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University of Cambridge in popular culture

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Great Gate of Trinity College
The Great Gate of Trinity College

Throughout its modern history, the University of Cambridge has featured in cultural works. As of 2020, IMDb list 71 films or TV shows that include Cambridge as a filming location.[1] Below are some notable examples of references to Cambridge in popular culture.


  • In The Reeve's Tale from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, the two main characters are students at Soler Halle. It is believed that this refers to King's Hall, which is now part of Trinity College.[2]
  • In Portraits of Places (1883 travel book), Henry James describes the college backs as "the loveliest confusion of gothic windows and ancient trees, of grassy banks and mossy balustrades, of sun‐chequered avenues and groves, of lawns and gardens and terraces, of single arched bridges spanning the little stream, which ... looks as if it had been 'turned on' for ornamental purposes."
  • In Lions and Shadows (1938 autobiography), Christopher Isherwood writes extensively about his time at the university.
  • In The Facts of Life (1939 short story) by W. Somerset Maugham, the main character Nicky attends Peterhouse due to its reputation in Lawn Tennis.
  • Jill Paton Walsh is the author of four detective stories featuring Imogen Quy, the nurse at St. Agatha's, a fictional Cambridge college: The Wyndham Case (1993), A Piece of Justice (1995), Debts of Dishonour (2006) and The Bad Quarto (2007).

Novels and Books

Before 1900



  • The Masters (1951 novel), The Affair (1960 Novel) and The Light and the Dark (1947 novel) by C. P. Snow, both feature an unnamed fictional college, partly based on the author's own, Christ's.
  • Facial Justice by L. P. Hartley (1960 novel) is set in a dystopian Cambridge sometime after the Third World War: "Cambridge - for so the settlement was named - was built on the supposed site of the famous University town, not a vestige of which remained."
  • At the start of Trouble with Lichen (1960 novel) by John Wyndham, the heroine, Diana Brackley, studies Biochemistry at Cambridge.
  • The Millstone (1965 novel) by Margaret Drabble is the story of a young female Cambridge academic who becomes pregnant and is forced into a completely alien life style.
  • The House on the Strand (1969 novel) by Daphne du Maurier is the story of two Cambridge graduates who have created a drug that enables time travel. They frequently refer to their college days.
  • Maurice (1971 novel) by E. M. Forster is about the homosexual relationship of two Cambridge undergraduates.
  • Porterhouse Blue (1974 novel) and its sequel Grantchester Grind (1995 Novel) by Tom Sharpe both feature Porterhouse, a fictional Cambridge college.
  • In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974 novel) by John le Carré, two recurring characters in the Smiley series, Percy Alleline and Control, the anonymous head of The Circus, are described as having begun their rivalry at Cambridge.
  • Timescape (1980 novel) by Gregory Benford is the story of a group of scientists at the University of Cambridge and their attempts to warn the past about a series of global disasters that have left the world in a state of disarray. Benford's short story, Anomalies, is also set at Cambridge, where the main character, an amateur astronomer from Ely, meets the Master of Jesus College.
  • Floating Down to Camelot (1985 novel) by David Benedictus is set entirely at Cambridge University and was inspired by the author's time at Churchill College.
  • Still Life (1985 novel) by A. S. Byatt features Cambridge University.
  • In Redback (1986 novel), Howard Jacobson creates the fictional Malapert College, drawing on his experiences at Downing College and Selwyn College.
  • Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987 Novel) by Douglas Adams contains considerable material recycled from the aborted Shada, therefore much of the action likewise takes place at St. Cedd's College, Cambridge.
  • The Matthew Bartholomew Chronicles (1990s novels) by Susanna Gregory, is a series of murder mysteries set in and around the 14th century Cambridge and focuses on the vital work in the field of medicine undertaken by the university during this period.
  • The Gate of Angels (1990 novel) by Penelope Fitzgerald is about a young Cambridge University physicist who falls in love with a nurse after a bicycle accident. The novel is set in 1912, at a time when Cambridge was at the heart of a revolution in Physics.
  • Avenging Angel (1990 novel) by Kwame Anthony Appiah is largely set at the University.
  • Air and Angels (1991 novel) by Susan Hill is largely set at Cambridge, where the Revd Thomas Cavendish, a university don, falls in love with Kitty, a young Indian girl.
  • For the Sake of Elena (1992 novel) by Elizabeth George features a fictional Cambridge college called St Stephen's.
  • In A Philosophical Investigation (1992 novel) by Philip Kerr, the government call on Cambridge's Professor of Philosophy to talk 'Wittgenstein', a murderous virtual being, into committing suicide.
  • In Stephen Fry's novels The Liar (1993) and Making History (1997), the main characters attend Cambridge University.
  • The Cambridge Quintet (1998) by John Casti fictionalizes a college dinner conversation between guests including Wittgenstein and Alan Turing.
  • In A Suitable Boy (1993 novel) by Vikram Seth, one of Lata's would-be suitors, a fellow college student, dreams of attending Cambridge University.

Since 2000



  • In Utopia, Limited (1892 opera) by Gilbert and Sullivan, the entrance of the character Princess Zara, who is returning from her studies at Girton College, is heralded by a song called "Oh, maiden rich in Girton lore". In the earlier Gilbert and Sullivan opera Princess Ida (1884), the princess founds a women's university and the subject of women's education in the Victorian era is broadly explored and parodied.
  • Mrs. Warren's Profession (1894 play) by George Bernard Shaw focuses on the relationship between Mrs Warren, described by the author as "on the whole, a genial and fairly presentable old blackguard of a woman" and her Cambridge-educated daughter, Vivie, who is horrified to discover that her mother's fortune was made managing high-class brothels.
  • In many novels and plays by Thomas Bernhard (written between 1970 and 2006), Cambridge (Geistesnest) is the refuge of a Geistesmensch escaping from Austria.
  • In Professional Foul (1977 play) by Tom Stoppard, the main character, Anderson, is Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University.
  • In Rock 'n Roll (2006 play) by Tom Stoppard, Cambridge University is a key setting.
  • A Disappearing Number (2007 play) by Simon McBurney is about a famous collaboration between two very different Cambridge scholars: Srinivasa Ramanujan, a poor, self-taught Brahmin from southern India, and G. H. Hardy, an upper-middle class Englishman and world-renowned Professor of Mathematics.




The colleges of Cambridge University were painted by several artists in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, including William Westall, Myles Birket Foster, Thomas Rowlandson, Richard Bankes Harraden, and Joseph Murray Ince.[11]

J. M. W. Turner produced a watercolor painting of Cambridge in 1793.


Audio book

  • The Dongle of Donald Trefusis (2009 audiobook) by Stephen Fry is a 12-part series in which Fry, as himself, receives an inheritance from his (fictional) former Cambridge tutor, Donald Trefusis, who has recently died. The inheritance includes a USB drive (or "dongle") which contains messages from Trefusis to Fry from beyond the grave.

Computer game

  • Civilization (1991 video game) by Sid Meier features 'Isaac Newton's College' as a Wonder of the World. This could be a reference to Cambridge University as a whole or to Trinity College specifically. However, the video accompanying the wonder in Civilization II (1996) erroneously shows the University of Oxford.
  • Amnesia: Rebirth (2020 video game) by Frictional Games has the main protagonist Anastasie "Tasi" Trianon, discover the partially preserved remains of an archaeologist/explorer, dressed in what appears to be 19th century British safari hunting attire during her exploration of "The Other World". A note written by the deceased can be found next to the body, identifying him as Professor Thurston Aloysius Herbert of Cambridge, England (Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge). The note further states that he was the first to solve the mysteries of the gate-builders, and the first human to breach the boundaries between the worlds.

See also


  1. ^ "Filming Location Matching "Cambridge University, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, UK" (Sorted by Popularity Ascending)". IMDb. Retrieved 2020-08-21.
  2. ^ "Soler Halle". Oxford Reference. Retrieved 2020-09-15.
  3. ^ Dorothy L. Sayers, "Holmes' College Career", for the Baker Street Studies, edited by H.W. Bell, 1934. Sayers's analysis was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. In the foreword to Unpopular Opinions, in which her essay appeared, Sayers says that the "game of applying the methods of the Higher Criticism to the Sherlock Holmes canon ... has become a hobby among a select set of jesters here and in America."
  4. ^ Cox, David (2016-03-22). "Poetry or property punts: what's driving China's love affair with Cambridge?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-08-23.
  5. ^ Schofield, John (2009). Aftermath: Readings in the Archaeology of Recent Conflict. New York: Springer Science & Business Media. p. 6. ISBN 9780387885216.
  6. ^ Historic England. "Regional Seat of Government (1390525)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  7. ^ "Gallery: Robson Green films fight scene set at Cambridge University May Ball for fifth season of ITV's Grantchester". Cambridge Independent. 2019-08-25. Retrieved 2019-10-06.
  8. ^ Debnath, Neela (2019-02-15). "Grantchester season 4 location: Where is Grantchester filmed? Where's it set?". Retrieved 2019-10-06.
  9. ^ NetMatters. "Famous films shot in Cambridge". Studio Cambridge. Retrieved 2019-10-06.
  10. ^ Care, Adam (2016-10-06). "James Norton and Robson Green return for Grantchester Christmas special". cambridgenews. Retrieved 2019-10-06.
  11. ^ Floribundus (2015-07-23). "Viático de Vagamundo: Cambridge colleges". Viático de Vagamundo. Retrieved 2020-08-21.
This page was last edited on 1 February 2021, at 01:34
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