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UCL and France: a celebration

By news editor, on 16 February 2012

Miriam Waters, UCL Development and Alumni Relations, writes about an event celebrating the close relationship between UCL and France.

The Entente Cordiale was alive and well at a prestigious UCL reception held at the French Prime Minister’s residence in Paris on 9 February.

One hundred and fifty UCL alumni, staff, students and supporters were invited as guests of Prime Minister M François Fillon and Mme Penelope Fillon (UCL French 1977) for a celebration of UCL and France.

The residence was a magnificent setting for such an occasion. Completed in 1725, the Hôtel de Matignon was presented as a birthday gift to the Duke of Valentinoise by his father the Count of Matignon. Its ownership and purpose have changed several times over the centuries and it is only since 1947 that it has been the residence of the Prime Minister.

The celebration commenced with speeches from Mme Fillon and UCL’s President and Provost, Professor Malcolm Grant. Mme Fillon welcomed guests to Hôtel de Matignon and spoke fondly about her time at UCL and her pleasure in retaining contact with her alma mater.

Mme Fillon said that it was a “an honour to pay homage to the work of the French Department” and joked “even though they are partly to blame for my being in this house making this speech today”.

Professor Grant thanked the Prime Minister and Mme Fillon for hosting the very special reception at the Hôtel de Matignon. He remarked what a pleasure and honour it was to be there to celebrate UCL’s achievements and “most special links” with France, which include the 1,900 UCL alumni residing there, the 350 French students currently at UCL, the many research collaborations and student exchange programmes with French institutions.

The highlight of the evening was the ceremony of investiture, where the Prime Minister conferred the rank of Chevalier of the Order of the Légion d’Honneur on UCL’s Vice-Provost, Professor Michael Worton.

The Prime Minister spoke at length about Professor’s Worton’s outstanding contribution to French literature and culture – so much so that in his speech, Professor Worton remarked that he was impressed that M Fillon knew so much about his life and that nobody else knew as much as the Prime Minister.

Professor Worton began his response to the award by thanking the Prime Minister for his kind words and remarking what a great honour he felt to be receiving the Légion d’Honneur.

He talked about what had attracted him to the study of French and again about UCL’s collaborations with France in education and research.

He ended his speech with a quote from Jeremy Bentham: “Every task may be converted into play if the taskmaster, be but properly acquainted with his business. May we all, working together, understand better the business of universities and may we work and especially play together for many, many years.”

After the ceremony, guests were given an exclusive opportunity to engage in a white glove experience with items from UCL collections, which were brought over especially for the event, and talk directly to UCL’s curators about the history of each item.

The items on display were chosen particularly for their connection with France and included a Turner painting, The First Steamer on the Lake of Lucerne (1841), a Jeremy Bentham Manuscript leaf with reference to French laws and a Carnelian necklace (c. 1180-1147 BCE) excavated from a tomb in the Southern Levant by Flinders Petrie and held in the Institute of Archaeology’s collections.

Image: Professor Michael Worton and Prime Minister M François Fillon

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