Cabinet's mini-skirt mania

January 7, 2000

Keith Gibbins looks back on his 15 minutes of fame with affection and amusement. Papers released under the 30-year rule last week show that his "mini-skirt project" prompted serious concern in Downing Street, writes Huw Richards.

Prime minister Harold Wilson and his private secretary Roger Dawe (now head of higher and further education at the Department for Education and Employment) were worried about the funding policies of the Social Science Research Council.

When a lecturer at Newcastle University, Professor Gibbins had been looking for a way to interest students in psychology and won a Pounds 1,432 grant to study "some dimensions of fashion change".

He denied ever referring to mini-skirts, but a tabloid journalist picked up the story and his work gained notoriety as "the mini-skirt project".

When the Department of Education and Science supplied a list of SSRC research grants, Mr Dawe noted: "I should think the value of some of these projects is pretty remote," and Mr Wilson formed the impression that Professor Gibbins was an "odd and extrovert character".

Higher education scarcely impinged at formal cabinet level in 1969, but Wilson was worried by student unrest and was getting "a bit fed up with this troublesome minority, that large amounts of money had been poured into higher education, that the public were aware of this extra spending and that they too were becoming increasingly annoyed about student behaviour". He said it was time the government "toughened up" on the issue.

Feature, page 20

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