Dear Professor Elliot,
I am writing to you concerning the 1986 BMC to be held in Hull. I thought it would be desirable to offer you some advice concerning the timetable and workload gleaned from my experience this year. First, it is essential to issue invitations to speakers as soon as possible in the Easter term. Last year they slipped to the end and many speakers were to vanish for several months. The list of speakers needs to be complete at the beginning of September in order to print the application forms, and although that may seem a long time, in fact once one moves to second and third reserves and takes account of the 'dead' month of August, it is not hard to exceed this deadline. Assuming you have booked lecture rooms, provisional accommodation and meals, there are no other urgent tasks before the Michaelmas term that the Secretary cannot deal with himself.
The Secretary should pay a visit by car to Cambridge at some time during the Easter term to collect the files and to discuss with me what is involved in his job. I enclose copies of the letters sent to this years' speakers, which are the only items he will need before coming to Cambridge. In Cambridge the organising committee which selected the speakers changed completely for the Michaelmas term. Although this was an accident caused by the change in the Head of Department, it did confer several advantages. The committee which selects the speakers needs to be high-powered and balanced between the various areas of mathematics, whereas the committee which organises the colloquium deals with more mundane but practical matters, and has no need of balance. The second committee consists here of everyone with jobs: the Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, and the Book Display and Splinter Group organisers. There are strong advantages in only having people who are doing things themselves and not merely suggesting tasks for others to perform! It is essential that the five characters just identified are separate. The LMS requires that the Secretary and Treasurer are distinct, whilst all except the Chairman have tasks to perform during the colloquium, and so cannot be doubled (I suppose in a perfect world a Chairman could be dispensed with!). No job other than Secretary entails a great deal of work outside the colloquium, however. But the Secretary's does! 1 would estimate that it is halftime for the Michaelmas term and fulltime for the Lent term, and a Secretary should expect to have his teaching load cut by the appropriate amounts. It is also not a job which can be split up, as it then results in endless meetings and discussions. This was actually attempted a few years ago, and the files are full of a series of these entertainments at which every little detail was discussed by a committee of 10. Finally there is the matter of secretarial assistance for the Secretary. My present guess is that it involves roughly 1 day per week during the Michaelmas term, but constitutes a full-time job during the Lent term. Furthermore, it is not just a matter of typing it requires someone with a fair degree of experience and organisational ability.
I trust this advice is useful to you. It may seem pessimistic, but it is better to be forewarned!
[Dr R C Mason]