Ripple and David Francis
The university has had a student newspaper ever since its Charter was awarded in 1957 and for two of Ripple’s early years Dave Francis was an important contributor, as a photographer and also with the Student Union Film Unit which he led for two years acting as cameraman, film editor and, later, director. The films he made were subsequently given to the BFI National Film Archive for safe keeping, where they are today. He also contributed photographs to the student monthly arts magazine Luciad. As with many creative endeavours, however, quite a lot of his images ended up on the editor’s ‘cutting room floor’.
I first came across the name David Francis when I was sent a batch of ten photographs to itemise and describe that had been taken by him. No previous batches I’d received had acknowledged the photographer and so I was intrigued to find out more.
The first 3 that attracted me were of three female students having their hair done in a local hairdressers, followed by a number showing a student protest against a local pub which had barred a Black student from buying a beer in the lounge bar. This seemed an almost incongruous mix of the inconsequential and the extremely consequential, so I thought I’d like to find out more about this prolific photographer.
He led me, through his images, to Ripple and my wish to find out more about the newspaper which has played such a significant role in the life of generations of students. I have concentrated here only on Ripple’s publications from its inception until the end of Dave’s involvement in 1962. In so short a piece neither subject can receive anything more than a partial and imperfect history and the lack of research materials available has meant an even sketchier picture emerging. What remains is a tantalising glimpse of university life in the very early ’60’s and one student’s part in recording this as a permanent tribute to its time.
Ripple’s formation, on evidence gleaned so far, is a puzzle worthy of a ‘whodunnit’ because anecdotes seem to conflict. According to Wikipedia it was founded in 1957 by the writer and academic Malcolm Bradbury as The Wave. This had apparently been its original name, so when did it change? In the Special Collection’s archive is an edition of The Ripple, attributed to a date much earlier, in 1951. The editorial makes a plea for contributions if the new newspaper is to get off the ground and is considered to be timely '… with the recent granting of a Charter to the College …'.
The second surviving copy of the newspaper in the archives is the ‘Grand Xmas Edition’ of 1952. These publications must indeed have been a labour of love on the part of the editor and/or typist and have taken many hours to produce.
Dave was a Sociology student from 1959 to 1962 and we assume he concentrated initially on settling into University life and the academic lifestyle because the first accredited photograph I can find included is in the edition dated 31 January 1961. The photo is of 4 (male) students playing cards, with many more watching the game’s progress. After that though most editions have contributions by Dave covering a wide range of topics.
At this time it seems that Ripple was a monthly journal but as there are quite a few months missing from the archive it seems that the University doesn’t hold a copy of every issue ever published. He was prolific and it is rare to find an issue without at least one of his photographs included, until the end of 1961 when his trail goes cold. There were only two issues of Ripple that I can find published before the end of the academic year and there are no images showing above Dave’s name. He must have been studying hard for his finals.
My knowledge is mostly confined to the few of his photos I’ve had the pleasure of researching and describing. However, as well as the 'colour bar' demonstrations against racial discrimination in city pubs he also photographed the anti-nuclear demonstration in Brize Norton. I believe, he covered the visit of a Russian delegation to Leicester. In 1961, invited to take photos of the Lord Mayor’s annual lunch which must have made him feel as if he’d really joined the professional press corps.
Dave has an impressive portfolio of over 500 photos taken whilst he was at Leicester, which shows real dedication. As well as the many images by him sitting in the Leicester University archives as a lasting memorial, there is the above YouTube interview with him, and his work has been recognised and acknowledged at different times in different publications over the years. In 2017 his contribution was featured in an article in Galaxy, the present day successor to The Ripple. The same issue features an extended article on the 'colour bar' at the Brickmaker's Arms.
Text written by Denise Buchan
Page curated by Simon Dixon