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Becoming a Bedell

A University Ceremonial Officer (Professor Dick Clements) leads one of the stage parties from the Great Hall at the end of the degree congregation.

A University Ceremonial Officer (Professor Dick Clements) leads one of the stage parties from the Great Hall at the end of the degree congregation. Dr Brian Pollard

4 September 2007

The University will soon be looking for Bedells to succeed retiring members of staff. Peter Holt, University Marshal, explains the role of Bedells and the rewards of becoming a Ceremonial Officer.

'What are you wasting your time on that for?'

This comment is occasionally made by well-meaning staff and, sometimes, Heads of Department upon learning that a colleague is serving as a University Bedell. What’s a Bedell?  Well, those of you who attended the recent degree congregations will have seen the Bedells in action in their Bristol red gowns. We are members of the University staff who act as Ceremonial Officers. Our role is to organise and lead the ceremonial aspects of the graduation ceremonies and includes taking the various academic processions on and off the stage and leading groups of graduands up for their degrees to be conferred. This also includes the honorary graduands. The current Bedells are mainly academic staff, ranging from junior staff to professors, but some Ceremonial Officers are hall wardens, bursars and librarians. They come from a range of departments across the whole University.

So to return to the question – ‘what are you wasting your time on that for?’ The immediate answer is that none of us considers this activity to be a waste of time; we find it a pleasure to be part of a process that ensures the ceremonies are an enjoyable experience for the graduands and their families. This is the culmination of what we are about as a university, and the ceremonies are Bristol’s showpiece to the outside world and so of tremendous PR value. It is true that the time after degree weeks is spent catching up on the ‘day job’ but we consider the additional effort required well worthwhile to undertake such a fulfilling role. It could be argued that being a Bedell looks good on the CV under ‘Administration’ or ‘Public Service’ but that is not why we do it. The satisfaction of knowing we have contributed to the enjoyment and smooth running of the graduation process for all concerned is what drives the University of Bristol Ceremonial Officers.

We are likely to be recruiting Bedells over the next couple of years for a reserve list to replace those who will be retiring from the University. If you think you might be interested in this role, please contact me ( and I can arrange for you to attend as an observer at a forthcoming degree ceremony so that you can make an informed decision about joining our ranks.


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