This issue of The Saint is our 200th, and it fits into a long history of student journalism in St Andrews. Before The Saint launched in 1997, its predecessors covered campus happenings in broadsheet form and through tabloid supplements. Some archived issues of Aien, The Chronicle and The Saint are even in the library’s Red Gown Collection (though most are kept in deep storage as part of Special Collections). Reading through them, one learns of the major changes to student life in St Andrews: We no longer debate the validity of an SRC-funded Gay and Lesbian Awareness Week, worry about WWIII breaking out between the United States and Russia or read exclusive interviews with Britney Spears (which is a real thing that happened in 2002). But the more things change, the more they stay the same, as they say. Since the inaugural issue of Aien debuted in 1962, students have been writing about the accommodation crisis, the lack of funding for the Union and student societies, the American invasion and the inadequate size of the library. In honour of today’s issue, here is a brief account of the storied history behind The Saint.
On Friday 13 April, 1962, Aien debuted its first issue, available to students for sixpence. The front-page headline read: ‘Wanted: £1 Million.’ The chancellor had recently launched the University’s first ever public appeal in an attempt to supplement the treasury grants, which at the time only covered half of the cost of the University’s proposed expansion over the next decade. The student body was predicted to increase 100 per cent, and campus leaders were beginning to panic. Luckily, the first donation was a big one, from none other Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
And so Aien established itself as an important student resource. It was created as a result of the merger between two existing publications, Quorum and Venture, both of which had shut down due to outstanding debts. But after issuing an appeal – clearly a commonplace event in those days – the conjoined staff were able to raise enough money to launch Aien. Named for the first part of the University’s motto – αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν in Greek, or “Ever to Excel”– the paper was meant to inform students in both St Andrews and Dundee and to help facilitate communication between the two groups.
Aien stories ranged from news items to interviews with the Rector. Bridge tips were offered as well as a recipe for whiskey sours. Student poetry was featured and productions at the Byre were reviewed. The ongoing quest for Scottish independence was lauded and lamented in the early pages of Viewpoint. In February of 1980, one staff writer criticized the members of the St Andrews Debating Society, who had “proved themselves disappointingly conservative” when arguing the motion: ‘This House would legalize Cannabis and actively advertise and sell it.’
However, after years of consistent coverage and important stories, Aien was felled when the grant money they received from the Union was systematically reduced.
In 1983, the first issue of The Chronicle, the immediate predecessor of The Saint, hit newsstands. It cost 20p. The front-page story – ‘New Look Union’ – covered a dispute over whether the Union should develop a ground floor space for a student bookshop. (Later issues would cover the purchase of that student bookshop by Blackwell’s as well as the gradual closings of local booksellers.) The story also mentioned “moves under way to improve the amazingly popular Megadiscos” hosted by the Students’ Association.
In its first editorial, The Chronicle stated its goal “to cater for the individual as well as the mainstream.” It continued: “We sincerely hope that you will find in this first issue at least one item of interest,” whether you go out to “all the wild parties” or you “feel the pressure to go out and talk to others only when its time for a tutorial!”
The paper’s democratic aims were evidenced by its stories’ scope. In one issue, the first annual Gay and Lesbian Awareness Week was met with criticism from one student who felt that SRC grant money was being inappropriately used to put on a gay cabaret. A few issues later, an anonymous student proposed that a Christian Awareness Week replace the “sickening” new event. The recurring Gossip Slot feature not only named students caught making out in halls, but also speculated as to the sexual orientation of certain sport team captains. One would-be informant wrote to the Gossip Slot author, known by the pseudonym Private Dick, to report on the alleged topless sunbathing of Lumsden Club members near the tennis courts.
Another issue featured an article on the ‘Drink Problem’ amongst students. The author, a female student, argued that women were more susceptible to addiction because of their smaller frames and a tendency to “drink heavily under exam pressure.” However, she ultimately concluded that alcoholism was not that significant of an issue considering it only affected a small number of students – at her estimate, only 11 per cent – most of whom “[fell] into the category of those with academic troubles.” Shortly thereafter, the paper ran the story ‘Alcoholics Unanimous’ about a springtime beer festival.
Luckily, St Andrews has become much more enlightened since The Chronicle years. But its articles remind us of how far we have come.
More progressive articles include an account from a student who had spent a semester abroad in Moscow in the late 1980s. In it, he discusses the shortage of basic essentials, lack of consumer items and suspected phone-tapping under Soviet rule. But he also notes the kindness of his hosts and their allegiance to their culture, if not their government. Another article discussed the very serious problem of heroin abuse and included a short first-person account from a student who had used the drug during the summer whilst in London. In 1987, one headline read: ‘AIDS in St Andrews: How safe are you?’ The author addresses the then common misconceptions that being straight and abstaining from intravenous drug use precluded one from contracting the virus.
Such articles emphasize the distance between those readers and today’s student body. However, others highlight the continuities of the St Andrews experience. One writer compared estate agents to Big Brother while griping about the eternal struggle to find decent accommodation. A fashion feature recommended very dated ‘striped baggies’ and ‘great big jackets’ to keep warm – and comfortable, mostly – while also sending up the perennial favourites: Hunter wellies and Burberry scarves. A joint interview with the presidents of the Kate Kennedy Club and the now-defunct Not KK Club proved interesting. (At the time, the Not KK Club had 130 members and raised money for charity while dismissing elitism and gender discrimination.) In 1986, The Chronicle covered the first ever strike by University lecturers, a trend that has been continued by The Saint since, including during 2014’s short-lived marking boycott.
In 1997, The Chronicle was re-branded as The Saint in conjunction with a shift to a more tabloid style of reporting. The cost of each issue was raised to 50p. Alongside its new Halo supplement, the paper reported on student streakers who were spotted on Market Street or caught seeking entry into the Bop. Freshers’ Weeks in the early 2000s were oftentimes Ibiza themed and sometimes featured stripped poles for students and invited guest performers. Meanwhile, the entire University was reeling at the news of Prince William’s imminent arrival. A few years later, one lucky student journalist was able to interview Kate Middleton, asking her why she was at university. Her response? “To get an overall education in all aspects of life.”
Similarly hard-hitting reporting was done by Marie-Louise Gumuchian, the lucky student writer who interviewed Britney Spears for The Saint during her press tour for the movie Crossroads. Her twenty minutes with the pop icon was parlayed into a two-page spread.
By 2005, The Saint was covering life after royalty, polling students on what St Andrews was like now that Prince William had graduated. One student admitted she was looking forward to class without security guards in attendance, but most remarked on how kind and unpretentious he had been. In the same issue, there was an interview with the then president of the Students’ Association, Alex Yabroff, about his membership in the KK as well as whether he was a boobs, ass or legs man.
Since then, The Saint has tried to evolve into a more serious and professional publication. In addition to focusing on the quality of writing and the relevance of our content, we have also worked to improve the aesthetics of the paper. To this end, you may have noticed our new layout, unveiled for this issue.
The Saint is one of very few UK student newspapers to boast full financial and editorial independence from both their university and their student union. Unlike the Aien, The Saint is no longer dependent on grant funding; instead, we are entirely reliant on advertising. (Furthermore, The Saint is now always free.) Because of this, we are able to exercise considerable independence and to print stories about the student elections and the University. Of course, sometimes this leads to tension, but ultimately our goal is to provide an unbiased and thoughtful resource for students about life on this campus. Luckily, we have a rich history at our disposal.