When Oxford life resembled a great satirical novel

Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford friend Harold Acton, immortalised as Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited, once bumped into the wife of John Beazley, a lecturer in ancient Greek pottery, while she was exercising their pet goose in Christ Church’s Tom Quad. Hopping over the bird, Acton intuitively doffed his hat. Here, Marie Beazley declared, was ‘a true gentleman’. Mrs Beazley was famous in academic circles for her unpredictable remarks. Over dinner with undergraduates she once announced: ‘My husband can make sparks fly from my loins.’ Her daughter married the poet Louis MacNeice, who made his own pithy observation of the dons of Oxford as ‘scraggy-necked baldheads in gown and hood looking like