we managed to bring together two people for whom Magdalen has been foundational in building their lives.

Our Deputy Director of Development and Head of Alumni Relations Anna Norman had heard from alumnus Paul Lickman (1991) that it was his maths teacher who had originally inspired him to apply to Magdalen. Intrigued, Anna asked him who his maths teacher had been, and it turned out that it was the first alumnus Anna had ever met when she started working at Magdalen, Nigel Oates (1974). This gave her a brilliant idea: she would see if she could reunite the two of them after 30 years.

We spoke to them both about their memories of Magdalen, their time at Bournemouth school, and how it was to see each other again after all this time.

How did you first come to Magdalen?

Nigel: There was no history of university attendance in our family, largely through lack of opportunity rather than lack of ability I would suggest. I had secured a university cadetship with the Royal Air Force who suggested trying for Oxbridge.  I had loyally supported Oxford in the Boat Race, so Oxford it was, and knowing nothing of any college, I literally closed my eyes and stuck a pin in the page with the list of colleges!  How fortunate to have landed on Magdalen.

Paul: Nigel organised a trip to Magdalen to meet with Adrian Ottewill the Admissions Tutors who coincidentally was also a Maths fellow. I found it so inspirational to see what it might be like to come up to Magdalen and to Oxford; from the teaching style to the beautiful surroundings I knew I had to apply.

What was it like when you arrived?

Paul: Coming up to Magdalen was such a special experience. I felt surrounded by like-minded individuals in such a beautiful setting.

Nigel: I was very much out of my depth when I arrived, but  Magdalen somehow seemed to embrace me and provide a reassurance that I could make the journey successfully, but there were some extremely tough times emotionally (and academically).  My tutor Brian Bellhouse was a constant source of encouragement, especially during my first year and the buildings and grounds were a source of solace on the bad days.  After about half a term I had settled into the routine.  I became involved in some college activities, and by the end of Michaelmas term, the worst was over – I had learnt a lot, not all of it Engineering Science! 

What were your first impressions of each other?

Paul: I can remember that Nigel was a skilled teacher. He was quite strict and very well dressed, but so generous with his time. He often spent lunchtimes doing extra preparation lessons for the Oxford entrance exam.

Nigel: I would suggest that, without making Paul sound boring, he was a model student – diligent, participative, perceptive, thorough and helpful to others.  Paul was polite, well-groomed and a good conversationalist when one engaged with him.  My first impression – he was just a really nice kid!

What was it like at School?

Paul: It was a state grammar school in Bournemouth. It pushed the academic side hard and also offered lots of sporting opportunities, which I didn’t take advantage of at all!

Nigel: I took up teaching Maths at Bournemouth School.  At the time I taught Paul there were about 900 pupils on roll, some 300 of which were in the Sixth Form. The Further Maths group, of which Paul was a member, was necessarily small – possibly only 5 or 6 pupils in total.

How was seeing each other again after all this time?

Nigel: I was, Anna tells me, the first alumnus that she encountered – I don’t think she has yet got over the shock!  Paul has obviously been closely involved for some time and, in conversation with Anna apparently made reference to his teacher of Maths inspiring him to apply. Who was your Maths teacher asked Anna.  Paul said: me.  Anna said: No! She knew me and the rest is history.

Meeting up again with Paul was just a delight, and to meet his wife Jo.  Frighteningly though, their daughters are at university or about to go!  How did the years pass so quickly? It was, above everything, a truly convivial evening in a place we both hold dear.  Being part of the Magdalen community is very special indeed.

Paul: It was lovely and heart warming to be reunited with Nigel after some 30 years. It’s a testament to the strength of a teacher/pupil relationship that it can endure over that time period and we soon just fell into easy conversation catching up on school, family and work matters as if we hadn’t been apart for any time at all!

What are some of your favourite memories of Magdalen?

Paul: I have so many happy memories, but I enjoyed being the JCR Computer Rep for 1991-1993 and was proud to be the first to connect the College to the ‘information superhighway’ for the students, now more commonly known as the internet. Although that faced resistance at the time, with the President, Tony Smith, initially pushing back saying such connectivity wasn’t required as we had the Old Library!

Nigel: My favourite memories are of punting; croquet on New Buildings lawn; beating the SCR in the annual JCR vs SCR cricket match; discos in the Oscar Wilde Rooms often to the latest ABBA release (how old-fashioned is that!); Formal Hall with friends; taking advantage of the grounds, including Addison’s Walk.  Above all though I recall meeting so many different people from all backgrounds – it was a revelation for me.  The legacy has been a vista on the world that, without the experience, would never have been opened up for me.

Paul, Centre, Matriculation photo 1991
Nigel, Centre, Matriculation Photo 1974
Paul celebrating his finals
Nigel as a teacher at Bournemouth school, centre