Asa Briggs

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Briggs
Asa Briggs,jpg.jpg
Asa Briggs
Born (1921-05-07)7 May 1921[1]
Keighley, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died 15 March 2016(2016-03-15) (aged 94)
Lewes, East Sussex, England
Nationality British
Occupation Historian
Spouse(s) Susan Anne Banwell (1955–2016, his death)

Asa Briggs, Baron Briggs (7 May 1921 – 15 March 2016) was an English historian. He was a leading specialist on the Victorian era, and the foremost historian of broadcasting in Britain. He was made a life peer in 1976.

Early life[edit]

Asa Briggs was born in Keighley, West Riding of Yorkshire in 1921 to William Briggs, an engineer, and his wife Jane.[2] He was educated at Keighley Boys' Grammar School and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, graduating with a BA (first class) in 1941, and a BSc in Economics (first class) from the University of London External Programme, also in 1941.[3]

Military service[edit]

From 1942 to 1945 during the Second World War, Briggs served in the Intelligence Corps and worked at the British wartime codebreaking station, Bletchley Park. He was a member of "the Watch" in Hut 6, the section deciphering Enigma machine messages from the German Army and Luftwaffe.[4] This posting had arisen because at college Briggs had played chess with Cambridge mathematician Howard Smith (who was to become the Director General of MI5 in 1979) and Smith had written to the head of Hut 6, Gordon Welchman, who was also a Cambridge mathematician, recommending Briggs to him.[2]

Academic career[edit]

After the war, he was elected a Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford (1945–55), and was subsequently appointed University Reader in Recent Social and Economic History (1950–55). Whilst a young Fellow, Briggs proofread Winston Churchill's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.[2] He was later Faculty Fellow of Nuffield College (1953–55) and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, United States (1953–54).

From 1955 until 1961 he was Professor of Modern History at Leeds University and between 1961 and 1976 he was Professor of History at Sussex University, while also serving as Dean of the School of Social Studies (1961–65), Pro Vice-Chancellor (1961–67) and Vice-Chancellor (1967–76). On 4 June 2008 the University of Sussex Arts A1 and A2 lecture theatres, designed by Basil Spence, were renamed in his honour.

In 1976 he returned to Oxford to become Provost of Worcester College, retiring from the post in 1991.

He was Chancellor of the Open University (1978–94) and in May 1979 was awarded an honorary degree as Doctor of the University. He had been an Honorary Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, from 1968, of Worcester College, Oxford, from 1969, and of St Catharine's College, Cambridge, from 1977. He also held a visiting appointment at the Gannett Center for Media Studies at Columbia University in the late 1980s and again at the renamed Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia in 1995–96. Announced in the 1976 Birthday Honours,[5] he was created a life peer as Baron Briggs, of Lewes in the County of East Sussex on 19 July 1976.[6]

Between 1961 and 1995, Briggs wrote a five-volume text on the history of broadcasting in the UK from 1922 to 1974 — essentially, the history of the BBC, who commissioned the work.[2] Briggs' other works ranged from an account of the period that Karl Marx spent in London to the corporate history of British retailer Marks and Spencer.[2] In 1987, Lord Briggs was invited to be President of the Brontë Society, a literary society established in 1893 in Haworth, near Keighley, Yorkshire. He presided over the Society's centenary celebrations in 1993 and continued as President until he retired from the position in 1996.[7]

He died at home in Lewes at the age of 94 on 15 March 2016.[8]

Personal life[edit]

He married Susan Anne Banwell in 1955 and they had two sons and two daughters.

Select bibliography[edit]

  • The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, 5 volumes (Oxford University Press)
  1. The Birth of Broadcasting – 1961
  2. The Golden Age of Wireless (1927–1939) – 1965
  3. The War of Words (1939–1945) – 1970
  4. Sound and Vision (1945–1955) – 1979
  5. Competition (1955–1974) – 1995
  • The Age of Improvement, 1783–1867 (Harlow: Pearson, 1959, 2nd edn 2000)
  • The Channel Islands, Occupation and Liberation 1940–1945, Batsford Books, London, ISBN 0-7134-7822-5
  • A Social History of England
  • Victorian People
  • Victorian Cities
  • Toynbee Hall: The First Hundred Years (London: Routledge, 1984, ISBN 0-7102-0283-0)
  • Victorian Things
  • Marks & Spencer Ltd: A Centenary History, Marks & Spencer 1884–1984
  • Marx in London: An Illustrated Guide
  • A Social History of the Media 2002
  • Secret Days: Codebreaking in Bletchley Park: A Memoir of Hut Six and the Enigma Machine (Frontline Books, ISBN 978-1-84832-615-6, May 2011)
  • Special Relationships: People and Places 2012

Further reading[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Baron Gardiner
Chancellor of the Open University
1978–1994
Succeeded by
Betty Boothroyd
Preceded by
Oliver Franks, Baron Franks
Provost of Worcester College, Oxford
1976–1991
Succeeded by
Richard Smethurst

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Rt Hon the Lord Briggs, FBA". Debretts. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Jones, Nigel (15 March 2016). "Asa Briggs obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 15 March 2016. 
  3. ^ Bridges, Sophie. "The Papers of Asa Briggs". Janus. Retrieved 11 September 2011. 
  4. ^ Asa Briggs, foreword to Gwen Watkins, Cracking the Luftwaffe Codes, 2006, Greenhill Books, p. 12, ISBN 978-1-85367-687-1
  5. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 46919. p. 8015. 4 June 1976.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 46970. p. 10135. 23 July 1976.
  7. ^ Lemon, Charles (1993). "A Centenary History of The Brontë Society, 1893–1993". Brontë Society Transactions. Supplement to Volume 20: 105. 
  8. ^ http://www.sussex.ac.uk/newsandevents/index?id=34873