1983/84 was my finals year. I was Chair of Constitutional Committee that year (somewhat press-ganged into running I might add), so I was strangely on the inside of the students’ union politics without really being part of its core.
I thought it would be fun to have an anonymous gossip column, so came up with the idea of H Ackgrass, or “Hackgrass”. Many myths about that column spread in the years following about the column’s antiquity, but I know I made the name up myself. There had been others, such as Molesworth, in earlier years, but this name was new, as was the somewhat visceral nature of the humour. I know the name was subsequently re-used by others. I am flattered.
I knew the Concourse (and Union Committee) lot would want to know who H Ackgrass was and I thought I’d be a prime suspect. Thus I was rather harsh on myself, in this first column and subsequently, in order to try and divert attention. This approach pretty much worked.
I had a spare old portable typewriter, so battered about that I didn’t really use it any more; it was very obvious in its idiosyncratic type, so I thought that using it would add to the mystery and might put people off my scent, as long as I kept the offending machine hidden. Indeed, I know at least one Concourse person sneaked into my flat at one time to check out my (regular) typewriter, only to conclude that Hackgrass couldn’t be me.
Quentin Rubens, the Concourse editor at the time, hardly edited anything out of that first piece. I thought he would tone it down a lot; there were certainly a couple of edgy lines I expected would go. Surprisingly, Quentin did edit out one descriptive phrase I made about myself, “arch lefty”. I don’t know whether that reflected his feelings about my politics or his own sense of what is an insulting term. In later pieces, he got the redline pen out a lot more. Deservedly so in several cases.
Anyway, here is the very first column, both in published form and then its original submission form. My submission copies are clearly photocopies but I know they were originally carbons. I must have made photocopies just before I left Keele and disposed of the carbons.