Students Staff

25 November 2014

Film uncovers the real stories behind protests of ‘68

Dr John Haynes has been searching the archives and conducting interviews across the country to piece together the story of the protests which took hold at the University of Essex in 1968 and established its reputation for radicalism.

This week he will unveil an early cut of Mustard, the film he has been working on for the past six years and is sharing as part of the University’s 50th anniversary celebrations and to coincide with the Something Fierce exhibition currently in The Hexagon at the Colchester Campus.

Mustard will be shown at 6pm in LTB10 on Thursday 27 November and all are welcome. Dr Haynes will also be taking part in a talk on the history of the University and showing excerpts from his film at Firstsite in Colchester at 6.15pm on Thursday 4 December.

The film project has seen him hunt through the archives of the University and ITV Anglia to find rare recordings of hearings and television footage from the time plus written reports, notes, memos and press releases linked to the events of May 1968.

He has also tracked down and interviewed many of the students and staff involved including activists and their opponents.

Dr Haynes, from the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, said: “Everyone has been so supportive of the project and I am so grateful to the people who have contributed their time and shared their memories.

“I have been overwhelmed by the response from contributors and really pleased by the reception an earlier version of the film received at our Homecoming celebration in September.”

In May 1968 police were called on to the Colchester Campus after Dr Inch, a Government scientist from Porton Down, was shouted down by students opposed to chemical and biological warfare research as he tried to give a lecture at the University.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Albert Sloman responded by suspending three students, who were ordered off the campus. This led to further protests with activists voting against the University authorities and declaring a Free University. The three students were reinstated after a week, but the events had a long lasting impact. The University had been seen as one of the most innovative and ground breaking of the new universities established in the 1960s, but became increasingly associated with protest and radical politics.

Dr Haynes points out that there are stark differences in perspectives on May 1968; some see it as devastating and others as inspiring. He said: “I am trying to give a sense of a moment which was both traumatic and defining for this University. This may not have been spoken about for many years but the memory has stayed alive.
“I am trying to get as many voices into the film as possible to make it as ‘messy’ as possible. My sense is that it is very difficult to give a coherent line - to explain exactly what happened and why. I am trying to keep it as open as possible and create a dialogue between the different viewpoints.”

Dr Haynes believes the film will make an important contribution to the history of the University, but also hopes it will fill a gap in the way we see the protests which swept the world in 1968.

He said: “When people look at the events of 1968 around the world there tends to be little focus on what happened in Britain and there tends to be a particular blind spot about Essex. The people I spoke to - the activists who were taking part in the protests at the time – told me they felt very strongly that what they were doing was part of the bigger picture. One of the aims of my film is to reconnect what was happening here in Essex with the wider world.”

Looking forward Dr Haynes has plans to integrate other voices into the narrative, to show how the events unfolded, to add recreations by current students of the hearings and tribunals linked to the protests, and to include reflections from those students.

He said: “There are a lot of things I want to do and now I have a pilot version of the film I am putting in bids for funding to complete the whole project in advance of the 50th anniversary of May 1968.”

Upcoming events:

...more news releases