News, Press & Events

Spring Greetings from John Hall (2020)



Considering the dangers of the 2020 Course as the Corona Virus moved towards Venice, and the remarkable morale of the students, the assistance of Patrizia and our other Venice helpers and Vicky in London, and above all Charlie Hall in bringing all our students, at the last moment, safely to England, we feel it is appropriate to record this unique event. Charlie was in contact with all the parents and students more or less every day, keeping them up to date with the steadily changing situation. Details of the story and the regular information sent by Charlie to all parents up to their arrival back in England will be included in the next updated version of our A Venice Record 1965- 2020.

As we were compelled to leave Italy rather suddenly, some of the students from this year’s course who were booked on the Florence and Rome extensions will be able to return next year to complete what they missed. We look forward to seeing them again, together with their brothers, sisters, cousins and friends and many new alumni. On the occasion of the 9/11 disaster in the United States, we expected that our 5 Americans booked for Venice would cancel but in fact, we finished with 19 Americans! We hope to meet a similar enthusiastic intake on the 2021 Venice Course.

Here are some wonderful comments I received from some of this year’s students:

“I really cannot thank you enough for creating the opportunity of this course, I have learnt so much academically and personally and will be making sure that my brother and my friends are lucky enough to share this amazing experience.”

“Without you creating this brilliant course, I would not have found great friends, continued and extended my cultural education, and been gifted a love for Venice which I know I will never lose. For this, your wise and insightful conversations in Venice, and the lovely drinks at the Schiavi, I am truly thankful. For the time being I hope these words re-assure you that, regardless of being cut short or riddled with coronavirus panic, the John Hall Venice Course was again extremely successful and loved by all. I know I will return to Venice whenever I can, and have already planned to go next year!”

Please do listen to this fabulous piece of music which includes a lovely moment moving through Rome, Florence and Venice:

I would also like to share with you my good-bye message to the 2020 students:

None of us will ever forget the 2020 Venice Course – our fifty-seventh! Beautiful weather. Brilliant lecturers. Excellent students. And then, later on, the darkening advance of the Coronavirus, which at the end, made it impossible for me to say good-bye to you all, for which I was very sad.

I am sure that you all will have appreciated the incredibly hard work that Charlie has given, dealing with the constantly changing information and advice and keeping parents up to date with the situation. You were all fantastic in keeping up your buoyant morale!

 You will receive, in due course, a copy of the book A VENICE RECORD 1965-2015, which includes highly interesting and entertaining writings by alumni and lecturers over the years. If I had been able to say good-bye to you all, I would have repeated a former student’s comment, which I read to you on our first day in London:

 ‘The Course is about exposing you to new fields of interest. You are dipped into art history, architecture, music, world cinema, restoration, literature, some science, some current affairs….and left to ask questions to your selves while immersed in the incredible cultural environment of Venice.’

 And finally from another of your predecessors:

 ‘What an impact the glorious weeks in Venice had on us all. It was a carefree, fascinating and incredibly happy time for us all, having recently left the rigours of endless exams for so long at school, and before the demanding rigours of university life. No-one who has gone on one of your courses has not left feeling refreshed, interested in things they knew nothings about before, with their minds expanded – and made many friends.’

On which happier note, thank you for coming on this year’s course, and thank you for joining me for prosecco in the Schiavi Bar, which I greatly enjoyed. I hope we will see you all soon, perhaps at one of our JHV reunion parties in London or when you all organise a great reunion in Venice in the future. And please do keep sending your brothers, sisters and friends on our future courses!

Warmest good wishes, keep safe and well and please keep in touch.



A Few Updates to note. We have finally got round to publishing the Student Magazines from 2016 and 2017 in PDF format so it is now possible to look into the thoughts of those students – if you dare!

Also, worth noting, the ‘Class’ of 1976 and a few of 1978 are regrouping over the next couple of months. Photographs may well appear here (subject, of course, to decency, copyright and legal permissions!)

Please keep us informed of changes, developments, changes of address, weddings and births.


Home once again after a dizzying nine weeks and I have had a few days to let the experience consolidate and settle.

This year we were once again blessed with the presence of some of the indefatigable ‘class of 1965’ and not suprisingly this brought our legacy into focus. How different, if at all, are the students of the 21st century from those from the groovy days of the 1960’s? Is what we are doing considered as important or valuable compared to how it was viewed back then? Do we reflect or attempt to shape the culture?

In the 1960’s air travel was considered either a luxury or a military necessity, most people travelled by train and very rarely to anywhere more exotic than Greece. Morocco was for the hippies and bohemians, India was for the hippies and seekers and the thought of hopping on to a flight to Las Vegas for a Stag Party was utterly inconceivable. Italy was still a country celebrated by EM Forster in his memorable novels, particularly ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread’ and ‘Room with a View’ where the British dreaded and hoped to be freed from post-war rules and conventions (meet someone completely unsuitable and find love) or Fellini’s La Dolce Vita where we were mesmerised and baffled by a series of extraordinary set pieces that celebrated or/and critiqued Italy’s love-affair with the American Dream (echoing Britain’s fascination with the same).

In Britain it was considered the height of ‘Continental’ to have a candle stuck into an old straw-wrapped Chianti ‘ruffino’, whether in one’s flat or in a Soho Italian restaurant. Spaghetti came in those yard-long packets and the chances of finding fresh parmesan cheese in Northampton was zero, let alone getting a decent expresso any where west, east, north or south of Frith Street.

And if you went to Italy as a student you knew that you were absolutely on your own. A letter would take a week to arrive, money had to be carefully planned and dispensed, with no ATM to access, no online banking, no phones (unless in an emergency – and emergencies and the consideration of them has changed with the instant communication available via emails, social media and cellular technologies)

What I am trying to say is that the teenager of the 1960’s experienced the world in a significantly different way, through a lens that is virtually alien to that which even I viewed things at the end of the 1970’s when I was a student on the course. There was no TripAdvisor to pressurise hotels and restaurants with, the instant gratification that today’s culture affords us and the teenagers of the early 21st century. Many of us have become ‘clients’ and that has skewed the way that many of us consider the ‘provider’.

Which makes the students of this year even more exceptional. The fact that all teenagers have at their fingertips the ability to communicate with their ‘friends and followers’ in micro-seconds, with all the potential for distraction that that offers, is now simply a fact. The ability to nip home (to England) for the weekend and to speak languidly about continuing one’s ‘Gap Year’ thousands of miles away, getting there in a few hours is almost incredible to me but without wonder for today’s traveller.

So what is it that draws a thread that connects students from the 1960’s to those of 2017? Of course, a part of the reason is the place. To be able to spend six weeks (or more fifty or more years ago) in the singular city that is Venice is an exquisite experience in itself. To be thrown togather in a small and intimate hotel that is nestled in the warm heart of this city is also a memorable and bonding time to savour, to be exposed to the brilliant thoughts of all of our lecturers is thrilling and in some memorable cases, inspirational but I think that there’s more and that is some unknown but acutely sensed element that is something that my father added to the mixture.

From observing the students of 2017, 2016, 2015 and beyond I discern something that connects us all and that is the almost instinctive understanding of the legacy that we are a part of. In 1965, on the first day of that first course the young man who is my father bounded up to announce to the students, who probably had as much idea about what the course would be as this year’s did, that “You are this year’s course” and handed to each one of them the metaphorical keys to the car.

The rest was up to them. When the class of 1965 assembled and bough the class of 2017 a glass of prosecco I noted the recognition of that. At our final lunch at the Ristorante Sibilla in Tivoli I felt that.


Charlie’s Newsletter has stimulated these thoughts.

His first line ‘Home once again after a dizzying nine weeks ‘  hides the fact  that after six weeks in Venice , in his small bedroom-office above the entrance to the Hotel Messner Annexe with our thirty-three students , he was tired : not by our daily but by nightly activities and the Venetian accoustic. After the day’s lectures, visits , dinner and maybe a film, a gathering of our students around midnight under Charlie’s window ,discussing quietly whether or not to go to Piccolo Mondo , makes enough noise to wake him ( and neighbours who telephone the carabinieri to complain ) : the return, around 3 am is another awakening , even though our considerate students are only ‘ whispering ‘- maybe fifteen of them . Venice is a silent city at night- every tiny sound , footstep , the murmur of the  flowing tide in the canal , a distant  human voice can be heard  , as invasive as the starlings flighting to their nests in the roof of our house in the Marchigian countryside. Among his many virtues , Charlie is tolerant  and kind  and forgiving – but , youthful as he may appear , he is getting older . He would like to sleep undisturbed at night. He is much appreciated , by me and by all those who are sorry to have disturbed  his slumbers.

The main theme of his Newsletter is whether one can compare our students of today and those in years gone by , particularly the majority who lived  before the time of Facebook, Instagram , Snapchat , Tweet and internet addiction. ‘ What is it that draws a thread that connects out students from the 1960’s with those of 2017 ? ‘ Charlie writes. ‘ In 1965 , on the first day of the first course , the young man who is my father bounded up to announce to the students that ‘ You are the year’s course ‘ and handed to each one of them the metaphorical keys of the car .’

It wasn’t quite like that for a very nervous thirty year old who had just given up being a schoolmaster, confronted with thirty-two very bright students, twenty-two going on to Oxford or Cambridge. However, the Course worked , and from the only person who has been present at all 52 courses and almost every lecture , I can say that the spirit  of the courses has remained more or less the same , both in terms of content and student involvement – and Venice .

A driving force was my own memory of occasional brilliant teachers at school and university , of my grandfather , of my father and mother , passing on their passionate and very varied interests and pleasures . The idea was to create an environment where similarly inspiring ‘teachers ‘ could open the eyes, ears and minds of our students into areas outside the passing youth cultures of the moment : without exams and school rules- and abroad, away from their peer fashions of the moment  , inhaling the air of a different civilization. That is still our aim.
The grandeur of Rome was a tempting challenge but the 1960’s was the moment of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita , not necessarily an attraction for fee-paying parents . Florence was and is full of English-speaking educational institutions , an unattractively Anglo-American environment. Venice had no foreign institutions , and is a foreign country , an island geographically and psychologically . Citta Nobile e Singolare , its history linking Eastern and Western  civilizations , it has a unique beauty  , on a human and walkable scale, art and architecture ancient to contemporary , no cars but boats , an actively marine city with the element of tidal salt water ebbing and flowing through its canal veins . After their week in Florence and Rome , our students know even better the singular charm of Venice , which grows as time passes . For now many years , we usually have a number of students whose parents were on the course , not to mention the steady flow of brothers, sisters, cousins – all handing on  the Venice virus.

Considering Charlie’s questions about the contemporary digital internet  world , I can remember clearly the first time a mobile phone rang in someone’s pocket during a lecture , to the amazement of everyone , a novelty. Nowadays, Charlie can contact and be contacted by every individual student , day and night , by Whats’it.App ,  reminding them to be punctual for the next lecture or not to congregate under his window late at night . The misuse of smartphones occasionally irritates a lecturer . In spite of which the general morale and atmosphere of the course has stayed much the same over the years , as our students discover when meeting their predecessors. ‘ As I noted in my diary early on the course ‘ wrote one of the alumni of 2015 , ‘ it would appear that John Hall is more of an institution than a course and this became apparent to us on meeting the exceptionally hospitable gang of groovy  OJH’s of 1965 …this meeting reinforced something which we had all been feeling for some weeks : that the John Hall Course is extremely special.’

Our Venice  Re-Unions show that what all alumni have in common is the Venice experience , a kaleidoscope of challenging intellectual , aesthetic and social revelations and the uniquely civilized  dolcezza of life in Venice , summed up in a letter from one of the over ninety alumni who attended a Venice Course re-union in 2017  :

It was such fun to see so many of the 1976 group, to re-live many happy memories, and to re-kindle many friendships.   What an impact those glorious weeks in Venice had on all of us.  It was a carefree, fascinating and incredibly happy time for us all, having recently left the rigours of endless exams  at school, and before the more demanding rigours of university life.  No-one who has gone on one of your courses has left not feeling refreshed , interested  in things that they had not known about before, and with their minds expanded.
So, as Charlie senses, a legacy continues.


With all the talk about Brexit, it may surprise you to know that, when the Course began, we all wanted to be IN, a part of a European community. From the beginning in 1965 until 1985 the course was called The Contemporary Europe Pre-University Course in Venice, in tune with an IN attitude.

At that time Art History was an almost unknown subject in schools and universities. The intellectual tone of the sixties was expressed in the new Sussex University’s inter-departmental concept, the Contemporary Europe School, combining philosophy, scientific advances, political theory, sociology, art, literature, music, cinema, looking at the changes from the old European hierarchies of thought and behaviour to the new. We followed that template.

A glance at our programmes in those years at shows typical lectures: The European Mind and Imagination ; What economics is about ; What is Philosophy ? The united Kingdom of Italy- the Political structure ; Scientific Method and the Social Science ; the Theory of the Modern State ; the City in History and Today …..etc..

Although in the early years our lectures on Art History were few, simply spending a long time in Venice immersed everyone daily in the quality and glories of great architecture and art and the civilized dolcezza of the Italian life style , just as it still does every year . In those days the course started as twelve weeks, moved to ten, giving time for film-making, theatrical productions and even football matches. As we reduced eventually to six weeks in Venice (plus one in London, one in Florence and one in Rome) , entirely for reasons of cost , and Art History had become popular in schools and universities, our programme has become more intensive and centred on the Arts : Art History, Music, World Cinema , Literature – with the options- Italian Language, Life Drawing, Photography Italian Cookery….. However , in spite of the prominence of the Arts , we still manage to show that there is life beyond Titian and Vasari , with topical talks on contemporary issues – on the scientific measurement of climate, Islam and the Arab world, and , by Cambridge scientists Malcolm Longair and Simon Conway-Morris , mind-blowing glimpses into black holes , dark energy , space-time, the big bang , evolutionary convergence theories- fields of awesome scale and significance , intellectually hyper-demanding, a revelation to most arts students.

So, as Charlie says in his Newsletter, Brexit may or may not affect our economy, but it will not stop the gravitational pull of Italy or, we hope, the appeal of our civilization mission.

On a different note altogether, I thank the editors of the latest 2016 Student Newsletter for their charming compliment to the family quality of our Venice Course.

Dear John and Charlie,

Thank you for the experience of a lifetime……….What makes this course unique is the bond between father and son extrapolating to bonds between pupils too. Thank you for letting us into your family: we have made so many brothers and sisters these past few weeks……

To our adopted father and grandfather

Lots of love

Grandfather emailed his thanks personally to all the editors but am told by Charlie that the young don’t look at emails any more – and I don’t do Facebook, Instagram, Tweet. Might they read this?

John Hall Venice