Even before my parents took my sister and I to the British Museum to see the 1972 Tutankahmun Exhibition I had already fallen under the spell of Ancient Egypt.
I still have my original collection of newspaper articles, souvenir extracts and a history magazine stuck in a scrapbook accompanied by an average 10 year old’s random commentary and drawings.
Incidentally, I can see now, as the front cover has come unglued, that this scrapbook had originally been used for a school project imaginatively called ‘Normans’. All trace of school Normans has gone and my obsession for all and anything Ancient Egyptian (a topic not covered at my village school) has instead filled the pages and still does, sort of, 50 years on.
Of course during the run up to the 1972 ‘blockbuster’ exhibition, although that term wasn’t used back then, there was plenty of press coverage. Serious articles in the Sunday broadsheets and specialist magazines were printed as well as the ubiquitous souvenir pull-out.
The 1972 exhibition consisted of fifty prize objects from Tutankhamun’s reign as the boy-king of Egypt (BC1361 to 1352). The artefacts had been lent by the Egyptian Government and made this the biggest Tutankhamun exhibition outside Egypt. Fifty objects to mark the 50 years since 1922 when the English archaeologist, Howard Carter, had discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb with the inner chamber still intact and undisturbed by grave robbers.
Apparently the British Museum estimated that between 800 – 1000 per hour would pass through the turnstile with adults paying 50p and children 25p entrance fees. (So that cost my father £1.50!) I didn’t know at the time, but have read since, that the exhibition ran from 30th March to 30th September 1972, opening Mondays 3 pm to 9 pm, Tuesdays to Saturday 10 am to 9 pm and Sundays 2 pm to 6 pm with any profits going to Unesco’s fund to save the ancient temples of Philae from the waters of the Aswan Dam. (As a side note it’s interesting that the BM was open until 9 pm. I had thought evening opening was a 21st century innovation.)
Returning to the ‘treasures’ in my scrapbook I found an envelope with a special edition stamp which was also issued to mark the 50 year anniversary of the original 1922 discovery. (My goodness a stamp for 3p!)
Today turning the foxed pages and unfolding the fading newspaper pages all stuck in with the now yellowing and stick-less sellotape has reminded me just how keen I had been. You’d have thought I might have gone on to be an historian or even an archaeologist, but at 14 years old school history hit the Industrial Revolution and from being nearly top of the class I dropped to the very bottom in a year.
It was another 25 years before I seriously returned to history when I enrolled at UEA to study Art History. Of course you never really forget your childhood passions and eventually 20 years after seeing the 1972 Tutankhamun Exhibition I did, finally get to visit Egypt. We saw the Pyramids, the Sphinx, took the slow night train down to Aswan and travelled back to Cairo after stopping off at Luxor and the Valley of Kings. I still remember visiting the Cairo Museum strolling straight up to the cabinet displaying the gold death mask of Tutankhamun with no other tourists in the room. It was a pole opposite experience to my attempt to see the mask back in 1972 at the BM. After queuing for a couple of hours, I had struggled in the crush of adults and after the briefest of glimpses of the iconic mask been swept on through the exhibition to the next object.
Of course, since 1972 attending blockbuster, popular exhibitions has changed with the introduction of limited numbers and timed entrances. Then along came Covid and we now have greatly reduced numbers, strictly timed tickets, hand gel stations and one-way systems along with mask wearing. Last week when I made my first post-Covid lockdown visit to the Ipswich Museum it was so quiet the staff outnumbered the visitors.
12 thoughts on “Twenty Years on from the 1972 Tutankhamun Exhibition and finally I visit Egypt.”
Absolutely fascinating and well done for keeping all the information. , I, too, visited the museum in Cairo on my way to Australia in 1957 and have never forgotten he sight of that death mask.
Yes, it is certainly one of the world’s finest treasures. And, I have read that the Egyptians no longer allow it to leave the country for overseas exhibitions.
Well, well. we could have been near one another in that queue! Also, I applied to UEA back in 1964, and they only gave me a place on the waiting list. Unsurprisingly, as my school had insisted on a sober suit and hat for the interview, whereas my interviewer was a Posy Simmons George Weber look-alike who interviewed me with his feet on the desk, clearly enjoying my discomfiture. I’ve never quite forgiven UEA – though I loved Manchester, who did decide I passed muster.
I guessed you might have gone to the 1972 exhibition 😄. And, UEA despite the Lasdun ziggurats and latterly the Foster Sainsbury’s Centre, is still a campus uni on the edge of a rural, county town even if during the 60s they considered themselves (well some schools anyway) to be a beacon of the progressive. I would have thought Manchester altogether had a lot more going for it. Oh, and yes dressing for an interview was, and probably still is a total minefield. One of my bigger disappointments back in the day was completely misreading the zeitgeist and wearing a brick red suit (made from a 1950s pattern of my mothers) with my hair in a french pleat to an interview at a Soho Ad Agency circa 1983. As soon as I arrived I realised my weekend big hair, big shoulders and tartan mini would have been more the ticket. Mind you it was a blessing in disguise, realised eventually I would have hated it.
Yes, these things have a habit of being for the best.
I’m speechless. What a wonderful treasure trove to have retained all these years. Such a tangible link back to the young woman you were. And to have had such inspiring parents! Oh my …
That’s kind of you to say. My parents were married in the Middle East and had a couple of places on their list for their honeymoon Cairo or Isfahan and then a mini crisis blew up, no unnecessary travel was permitted and they ended up staying in their new home in Kuwait instead. They never did get to Cairo before they returned permanently to UK and so they were both keen to see the 1972 exhibition and it helped we only lived 35 minutes by train from Central London. I don’t remember any other family museum visits at all. We looked like a TV Ad family, but as we know looks can be deceiving.
It sounds exotic – on the surface.
Yup, ‘surface’ doing all the work here for sure.
Such interesting memories and imagine you still have that scrapbook! I remember a brief fascination with the dusty mummies at the Royal Ontario Museum as a young teen and would take the long two bus trip to the ROM just to marvel at them. Fun photos of your trip to Egypt – your colourful artistic style comes through!
Yes, I am surprised I have managed to keep hold of the scrapbook as I have moved around so much and lost all sorts of stuff along the way. The scrapbook was packed with all my chattels when I moved from London to Germany and then on to the Netherlands with my husband – where I left it and him. A few years later my ex-husband brought it back to me on a visit to the UK. Funnily enough, the trip to Egypt was our honeymoon and, naturally, the bright clothing is my work as you probably guessed. 😁