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A timeline between The OU and the royal family

Updated Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Take a look at this extensive timeline, detailing the relationship between The OU and the Queen and royal family over the years.

Find out more about The Open University’s History qualifications.

A photo of the Queen visiting the OU in 1979. ©John Hunt

An image of the Queen taken by former FASS cartographer John Hunt has been selected to appear in an exhibition at Kensington Palace this summer.

Taken during the monarch’s 10th-anniversary visit to The Open University in 1979, it captures her up close and smiling widely while meeting staff. However, the picture – which is one of 200 on view at the Life Through a Royal Lens show – was almost never snapped.  

“As she came closer my brain said, ‘a great opportunity for a really good close-up photo’. My heart thought ‘why not have a chat?’ and if she asks, ‘what do you do at The OU’ I will say, ‘I am a cartographer and make maps.’ But instead, my brain kicked in and I just took this photo!” John Hunt

The Queen and the royal family have played a key role in The Open University’s history – from opening ceremonies to anniversary visits – with the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) often in the thick of proceedings. The department has also drawn inspiration from the royals, with their traditions and lives providing a springboard for think pieces, videos and even a free OpenLearn course.

As the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations draw near, take a look back across the decades to see how the royals have helped shape what the department and University are today.

Life Through a Royal Lens runs until 30 October 2022.

To view this interactive in full screen, click on the top right icon below 

Keen to learn more about The OU? 

Get the full story with Dan Weinbren's book, The Open University: a history by visiting The OU student shop.

Visit The OU student shop. 

23 April 1969 - The Royal Charter 

The Open University Charter

©The Open University

The Queen approves the creation of the Royal Charter of The Open University. This date becomes the University’s official birthday.

18 May 1970 - Lord Mountbatten

Earl Mountbatten visited The OU to open the first buildings in Walton Hall, accompanied by Vice-Chancellor Walter Perry.

©The Open University

Lord Mountbatten, Admiral of the Fleet and uncle to Prince Phillip, opens the University’s first buildings. He remarks he is “honoured” to unveil the University’s foundation stone, which remains in situ today.

Click here to watch the ceremony video 

27 June 1979 - A special guest: the Queen visits The OU

Queen Elizabeth II talks with undergraduate student Geoffrey Benton-Smith from Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes.

PA Images/Alamy
Around 6,000 people come out to see the Queen as she helps to mark ten years of The OU. She takes a one-hour tour of the grounds during her visit, meeting FASS student Geoffrey Benton-Smith along the way.

Click here to watch a video of the Queen's visit to The OU

14 May 1982 - Prince Charles - BBC/OU co-productions

Prince Charles walking with Vice Chancellor John Horlock to open the Perry Building and receive an honorary degree.
©The Open University

Prince Charles arrives to officially open the BBC/OU Production Centre, making what he calls a “brief but interesting” tour of the studios, as well as an unscheduled visit to the special effects department. He later dons a yellow and blue gown to receive an honorary degree

Click here to watch a video of Prince Charles visiting The OU

June 1995 - International Council for Open and Distance Education Conference

Princess Anne when she opened the ICDE in Birmingham, The Open University's VC, John Daniel, is pictured in the foreground.
©The Open University

The Open University takes a turn to host the 17th biennial ICDE conference. Held in Birmingham, Anne, Princess Royal attends as a guest of honour to open proceedings.

Click here to read more on the ICDE website    

 February 2004 - Anne, Princess Royal visits The OU

The Princess Royal on her tour of the OU's space science facilities in February 2004.

©The Open University
Anne, Princess Royal visits Walton Hall, where Professor of Science Colin Pillinger talks her through his Mars Lander project. “It is remarkable to see the highest-flying science in the country,” she tells him.
May 2007 - A Timewatch special

British flags as bunting to celebrate the Royal family

The BBC airs a Timewatch special, produced with The OU, revealing the special memories of those who saw the Queen’s coronation.

Click here to read more on the documentary.

April 2011 - Philosophy of love podcast


©Allstar Picture Library Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Carolyn Price, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, and Timothy Chappell, director of the Ethics Centre, explore the philosophy of love through Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton.

Click here to listen to the 'Philosophy of love' podcast.

2012 - A free OpenLearn course about Princess Diana

Diana during her interview with Martin Bashir for the BBC.

PA/BBC SCREEN GRAB PA Images / Alamy Stock
A free OpenLearn course about Diana, Princess of Wales launches. Named The Case of Diana, it introduces some of the main themes and issues in discourse research through the lens of Martin Bashir's infamous interview.

Click here to check out the free course.

2013 - Eileen Scanlon

Royal warrant conferring a Regius Professorship of Professor of Open Education at The Open University. Dated 26th July 2013.
©The Open University

Eileen Scanlon, a professor in the Institute of Educational Technology, is appointed as a Regius Professor in Open Education.

 She becomes only the third person to hold the royal title in the past century. I am delighted the Institute of Educational Technology has been recognised,” Eileen tells the BBC. “My late parents were both Open University graduates … and would have been thrilled their University was honoured in this way.

Click here to read more about this special occasion in Lucian J. Hudson's blog post.

2016 - Open Arts Objects - a short film

Queen Elizabeth II. In Throne Room Of Buckingham Palace After Her Coronation.

ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

A short film about Cecil Beaton’s coronation day portrait becomes one of 50 free Open Arts Objects films to support the teaching of Art History. 

Click here to watch the video.

2017 - Royal Assent - an article 

Parliament and Big Ben.

In the Queen’s Sapphire Jubilee year, and two years after she became the UK’s longest-serving monarch, an OpenLearn piece lays bare the Royal Assent process. 

Click here to read the article.

2022 - John Hunt's photo is selected for exhibition in Kensington palace

A photo of the Queen visiting the OU in 1979. ©John Hunt
©John Hunt

John Hunt’s picture of the Queen’s 10-year anniversary visit is selected as one of 200 photographs to appear in Kensington Palace’s Life Through a Royal Lens exhibition. It will be on view until 30 October.

Click here to read more about the Life Through a Royal Lens exhibition.

Keen to learn more about The OU? 

Get the full story with Dan Weinbren's book, The Open University: a history by visiting The OU student shop.

Visit The OU student shop.



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