Degree of Bee Gee hysteria

Deborah Haile

WITHIN the oak-panelled splendour of Manchester University’s Whitworth Hall, the presentation of honorary degrees is practised with precision.

The procession of brightly robed academics and dignitaries, the weighty words, the use of Latin all add to the solemnity of an occasion unmatched elsewhere in the city.

But the usual formality of yesterday’s ceremony – honouring Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb – gave way to a level of excitement never before experienced by the university’s great and good after a graduation ceremony.

Hardly had there been time for Barry and Robin to leave the hall, give a friendly wave and a smile to the dozens of fans squeezing up against the gates, than the requests for autographs began.

At first there were a few nervous requests for scribbled autographs on degree ceremony programmes and the odd cheeky demand for photos – some from those who had witnessed the ceremony and others from university staff.

But within minutes the demands had become increasingly determined, and women wearing mayoral chains were using their elbows to get the front, with a force more suited to the January sales.

Anyone with a camera was battling their way to the front of the media scrum with all the skill of a determined hack. And only the suited security guards ensured the brothers weren’t confronted from all sides.

But if the Gibbs were surprised by the level of excitement in the usually reserved quarters of academia they never let it show, as they patiently chatted and posed for photographs with warm and friendly smiles.

Barry admitted that he had felt overwhelmed by the ceremony, honouring himself, Robin and posthumously honouring his brother Maurice, who died suddenly last January.

But their delight at being honoured by the university in the city where they spent their childhood years was clear.

“The ceremony was completely overwhelming and wonderful,” said Barry, beaming from beneath the soft black velvet cap and the red and yellow gown.

“Maurice would be very proud. He was applauding as well. He’s looking down on us and I bet he wishes he was here.”

“This is a tremendous honour. People who do what we do, don’t expect something like this.”

Standing apart from the huddle were two women who made no effort to push their way to the front.

But without Roz Dutton and Kay Anderson the day would not have been the same – for it was their nomination that resulted in the brothers receiving the honorary degrees.

Roz, who has worked at Manchester University for more than 25 years, said: “We felt that as well as honouring purely academic people the university ought to be honouring people with a connection to Manchester who had made an outstanding contribution in their own field.”

Barry – who now owns the Keppel Road house, in Chorlton, where they lived as children – said: “We started here and we’ve come back full circle via the long way. It is fantastic to be back in Manchester.”