May Ball crashing has a storied history at Cambridge, the most outlandish attempts immortalised in the archivesVarsity archives

Earlier this term, Homerton’s May Ball Committee warned guests of the dire consequences of gate crashing, in a tone so stern that it verges on ridiculousness (anyone caught will seemingly be sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague). This intrepid archivist feels the need to provide the students of Cambridge with some top tips for illicit May Ball entrance, drawn from the experience of past crashers.

A bow-tied reveller wishing to go to every May Week event in 1964 would have been set back 109 pounds and 8 shillings. This sounds good, affording you access to 12 May bBlls, 15 concerts, three revues and two operas, although the inflation-adjusted figure stands at something more like £2260 today.

“Key tools can be carried in a handbag”

In June 1964, Varsity recommends that, to look better than the other “chaps” at your May Ball, you must equip yourself with a starched collar, a self-tied bow tie, and well-polished shoes. Additionally, a man and woman duo is heavily recommended for gatecrashing, so key tools can be carried in a handbag. Rather than taking up valuable space with a smuggled champagne glass, this issue urges you to pack pliers, crowbar, wire cutters, a master key, lock picks, and a torch.

Once inside the gates, you must take pains to enamour yourself with your fellow ball-goers, else you be spotted as an outsider. Even if you are rumbled, you must be able to count on your new-found friends to rally around you. So, this issue writes, you must be ready to serve your pals for the night with a lighter and a corkscrew. The 1964 edition also recommends picking up a discarded invitation from the ground and using it to get a program. The tell-tale clues of a gatecrasher which this guide urges you to avoid include bringing a coat, giving your real name or college, and running away if a “servant” or porter appears.

More recently, Varsity has found some students to waltz into balls without a hitch. In 2007, seven ladies simply walked into a Clare May event. Their secret: a friend to hold open the door for them.

In one of June 2010’s daily Varsity editions, a writer offers their top tip to gatecrashing: hiding in a laundry cupboard on the morning of the ball, waiting it out while resisting the urge to nap, and emerging only once the party is well underway. The pro-crashers of 2010 claim that the art of breaking in is “about misdirection, like Derren Brown”. “By aligning tiny principles of behaviour and reaction you can achieve the most unlikely outcomes,” they say. I will let the reader come to their own conclusion as to whether stuffing yourself in a cupboard for an afternoon is at one with the illusionist principles of Derren Brown.

Continuing through the archives, I learn of a 2012 Peterhouse student who scaled the walls of Pembroke and tiptoed past sleeping committee members into the ball. The same year, a Jesus undergrad and successful Robinson gatecrasher offers the following plan of attack: steal a walkie-talkie, buy an earpiece on eBay, berate security guards with porkies of a break-in on the other side of college, and walk right through the main entrance.

If this all seems a little too easy, let me provide you with some tales of caution from early 2000s crashing attempts.

During Robinson May Ball 2005, one unfortunate crasher was “dragged through the ball screaming by misguided security guards putting a dampener on the atmosphere for many”. In 2006, a John’s security guard allegedly “threw himself on a girl emerging from the river like he was trying to stop an assassination”, reportedly causing minor injury to the crasher. This edition also warns against the pitfalls of jumping from too great a height, or else risk tearing your tux in the crotch region.

“The box contained three more girls in full ball attire”

Another tried (and failed) method is to claim that you are delivering a last-minute stash of drinks, as one group of girls attempted at John’s 2003. This trick was foiled by ingenious guards, who discovered that the box contained three more girls in full ball attire, rather than the promised smoothies.

On a lighter note, 2004’s edition comes with a satirical crasher’s guide including the following mantra: “Hide in a portaloo in black tie the night before. Stave off the boredom with a bottle of vodka. You may find yourself having so much fun that you won’t bother joining the ball.” Another top tip is to leave your wristbands on your wrists for years to come. After all, “in a couple of years the same design is bound to come up”.

Some conclusions from history, since those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it:


1. Get too drunk, especially after several failed attempts to break in

2. Run directly at a plodge: the security guards are stronger than you

3. Fight security guards: there are better ways to distract them

4. Fall from a great height: a 2012 guide points out that “the laws of physics still apply after exams”

5. Be overconfident: a cocky nod of the head at security guards works much more effectively than demanding to see the May Ball president


1. A cost-benefit analysis. If you have to wait in a cupboard for 9 hours or dig under a wall for several weeks in the style of The Great Escape, consider whether in that time you could have worked a minimum wage job (at a ball for instance) and earned enough money to get in legitimately


Mountain View

Vintage Varsity: hands off Architecture!

2. Ensure that attempts that will ruin your clothes are used for King’s Affair rather than Peterhouse

3. Be confident: the easiest way to break in is to walk in with confidence; props such as Walkie Talkies and sashes are helpful for this

4. Have a man (or woman) on the inside: this is often your easiest way in

5. Be able to swim: this may be your only get-away

Our 2010 feature on ball crashing declares: “Varsity neither condones nor had prior knowledge of the ball crasher’s actions.” So, if you would like some moralising, I say go forth and crash!