Islington 91-year-old resident graduates with theatre degree

A theatre-loving 91-year-old graduated from Birkbeck this week with a Master’s degree in Shakespeare and Contemporary Performance.

Patricia Bishop and her daughter, Hilary

Patricia Bishop and her daughter, Hilary

As part of her dissertation project, Archway resident ­Patricia Bishop watched 37 performances of Shakespeare’s work at the Globe Theatre in the space of six weeks – at one point seeing three performances in a single day.

One of the UK’s oldest graduates, Patricia received her Master’s degree at a formal graduation ceremony in Senate House, Bloomsbury, on Wednesday (20 April). This is her third degree, having initially graduated with a BA in Psychology in 1945 from Bedford College for Women (now part of Royal Holloway), and then a BA in English from Birkbeck in 2010.

In between these degrees she led a fulfilling career in clinical psychology in England and France, working primarily with young people and their families. She held research and clinical positions in a variety of settings, including the Tavistock Clinic, HM Prison Holloway, and latterly at the Learning disability Services in North London, where she retired at 80.

Patricia's story was covered in the Islington Gazette. Click here to read the article

Patricia’s story was covered in the Islington Gazette. Click here to read the article

Her love of literature and theatre began at a young age when she was a student at Pontefract Girls’ High School in Yorkshire, however she didn’t pursue it as a career path. Upon retiring at the turn of the century, she resolved to fulfill a longtime ambition to explore literature in an academic setting. Birkbeck’s modes of evening and part-time study allowed her to maintain some balance between spending time with her family, some volunteering activities and attending to her studies.

Patricia wasn’t daunted by the classroom environment.

She said: “Of course I was one of the older ones, but most people were in their 20s and 30s which was nice. I have always worked with young people as a psychologist, and so I liked that about the classes.

“In fact the contact with people from different backgrounds and with younger minds was most enjoyable and refreshing. It was good for my morale that younger students often told me that they found my enthusiasm and effort a source of encouragement.”

However, getting to grips with academic writing took some adjustment.

She said: “Although I have been writing reports for years, it’s quite different writing an essay conveying your thoughts on literature. To explain ones enjoyment and to relate it to others’ ideas on the subject is the challenge, but very rewarding as one begins to achieve it. What is important at Birkbeck is that help is available with methods of study and writing in particular in addition to inspiring teachers.”

Patricia was interviewed on BBC Radio London on her graduation day. Listen here (from 02:23:40)

Patricia was interviewed on BBC Radio London on her graduation day. Listen here (from 02:23:40)

In addition to gaining academic support during her two degrees at the College, Patricia also reached out to Birkbeck’s Disability Service and Library for help with mobility and gaining access to learning materials.

“I have huge appreciation for the team at Birkbeck. Throughout my time I have experienced enormous encouragement, support and really practical help,” she said.

For her Master’s dissertation, exploring how Shakespeare’s plays can be meaningful without understanding the language, she attended the Globe’s multilingual festival of Shakespeare’s works which ran as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. In total, she saw all 37 productions in the six-week season

“I really did become something of a fixture at the theatre,” said Patricia, who is still a regular audience member, attending the theatre up to twice a month.

This week, she graduated alongside nearly 200 fellow postgraduate students from the college’s School of Arts at an afternoon ceremony held in Senate House’s Beveridge Hall.

Patricia Bishop

Patricia Bishop

In the audience was her daughter Hilary, granddaughters Violet (16) and Leila (13), and son-in-law Daniel, all of whom were very much looking forward to seeing her graduate once more – especially her granddaughters.

“They think it’s great. They’re very happy and proud. Last time I graduated at Christmas time in 2010, my granddaughters came to the ceremony and absolutely loved it. So they were impatient for me to finish as I have been rather slow in completing my MA, and they have been looking forward to the next ceremony,” she said.

Looking forward, while Patricia isn’t planning to pursue another degree, she is continuing to satisfy her academic interests by attending weekly sessions at the Highgate Literary & Scientific Institution plus many events and discussions in the literary world such as those held at the University of London and elsewhere

As with her time at university, she said she continues to enjoy “the luxury of studying something in depth, having good teachers, and new experiences”.

Her advice to others is to the point:

“I would say go for it, choose what you really want to study or learn more about. And to succeed, you need to learn to focus.”

Jeremy Corbyn House of Commons

Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, mentioned Patricia’s success during Oral Questions at the House of Commons on Thursday 21April 2016. Click the image above to watch the clip.

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