Oxford’s Lord Franks

Lord Franks

In February 1962, Sir Oliver Shewell Franks was installed as the Provost of Oxford’s Worcester College. Three months later he was awarded a life peerage as Lord Baron Franks, of Headington in the County of Oxford.[1]

As a Worcester student at the time, I soon learned that Franks was “Mr. Establishment.”

After a brilliant performance as a Classics student at Oxford with a Congratulatory First in 1927, Franks immediately was elected a Fellow in Philosophy at Oxford’s Queens College. There he helped to establish the new degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). In 1937 Franks moved to Glasgow University to hold the Chair in Moral Philosophy, a post once held by Adam Smith.

With World War II on the horizon in 1939, he was conscripted into the U.K. Civil Service to work in the Ministry of Supply, which was in charge of production of war material and equipment. His successful efforts to replenish the British military equipment after the forced withdrawal of forces from Europe at Dunkirk in 1940 drew praise, and by the end of the war Franks was Permanent Secretary of the Ministry. For this exemplary public service, he was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1942 and a Knight Grand Cross in 1946.

After the war in 1946, Franks returned to Oxford’s Queen’s College to be its Provost. He was able to hold this position for only two years, but thereafter was a lifetime Honorary Fellow of the College.

The reason for his 1948 departure from Oxford was his acceptance of a request by Prime Minister Clement Atlee to be the U.K. Ambassador to the U.S., a position he held until 1952. During these years he headed the British delegation for European discussions about what became the Marshall Plan for U.S. aid to Europe. He helped to found the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and became Chairman of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation.

In 1953 Franks had many offers of important jobs in the U.K. and Europe. The one he chose in 1954 was Chairman of Lloyd’s Bank, one of Britain’s largest banks, and he held this position until 1962, when he became Provost of Worcester College. Franks also headed many important commissions of inquiry and was on the board of trustees or directors of other important institutions in the U.K.

In 1960 Franks, with the support of influential heads of several Oxford colleges, was a candidate for the Chancellorship of the University of Oxford, its titular head. His main opponent was Harold Macmillan, then Prime Minister. I recall reading in Anthony Sampson’s Anatomy of Britain (1962) that the Chancellorship was an office elected by the holders of Oxford M.A. degrees, who were physically present at a meeting in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theater. Sampson also reported that Macmillan thought that losing this election to Franks would be a political embarrassment and so ordered or persuaded the many government officials and civil servants who held Oxford M.A. degrees to go by train to Oxford that day to vote for Macmillan. With that special effort, Macmillan won the election by a narrow margin and became the Chancellor. He still held that position in 1983 when he attended the dinner to celebrate Worcester College’s 700th anniversary.[2]

In 1962 when Franks became Worcester’s Provost, he turned down an offer from Prime Minister Macmillan to be the Governor of the Bank of England. He retired from Worcester in 1976, but remained active on the boards of various important institutions and government and university commissions until his death in 1992.

Through this life of remarkable service, Franks gained a reputation as the “Divine Authority” or the “Headmaster of Headmasters.” At 6’2″ with a high brow, he gave the impression of all-seeing omniscience. It was said that if you managed to break the ice with Franks, you would find a lot of cold water underneath.

With such a record and reputation, Franks was an imposing figure for a lowly Oxford undergraduate like me to encounter. I, therefore, was surprised to discover a shy, engaging human being.

At a sherry party in the Provost’s Lodgings at Worcester, Franks once asked me, “Krohnke, do you know why The Times (of London, of course) has advertisements on its front page?” I did not know, so he told me that in the great houses of Britain the butler ironed The Times before the head of the house read the newspaper. I thought that was a bit silly, but there is a scene in the movie The Remains of the Day in which the butler played by Anthony Hopkins is ironing the newspaper. And in the 2011 version of Upstairs, Downstairs a fuss is made when the newspaper arrives too late for the butler to iron the newspaper. (The Times many years ago ceased the practice of front-page advertisements only.)

In the Spring of 1963 Franks lead a “revision” session on political philosophy for Worcester students who were taking PPE Schools that year.[3] Franks mentioned “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  One of the English students who had attended Eton College, the preeminent English “public” school, interrupted to say, “I am sorry, I did not get that all written down. Would you repeat that phrase, please?” (Perhaps it was just my American background, but I always thought it odd that an Oxford University student, in PPE, would not know that phrase.)

In June 1963, after I finished PPE “Schools,” my fiancée and I were married in Oxford’s Manchester College Chapel. As a wedding gift, Lord and Lady Franks gave us a beautiful colored print of the Worcester Provost’s Lodgings.

After I had obtained a First in PPE, Franks sent me a short typed note with his “warm congratulations” and announcement of my receiving a “College Prize for your performance in the examination.” (The prize was “books to the value of ten guineas.”) Another short typed note at the same time stated that he  was “glad to give you the College Grace to take your B.A. degree.” (This undoubtedly was a form note that gave the college a lever to force you to pay all of your college bills.)

My best Franks story, however, took place earlier in one of Worcester’s Senior Common Rooms when my philosophy tutor gave an oral “report card” on my performance to Franks as the head of the College. All of us were in suit and tie, of course, and covered by academic gowns. My tutor must have given a positive report on my performance although I do not recall what he said. Franks responded, “Krohnke, your tutor says you are doing very well. But I do think there is more time for devilry.” I was caught totally off-guard by this note of levity from the august personage of Lord Franks. The word “devilry” was not in my vocabulary, but it sounded mischievous. I had no response.

[1] Wikipedia, Oliver Franks, Baron Franks, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Franks,_Baron_Franks; Middlemas, Obituary: Lord Franks, The Independent (Oct. 17, 1992), http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-lord-franks-1557796.html; Lambert, Lord Franks, Diplomat Who Led Marshall Plan Effort, Dies at 87, N.Y. Times (Oct. 18, 1992)(http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/18/world/lord-franks-diplomat-who-led-marshall-plan-effort-dies-at-87.html?pagewanted=print&src=pm; Alex Danchev, Oliver Franks: founding father (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1993);Michael Hopkins, Oliver Franks and the Truman Administration: Anglo-American Relations, 1948-1952 (London: Frank Cass 2003); Smethurst, Oliver Shewell Franks, 139 Proceedings of the American Philosophical Soc’y 83 (1995); Franks, Britain and the Tide of World Affairs (London: Oxford Univ. Press 1955); Somerville, Oliver Franks, hsommerville.com.

[2] See Post: Celebrating Worcester College’s 700th Anniversary (May 29, 2011).

[3] See Post: Reading PPE at Oxford (June 6, 2011); Post: PPE Examinations at Oxford (June 10, 2011).

Celebrating the 80th Anniversary of the Rhodes Scholarships

In June 1983 my wife and I attended festivities in Oxford to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Rhodes Scholarships.


With our printed invitations in hand, we went to a Garden Party at Rhodes House in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. They walked around a roped circle in the center of an eager gathering of over 1,400 former Scholars and spouses. From time to time they stopped to engage someone in conversation. We were not close enough to be candidates for being selected for such a conversation. But it was exciting to be there.

The “Court Circular” in The Times of London the next day reported that “The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh . . . visited Rhodes House, Oxford (Warden Dr. R. A. Fletcher) and attended the Rhodes Scholars’ Reunion Garden Party. [They] . . . were received on arrival by Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for Oxfordshire (Sir Ashley Ponsonby, Bt.), the Chairman of the Rhodes Trustees (the Lord Blake) and the Chancellor of the University (the Right Hon. Harold Macmillan).”


At the University of Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the University’s Vice-Chancellor convened the Congregation of the University (an official meeting of the senior members of the University). He then awarded Honorary Degrees to five former Rhodes Scholars. Doctors of Civil Law were awarded to Don Price, Emeritus Professor of Government and Public Management at Harvard University; The Honourable Robert Aaron Gordon Robertson, former Secretary to the Canadian Cabinet and to the Canadian Cabinet for Federal-Provincial Relations; and General Bernard William Rogers, Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Doctors of Letters were awarded to the Rt. Hon. Sir Zelman Cowen, the former Governor-General of Australia; and Robert Penn Warren, U.S. novelist, poet and Emeritus Professor of English at Yale University.

The Cathedral Church of Christ in Oxford was the site for a Thanksgiving Service.  The Bidding Prayer by The Rev’d Dr. J. K. McConica, a former Canadian Rhodes Scholar, gave “thanks for the benefits enjoyed in this place through the munificence of our Founder, Cecil John Rhodes” and prayed “for ourselves, that we may use to God’s glory the gifts and opportunities with which we have been so abundantly blessed.” The Rev’d Dr. David Alexander, an American Rhodes Scholar, in his closing prayer gave “hearty thanks for thy servant Cecil John Rhodes our Founder, by whose bounty we are here brought up to godliness and the studies of good learning.” Alexander then offered A Prayer for the Nations, A Prayer for the Universities, A Prayer for All Men in Their Vocation and a General Thanksgiving prayer.

A gala anniversary dinner was held in large marquees in the garden of Oxford’s Trinity College. Toasts to Her Majesty the Queen and to the Founder were offered by the Chairman of the Rhodes Trust, The Right Hon. Lord Blake. Welcoming remarks were made by the Chairman and by The Right Hon. Harold Macmillan, the Chancellor of the University and former Prime Minister of the U.K. The response on behalf of the guests was made by J. Ogilvie Thompson, a South African Rhodes Scholar at Worcester College (before my time) and the CEO of AngloGold Ashanti, a gold-mining company in South Africa.

The dinner menu featured Ogen Melon, Darne de Saumon, Le Supreme de Volaille Suedoise, Haricots verts, Pommes Nouvelles and Mille Feuille. The wines were Wiltinger Scharzberg Riesling 19980, Gold Label Rhine Riesling Ashbrook Estate 1982, Cabernet Sauvignon Newton Vineyard 1980 and Paarl Vintage 1961 port.

Celebrating Oxford’s Worcester College’s 700th Anniversary

On June 25, 1983, my wife and I attended the dinner to celebrate the 700th anniversary of Oxford’s Worcester College. The College’s Provost, Asa Briggs,[1] and Fellows were joined by many “Old Members” (what we in the U.S. call alumni) and other guests in a large marquee in the College’s garden.

We were served Ogen Melon with White Port, Sole Veronique and Lemon Sorbet for the first course; Roast Saddle of English Lamb Clamart for the second course; and Swan Eclairs, Diables a Cheval and Fresh Fruit Bowl for dessert. The wines were Muscadet Le Maitre Gourmet, Chateau de Barbe 1979 and Dow’s 1974 Reserve.

The toasts were to The Queen and the College with a Reply by the Provost.

The special guest of honor was Harold Macmillan, then the Chancellor of the University of Oxford and the former Prime Minister of the U.K.

Worcester’s claim to 700 years is somewhat strained. In 1283 the Benedictine Order founded Gloucester College, whose great work was educating the most promising men in the Order and sending them back to the monasteries as administrators or minor statesmen in their chapters.[2] In 1541, however, Gloucester College was one of the institutions that was subject to King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries and thus ceased to exist, and its property reverted to the Crown.[3] The Crown in 1560 sold the property to a new institution, Gloucester Hall, which was organized and occupied the former College buildings from 1560 to 1714, but the Hall was not a college.[4] In 1714 Worcester College was founded on the site, and magnificent 18th century neo-classical buildings were built on the north and east sides of the main quad. They are still used today. Amazingly some of the medieval “cottages” of Gloucester College have survived on the south side of the main quad of today’s Worcester College and are still used as residences for students and dons.[5]

After the anniversary dinner, The Times of London had a photograph of Mr. Macmillan with a caption written by someone who knew the history. It stated, “Harold Macmillan, Chancellor of Oxford University, celebrating the seven hundredth anniversary of the founding of Gloucester College, the Benedictine college, some of whose buildings are now occupied by Worcester College.”[6]

[2] Worcester College at 1-6 (1976).

[3] Wikipedia, Dissolution of the Monasteries, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissolution_of_the_Monasteries.

[4]  Worcester College at 7-14 (1976).

[5]  Id. at 15-21; Worcester College, The History of Worcester College, http://www.worc.ox.ac.uk/About%20Worcester/c_collegeHistory.php.

[6]  College calls, The Times (June 27, 1983).