Colleges: Boola, Booia Balliol

Architecturally, Oxford's Balliol College is a Victorian Gothic pile of no great distinction; in vintage its statutes are junior to Merton and University colleges. Yet it sits at the head of Oxford's intellectual table—a proud hatchery of Prime Ministers, archbishops, cardinals and viceroys. Of Balliol's 400-odd students, 20% regularly win first-class honors on final exams—a record unmatched by any other Oxford college, not even haughty Magdalen.

This year Balliol (pronounced BALE-yul) is seven centuries old, and it celebrated the birthday in a flurry of skyrockets, French cuisine and champagne toasts. On hand...

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