Lord Bullock of Leafield

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Alan Louis Charles Bullock, Baron Bullock of Leafield, historian, born December 13 1914; died February 2 2004

"The historian Alan Bullock, who has died aged 89, was one of the most versatile and engaging public figures produced by Britain in the second half of the 20th century. "Bullock by name, and Bullock by nature," he liked to say of himself. He was a powerfully built man, and some people found him domineering. Others, especially those who worked with him to found St Catherine's College, Oxford, thought him little short of a hero.

"Bullock first caught the public's attention in 1952, with his biography Hitler, A Study In Tyranny, which, in its revised edition (1964), remains both a standard work and an absorbing piece of modern historical writing. The book on which his reputation as a historian rests, it played to his strengths as a biographer who had the knack of penetrating the minds of others. He went on to become, in 1960, founding master of St Catherine's, the only new college for both undergraduates and graduates built in Oxford in the 20th century, and also the first to be divided equally between students of science and the arts.

"People who worked with Bullock came away convinced that he loved committees. He enhanced his reputation by chairing high-profile inquiries into the teaching of English (1972-74) and industrial democracy (1976). Although, at times, he could seem wilful and overbearing, his closest friends and colleagues saw him as, at heart, a man of consensus. He was a popular chairman of the Tate gallery (1973-80) and other public bodies, and a favourite among journalists at the Observer, joining it as a trustee (1957-69) after the 1956 Suez operation, which both he and the paper opposed; from 1977 to 1981, he was a director of the paper.

"He was Oxford's first full-time vice-chancellor (1969-73), serving during a difficult period of student unrest. ...

"Bullock won a scholarship to Wadham College, Oxford, where he studied for five years to win a rare double first in classics (1936) and modern history (1938). Asthma disqualified him from military service, but he spent a satisfying second world war at the BBC Overseas Service, where he learned, and enjoyed, the arts of black propaganda...

"Also in the 1950s, he began the work of converting the moribund St Catherine's Society (designed for students too poor to join a proper university college) into a full-blown Oxford foundation. The time was auspicious. Industry had money to invest in education, and there was a boom in the population of student age. People had become aware of the importance of science to social and economic progress, and of the way in which Oxford, like most universities, was biased against it.

"Brandishing his novel idea of a college with as many scientists as students of the arts, Bullock almost singlehandedly persuaded companies to stump up the £2m he needed. World-famous names like Esso and Lockheed funded both buildings and scholarships. Bullock trod on many toes in the process (some of then belonging to his own fellows) and he caused horror among traditionalists by choosing the Danish architect Arne Jacobsen to put up the buildings on a fine riverside site.

"He was made a life peer in the year of that inquiry, 1976. In 1981, he joined the Social Democratic party, and he continued giving lectures till 1997. His last books were a biography of his father, Building Jerusalem (2000) and a single-volume biography of Ernest Bevin (2002)." [1]

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  1. Lord Bullock of Leafield, Guardian, accessed May 21, 2010.