From the archive: Honorary doctorate of letters award for arts duo

If it was good enough for Samuel Beckett, for goodness’ sake, who are we to quibble? Arguably, honorary degrees have become a bit of a farce, with colleges no one has ever heard of tripping over themselves to dish out awards to celebrities we often wish we’d never heard of. Beckett accepted an honorary doctorate of letters from Trinity in 1959, and turned down pretty much everything else thereafter – apart from the Nobel Prize. Both made towering contributions to the Irish arts world: Leonard with his plays, essays and a veritable shelf-load of television adaptations, Potter with her radio variety show and her annual turn in the Gaiety pantomime. Our photograph captures the pair stepping across Front Square. Probably. The playwright is following stage directions to the letter, walking the prescribed slow and solemn “I’m not bothered” academic walk, while behind him Potter mugs to the camera, robes flying, handbag swinging, every inch of her four-foot-eleven frame a swirl of delight. Would it be reading too much into the image to see it as illustrative of the two opposite approaches to academic honours: utterly sublime, or utterly ridiculous? Arminta Wallace Much to the amusement of the onlookers approaching from under the arch. T he ultimate accolade, or utterly ridiculous? So we’ll content ourselvs with pointing out that while the human rights activist and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel had 90 honorary degrees, Kermit the Frog has one too. On the other hand, you’d have to be a pretty hard case to object to the awarding of honorary doctorates of letters, in the spring of 1988, to the playwright and author Hugh Leonard and the actor and comedian Maureen Potter. Such, needless to say, is not the case when it comes to the estimable Trinity College, Dublin. Neither of the recipients in today’s photo would have put themselves into the Beckett bracket.