RAG Week 2017 has come to a close. Students in fancy dress have once again taken to the streets to raise money for charity, while Venue has played host to an eclectic array of evening events.
These days RAG enjoys generally favourable coverage in The Courier – RAG week prompts at the very least a double page review, and even the selection of the charities RAG will raise for and give to can make the front page. As far as The Courier is concerned, RAG is clean, honest fun.
But things have not always been this way, and in the past RAG has graced The Courier’s front page for less noble reasons.
As recently as 2011 there was controversy when attendees at a RAG event had mysterious numbers written on their hand, only to discover that these numbers were rating them on their attractiveness.
This wasn’t the first time that RAG got a bit too raucous, although it was the last time that the infamous RAG magazines were produced. These provocative, humorous publications apparently crossed the line in 1963 and 1972 and had to be censored.
1963’s offering was edited by former Courier editor Bill Stone, while in 1972 the magazine was banned by another former editor, Stuart Prebble, who described it as “sick filth”. The scandal made it not just into the Courier, but the Chronicle too. Mr Cooper, “a fitter from Byker” and presumably not a student, told the Courier: “if you want the truth, it’s too bloody tame.” Indeed, the incident came just six months after the Courier porn page.
There was a time that Newcastle students could engage in this week of debauchery and fundraising free from the prying eyes of The Courier. According to Wikipedia RAG has its origins in Victorian Oxford and by the early twentieth century had spread to universities across the world. In fact, the “Raising and Giving” banner is only a recent invention; students used to perform their charitable duties without the aid of capital letters.
Rag week itself has evolved over the years. These days Take Me Out and Man vs Food inspire popular RAG events, while the Rag Drag Competition was a “fantastic success” in 1972, and earlier decades saw parades through the city centre. This led to tragedy in 1960, when a student, Keith Athey, died as a float he was on crashed into a bridge.
Rag was unpopular even as far back as 1959. A Courier editorial slammed the expensive and bureaucratic organisation process, while student council considered abolishing Rag altogether. Rag survived, despite accusations that it had “over-reached itself in recent years, and that it has become far too commercialised”.
Like many student institutions, not least the Courier itself, Rag Week took a further battering in the 1970s. Rag 1973 accrued a £2,000 debt, and Rag was not seen again at Newcastle until 1976.
Rag 1980, complete with another inappropriate Rag Mag, the kidnapping of the Lord Mayor and “students vomiting in the middle of Percy Street”, was such a disaster that it was abolished once again. The Students Union decided “to take ‘Rag Week’ away from its beer-barrel images to something more ‘wholesome’”, in the form of Community Action Week. The CAW magazine was “good and clean” and the focus was on inclusivity and helping others.
Ultimately CAW became Rag under a different name, and Rag Week returned in 1990, bringing Newcastle back in line with the rest of the country.
Elected RAG organisers were replaced with a year-round RAG society in 2015. By this point many of the participants in RAG Week were part of “RAG Crew”, and the original focus of collecting money from the public has been sidelined in favour of student-only events. Indeed, street collections were entirely absent from RAG 2016 after the organisers could not get a permit for collections from the council in time.
In 1959 the Courier complained that “so many people seem to qualify for complimentary tickets for the many functions during Rag Week”, and the balance between fun and fundraising has been a source of conflict throughout RAG’s troubled history. Somehow, though, RAG has staggered through.