Chatting to Kasper de Graaf, co-founder of The Boar, is a bit like sharing stories with an older student about teachers, campus and extracurriculars. Except, this older student is around 50 years my senior, we have no common teachers, and the Warwick campus he grew up on looked quite different compared to mine. There are some things we have in common, however: we have both struggled to reconcile time for our degrees with our dedication to The Boar. “I did it for a term, but Godfrey did it for a week, before he realised he needed to get his degree”, he says about the other co-founder, writer and musician Godfrey Rust.
The pair were chatting over beer in the Penny Farthing Bar, which in 1973 was located above Rootes Hall, when they came up with the name. “We wanted to give it some suggestion of gravitas”, but what about an 8-year old university speaks to tradition? The suggestively named “Campus” newspaper, which preceded The Boar by a few years, lived a life about as exciting as its name and died a timely death, but “any university’s gonna have a newspaper”. From an interview Kasper and Godfrey gave The Boar in 2020, we learn that they were involved with Campus before its demise, such that they were best suited to continue its legacy. The name of The Boar was inspired, in reality, by a made-up tradition of a wild boar in the area surrounding campus, imagined by Kasper and Godfrey. Godfrey told The Boar that “it was so bad that it just kind of worked. It was completely [the work of] two drunken students.”
In the ‘60s, “everything was possible, there were grants for everything and increasing accessibility”
“There was a jokey atmosphere around it”, yet Kasper noted “it got very serious very quickly.”. It was certainly the real deal- available in print once a week, The Boar soon became the heart of campus politics. And, well, there was a lot to cover regarding student politics at university.”In the ‘60s, “everything was possible, there were grants for everything and increasing accessibility” but the following decade saw the birth of austerity. University became less financially accessible, rent went up, and students were consistently making demands of their administration.
Students in the ‘70s were discontent with the “rising youth unemployment, lack of job availability and no prospects”. Students weren’t only concerned with local issues, however. Kasper remembers the decade with nostalgia, but the storyline is far from lighthearted. I learned about Kevin Gately, a 21 year old Kiwi Mathematics student, was the first person to die in a public demonstration in Britain for 55 years, at the 1974 Red Lion Square counter-protest against a National Front march. The (at the time) 4 sections of The Boar, News, Art and Culture, Features and Sport covered stories about whatever liberation movement the world underwent, according to Kasper.
Student politicians and The Boar journalists were very close, I learned. “We still keep in touch a lot. I saw them last night, actually.” I learned a lot about the group then and now: South African born Stephen Laufer surprised everyone by becoming a spokesman for the US army and speechwriter for a right-wing Christian Democratic Union mayor in Germany, before being arrested after the wall came down in 1989. He was unmasked as KGB agent and deported to South Africa, where he became a transport spokesman in the Mandela government. Another, Linda Pentz(now Gunter), followed a different, but similarly spirited professional rollercoaster: she became a tennis commentator before converting to work as an anti-nuclear campaigner.
It goes without saying that the ones who made their voices heard “really represented the attitude of a majority of students and what Warwick was all about.
I am taken aback. Kasper reassures me:”There were equally many unremarkable people.” It goes without saying that the ones who made their voices heard “really represented the attitude of a majority of students and what Warwick was all about.”
This is the landscape against which Kasper saw The Boar become a “campaigning newspaper”. Kasper was more politically minded, while Godfrey leaned towards the arts. However, the paper couldn’t escape expressing its political leaning. After the first week, Godfrey stayed on as a columnist and would publish poems under the byline “G. Thomas Utcocks”, an acronym for “Shattock must go.” Michael Shattock was the Academic Registrar while Lord Butterworth was the Vice Chancellor. The paper also regularly featured political cartoons and once even published a feature signed by Tony Benn, former Labour MP.
He thinks things are different now. With everything being “at our disposal”, but also facing a constantly changing job environment, he thinks a lot of people “have switched off, they don’t trust anyone anymore and they believe all politicians are the same”.
“I don’t think, at the situation you’re in, the student newspaper at a university like Warwick is capable of that now,” Kasper remarked. I asked why. After all, while the context of Warwick on the global perspective has changed, students still feel threatened by the university’s tendency to run the institution like a business. Similarly to the ‘70s protests against Vice-chancellor’s Butterworth efforts to make the university commercially viable sometimes at the expense of the students, so to do some students now feel unsettled by the University’s industry links.
“The challenges are still there, the extent to which you can change these things is limited”. If anyone should know, it’s him. Kasper was part of the group who occupied Senate House in protest of rent hikes. “We lost, we got thrown out by police and we didn’t get anything out of it.”
Perhaps we needed a friendly reminder that the 200 acres that we eat, sleep and study on were built, shaped and directed by students just like us, who weren’t afraid to speak up for what they thought was right.
The spirit of change is, as I learned, ingrained in Warwick’s DNA. But why does learning about the ghosts of the past feel forbidden, like holding the Philosophers’ stone, exciting but in a stomach turning kind of way? Kasper has an answer for me. “There is a sense amongst the group of old Boar people and former student politicians that the present day university likes to forget that period, they don’t want to encourage students to get uppity. This is a very short sighted view.”. We ought to embrace our whole heritage, not just the bits we like.
50 years on, The Boar newsroom still houses the same stereotypical student journalists. Though our focus is now more global in scope, it doesn’t mean we aren’t deeply preoccupied with campus matters. Perhaps we needed a friendly reminder that the 200 acres that we eat, sleep and study on were built, shaped and directed by students just like us, who weren’t afraid to speak up for what they thought was right. After all, Kasper’s words ring: “You don’t always win, but the important thing is to always question and challenge.”