Asa Briggs

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Lord Briggs
Born(1921-05-07)7 May 1921[1]
Died15 March 2016(2016-03-15) (aged 94)
Lewes, East Sussex, England
SpouseSusan Anne Banwell (1955–2016, his death)
Military career
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Corps of Signals Intelligence Corps
Years of service1942–1945
RankWarrant Officer
Battles/warsSecond World War

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. Briggs achieved international recognition during his long and prolific career for examining various aspects of modern British history.[2] He became 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.[3] He was educated at Keighley Boys' Grammar School and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, graduating with a BA (first class) in History, in 1941, and a BSc in Economics (first class) from the University of London External Programme, also in 1941.[4][3]

Military service[edit]

During the Second World War, from 1942 to 1945, Briggs served in the Intelligence Corps and worked at the British wartime signals intelligence 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.[5] That posting had arisen because Briggs had played chess at college 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.[3]

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.[3] 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 in Leeds University and between 1961 and 1976 he was professor of history in Sussex University, whilst 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 was an honorary fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, from 1968, Worcester College, Oxford, from 1969 and St Catharine's College, Cambridge, from 1977. He 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,[6] he was created a life peer as Baron Briggs, of Lewes in the County of East Sussex on 19 July 1976.[7]

Between 1961 and 1995, Briggs wrote a five-volume series on the history of broadcasting in the UK from 1922 to 1974 – essentially the history of the BBC, who commissioned the work.[3] 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.[3] 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.[8] He was also President of the William Morris Society from 1978 to 1991 and President of the UK's Victorian Society from 1986 until his death.[9]

Briggs headed the Committee on Nursing government investigation in the early 1970s. The Committee's subsequent report became known as the Briggs Report.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Briggs married Susan Anne Banwell of Keevil, Wiltshire in 1955;[11] the couple had two sons and two daughters. He died at home in Lewes at the age of 94 on 15 March 2016.[12]

Select bibliography[edit]

  • History of Birmingham, 3 volumes (Oxford University Press)
  1. Volume II: Borough and City 1865-1938 (1952)

Briggs contributed volume 2 - volume 1 was written by Conrad Gill (1952) and volume 3 by Anthony Sutcliffe and Roger Smith (1974)

  • 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)
  • Victorian People: Reassessments of People, Institutions, Ideas and Events, 1851-1867 (Odhams Press, 1954); reprinted in A Victorian Trilogy (Folio Society, 1996)
  • The Age of Improvement, 1783–1867 (Longmans, 1959) from "A History of England" series; reprinted as England in the Age of Improvement 1783-1867 (Folio Society, 1999)
  • Victorian Cities (Odhams Press, 1963); reprinted in A Victorian Trilogy (Folio Society, 1996)
  • Marx in London: An Illustrated Guide (BBC Books, 1982); reprinted with John Callow (Lawrence & Wishart, 2007)
  • A Social History of England (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1983); reprinted and updated (Weidenfeld, 1994)
  • Toynbee Hall: The First Hundred Years (Routledge, 1984) ISBN 0-7102-0283-0
  • Marks & Spencer 1884–1984: A Centenary History (Octopus Books, 1984)
  • The Franchise Affair: Creating Fortunes and Failures in Independent Television (Century, 1986); with Joanna Spicer)[13]
  • Victorian Things (Batsford, 1988); reprinted in A Victorian Trilogy (Folio Society, 1996)
  • A Victorian Portrait: Victorian Life and Values As Seen Through the Work of Studio Photographers (Cassell, 1989); with Archie Miles
  • The Channel Islands: Occupation and Liberation 1940–1945 (Batsford/Imperial War Museum, 1995) ISBN 0-7134-7822-5
  • A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet (Polity Press, 2002); with Peter Burke, 4th revised edition, 2020
  • Secret Days: Codebreaking in Bletchley Park: A Memoir of Hut Six and the Enigma Machine (Frontline, 2011) ISBN 978-1-84832-615-6
  • Special Relationships: People and Places (Frontline, 2012)


  1. ^ "The Rt Hon the Lord Briggs, FBA". Debretts. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013.
  2. ^ Caves, R. W. (2004). Encyclopedia of the City. Routledge. p. 55.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Jones, Nigel (15 March 2016). "Asa Briggs obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  4. ^ Bridges, Sophie. "The Papers of Asa Briggs". Janus. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  5. ^ Asa Briggs, foreword to Gwen Watkins, Cracking the Luftwaffe Codes, 2006, Greenhill Books, p. 12, ISBN 978-1-85367-687-1
  6. ^ "No. 46919". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 June 1976. p. 8015.
  7. ^ "No. 46970". The London Gazette. 23 July 1976. p. 10135.
  8. ^ Lemon, Charles (1993). "A Centenary History of The Brontë Society, 1893–1993". Brontë Society Transactions. Supplement to Volume 20: 105.
  9. ^ Martin Crick, The History of the William Morris Society 1955–2005 (London, 2011); Paul Thompson, 'Asa Briggs 1921–2016', The Victorian: The Magazine of the Victorian Society, 52 (July 2016), p. 5.
  10. ^ Tierney, Alison J. (24 October 2022). "50 years since the Briggs Report | Blogs | Royal College of Nursing". The Royal College of Nursing. Retrieved 17 January 2023.
  11. ^ "Wedding photograph". Wiltshire Times. 10 September 1955.
  12. ^ "Asa Briggs, Lord Briggs of Lewes, passes: 7 May 1921 – 15 March 2016". University of Sussex. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  13. ^ Briggs, Asa; Spicer, Joanna (1986). The Franchise Affair. Century. ISBN 978-0-7126-1201-2.

Further reading[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by President of the Workers' Educational Association
1958 – 1967
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chancellor of the Open University
Succeeded by
Preceded by Provost of Worcester College, Oxford
Succeeded by

External links[edit]