Snow, who lives in Barnes, was visiting as part of the Speakers for Schools programme, a UK charity founded by Robert Peston. Launched in 2011, its purpose is to link secondary schools and colleges to top industrialists, academics and public figures who donate time to share with students, in high profile assembly talks, their knowledge, expertise and career experiences. Our distinguished visitor did just that. Within an hour, the students heard how Snow had, during a programme interruption caused by a film break down, ad-libbed through the gap - he thought very cleverly - by talking about headlines from a pile of newspapers beside his desk only to discover, when normal transmission resumed, that he had been reading from old editions. He related how, during a Tomorrow's World programme, a new type of hot water bottle had spectacularly burst - and how, on that same science series, the hot-off-the-presses CD innovation was revealed and used for the very first time. With his historian hat on, Snow was surprised - in an interchange with his audience - how little was known about the Napoleonic wars but was astounded by the number of RPA students who knew the story of the burning of the White House by the British in 1814, the subject, our speaker revealed, of his recently published book.
This distinguished historian then turned his attention to politics and the imminent parliamentary election. The 6th formers in the audience - not far off being voters themselves - were particularly keen to hear what he had to say about the possible influence of 21st century IT usage on election results. Their intelligent and insightful questioning reflected not only political savvy but possible career ambition and Snow admitted later how impressed he had been by their level of knowledge and interest. He would not, though, reveal his personal political persuasion which, he said, even his wife wasn't privy to…
The students reported that they had thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and learned a lot from the talk - including the speaker's age, which he did reveal. Several students stayed behind to tell our visitor just that and to question him further. But what did Snow think of us? He had no hesitation in responding thus: 'It's very exciting for the school to have a new 6th form. The new campus is great and the library - which I particularly noticed - is a warm and inviting space. I was very impressed by the whole audience, how well they listened and how receptive they were. Your students are obviously very bright and they asked some very intelligent questions. I've thoroughly enjoyed my visit'. In the words of the great Scottish bard, Robbie Burns: "O wad some Power the giftie gie us. To see oursels as ithers see us!"
Article written by Mona Adams