The dental students who commenced their studies at the Turner Dental School Manchester University in September 1955 were called Guinea Pigs by the Dean, Professor Horace Radden, because they were embarking on a new course. It was therefore appropriate that those who graduated should form the Guinea Pig Club.
Our first dinner, which was for graduates only, was held at the Midland Hotel in December 1960. In the following years the venue moved round the North West, although several were held at the Last Drop Restaurant, Bolton when they were organised by Tony Winstanley, who sadly passed away last year. In the mid-eighties, the ‘other halves’ of the graduates were included for the first time.
The format was changed to long-weekend reunions in 2002, the first one being organised near Carlisle by Iain Parsons. Since then the organisers have rotated each year, with the venues moving around the country, according to where the host lived. We have visited a wide variety of places such as York, Stratford, Eastbourne, Weymouth and London. On a couple of occasions we even crossed the channel to Bergerac!!
The programme has usually been similar – assemble on Friday afternoon, staying at a country house hotel; a party at the host’s home on the Friday evening; visits to tourist attractions in the vicinity on the Saturday; the Annual Dinner on the Saturday evening and depart after breakfast on the Sunday morning.
As several of our members have passed away, their widows have continued to attend the reunions. The Jubilee meeting was appropriately held in Manchester in September 2015 and was organised by Peter Hughes. The weekend commenced on Friday afternoon with a visit to the extended School of Dentistry and a welcome from the youthful Head, Professor Kevin O’Brien who gave us an update on the current activities of the School. This was followed by a tour of the Dental Hospital in small groups led by three members of staff.
In the evening we had a Chinese Banquet in a private room at the nearby Yang Sing in Princess Street which gave the travellers present the chance to show off their skills with chop-sticks. Saturday morning was spent at the Science & Industry Museum where a Blue Badge Guide, showed us the world’s first computer which had been made at Manchester University by Tom Kilburn. This was followed by a leisurely buffet lunch at a pub down by the Bridgewater Canal.
The Guinea Pig Club Jubilee Dinner was held in the oak-panelled Lancaster Suite at the recently re-furbished Midland Hotel, where we had held our first meeting. It followed the usual relaxed formula with a lengthy photo-shoot which added to the mirth. There was an extensive collection of old photographs and other memorabilia which were good talking points. Twenty graduates attended one or more of the events, with thirty five persons sitting down for the Jubilee Dinner.
Since then we have continued with our annual reunions at various venues throughout the country. A very special occasion was in 2014 when we returned to Bergerac to where Martyn Yates had retired. Sadly, Martyn died on the first day of the reunion, but, respecting the wishes of his family, we continued with the extensive programme which he had organised. Martyn’s colleagues of over sixty years were privileged to be able to attend his funeral, along with his expatriate friends and members of the local French community. Speaking on behalf of the Guinea Pigs, Iain Parsons gave a most heartfelt eulogy.
For the last seven years, we have also held an additional North West lunch in April, initially at Broughton, Preston, but more recently at Plumley, Cheshire. This year’s event was attended by seven graduates. In September this year, we returned to Congleton for our annual long weekend reunion when ten graduates attended – see photograph.
To use the well-worn cliché, we hardly seem to have changed since we first crossed the threshold of the Turner Dental School over six decades ago, though some of us are a little rickety on our pins, taking a few tablets, are a trifle forgetful and now more dependent on spectacles and hearing aids!