David Childs (academic)

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David Childs
Professor David Childs.jpg
David Childs at a meeting with Lord Triesmann
Personal details
Born (1933-09-25) 25 September 1933 (age 83)
Bolton, Lancashire, England
Nationality British
Spouse(s) Monire PishdarPhotographer
Children 2 Children – Martin (Journalist & Project Manager); Julian (Project Manager)
Residence Nottingham
Alma mater London School of Economics
Profession Emeritus Professor of Politics, University of Nottingham
Website davidchilds.co.uk

David Childs (born September 1933) is a Professor Emeritus in Politics at the University of Nottingham. His considerable contribution to the advancement of German studies has helped academics, ambassadors, business leaders, government ministers, the armed services and students develop a greater knowledge of the history and politics of Germany (former East – GDR, & West – FRG).

Family and education[edit]

Born in Bolton, David Childs is the son of John Arthur Childs, a police officer, who went on to become Mayor of Bolton (1962–63), and Ellen Childs (née Haslam). He has one sister, Margaret, who still lives in Bolton. He was educated at:


  • Founder member of the Association for the Study of German Politics [1] (the leading academic body in the field) since 1974; member of the executive, 1981–91; Chair, 1981–86 [2]; Secretary, 1986–88; founder/editor of journal,1988–92.
  • Member of British-German Association [3] (the official lay body for the promotion of Anglo-German relations), member of executive 1987–97.
  • Member of the European Movement [4]; Gesellschaft für Deutschland Forschung [5] (Berlin); Association of University Teachers [6] [Member of Nottingham University Committee, 1994-8].
  • Elected Fellow of Royal Society of Arts [7] 1990.
  • In 1985 created the Institute of German, Austrian and Swiss Affairs [8] at Nottingham University. Director 1985–92.


Childs studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science before going on a British Council scholarship to Hamburg University, in 1956. Childs had already made several holiday trips to Germany, the first being to the communist-organized Festival of Youth And Students in East Berlin in 1951. At the festival, he made contacts which served him well in his future research. He traveled again to East Berlin just after the rising of June 1953 when the Soviet Army was used to crush the workers' revolt. This event, and books such as Orwell's 1984 and Koestler's Darkness At Noon turned him into a strong anti-Communist.

Having gained his Ph.D by part-time study at London University, he turned to academic work and was appointed as a lecturer at the University of Nottingham in 1966. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer, and then reader in 1976. By this time, he was well known for his books on Germany and for his book Marx and the Marxists – An Outline of Practice And Theory.

Elected chairman of the Association for the Study of German Politics, now the International Association for the Study of German Politics in 1983, Childs conceived the idea for an Institute of German, Austrian and Swiss Affairs at the University of Nottingham . This was to be orientated to politics and society rather than language and literature. He engaged the interest of the city entrepreneur, John H. Gunn, a graduate in German of the university, and INGASA was established with financial help from Gunn in 1985. Upon completion of the bespoke building, the centre was opened by the Baroness Thatcher Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister in 1989. The German, Austrian and Swiss ambassadors became patrons and the Institute became internationally respected for its many highly successful conferences on themes such as the Austrian resistance to National Socialism, the ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union, German Liberalism, and training in German companies. In 1990, it held what was the biggest university conference to date on Germany with over 450 participants. Controversy arose as speakers from all of the new East German political parties and the Communist SED Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands) argued in the University's great hall about the future of East Germany.

German reunification, in October 1990, coincided with the start of the fall of INGASA. John Gunn had presided over the collapse of British & Commonwealth, one of the largest city businesses, and could no longer fund the Institute. The slump made it difficult to find alternative supporters. Childs, promoted to professor in 1989, came under great pressure from those who had long disapproved of his line on Germany and Communism, and from professional rivals. He was removed from the directorship of the Institute in 1992, and took early retirement from the University two years later. He continued to serve as a member of the committee of the British-German Association [9] until 1997.

The Fall of the German Democratic Republic[edit]

Childs was one of the few who predicted the collapse of the Berlin Wall and of the GDR or DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) (November 1989). Few shared his standpoint on this.

After several visits in the late 1970s and early 1980s Childs concluded that the East German state, the DDR (GDR), was not sustainable. He made such a prediction at a conference at the University of Dundee in 1981. As Professor Marianne Howarth later found in the East German archives, a secret report on this was duly sent back to East Berlin.

The Stasi attempted to monitor his activities not only on visits to East Germany but also in Britain. His appearance at a conference in Bradford in 1983 was again duly recorded in the Stasi archives. He was put on a Stasi Fahndung [investigation] list and denounced in DDR publications as a 'British imperialist East researcher'. Childs later discovered the file that the Stasi had on him which covered a seven-year period. The file revealed that he had, in fact, been spied upon by two British spies – two British academics.[1] It also revealed that he was regarded by the East German secret police as their most serious opponent in Britain.

Childs delivered the same 'Dundee' analysis at the German Historical Institute in London [10], 24 November 1987, and elsewhere. He predicted early German reunification and outlined a plan similar to the actual one adopted in an interview with Peter Johnson on the [West German radio] Deutschlandfunk in April 1988. He was ridiculed! When he later spoke at the 'Pacific Workshop On German Affairs: The Two Germanies at Forty', – Long Beach, California, in April 1989, about the likely collapse of the DDR, he again met with strong opposition and ridicule. However, the organiser, Professor Christian Soe, invited him back, after German reunification, in 1991, writing, 'We are happy that David Childs, who in April 1989 took a minority position in clearly diagnosing the moribund condition of the East German system, returns to give us a post mortem ...' In an article written the day before the opening of the Berlin Wall, and published in the Yorkshire Evening Post, 9 November 1989, Childs predicted full German reunification and welcomed it. The following day The Guardian wrote, 'It would mean that a dangerous situation in the heart of Europe has been liquidated ...'

British political history and further research[edit]

Childs' wide knowledge of both domestic and international affairs has been utilised by both government and commercial organisations such as: the BBC, Sky News, The Independent, The Times, MoD, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Royal Institute of International Affairs (now Chatham House) and an array of City firms.

He has been a guest speaker on contemporary German themes at Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, California State University, Long Beach, University of Texas at San Antonio, and, among others, in the 1990s and 2000s at Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Jena, Leipzig University, and University of Potsdam. He has also made himself available to voluntary groups in various parts of England.

Although a long-standing member of the European Movement, and a strong supporter of the European Union, Childs is known as the author of works on Britain rather than Germany. His Britain Since 1945: A Political History, first published in 1979, has never been out of print, and has been revised and extended over the years. In 1997, Routledge published the fourth largely re-written edition, a 5th edition followed in 2001 and the 6th in 2006.[11]

Childs' most recent publication differs from his more usual academic publications as it is a novel, entitled We Were No Heroes. [12] It is about Martin Thomas, an Englishman who fought for the Waffen SS on the Eastern Front, survived a Soviet concentration camp, worked as a Stasi agent during the Cold War and witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall. Childs based the semi-fictional account on a man he had met in Leipzig in 1989. The author and novel were recently mentioned in the Bolton News [13] where he explains the events leading to the writing of this novel. Writing in the Guernsey Press [14] (11 January 2010) local historian, Herbert Winterflood, commented: "David has stuck to the main points of the Guernsey Occupation with a high degree authenticity ... David has given a very true account of the period ... The book ... is a good read."

Tam Dalyell, former Labour MP, wrote in The Oldie, Summer 2010, 'Childs develops an entirely credible story of this young Channel Islander, inspired by Amery, volunteering to serve in the Waffen SS on the Russian Front – there was never any question of those in Martin Thomas's position being expected to fight against this country. The narrative follows him into a Soviet concentration camp, and describes his life as a Stasi agent in the Cold War up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I found We Were No Heroes compulsive reading and extremely informative.'

Having worked as a journalist, mainly for ATV, 1961–1964, Childs [15] writes for newspapers, magazines and journals [16]. Over 250 of his obituaries have been published in The Independent from 1988 to 2013.

In 2011, he was invited to talk at the Italian-German Historical Institute, based in Trento, Italy, at a conference on International and multidisciplinary perspectives 20 years after the collapse of communism [17].

In September 2013, Childs was among a number of international observers following the German Federal Elections, German federal election, 2013. They travelled across Germany monitoring the various parties and witnessed Angela Merkel's famous third term as German Chancellor. Some photographs of his trip can be found here. Full website images here.


On 4 March 2013, Childs was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland), Germany's highest honour, in recognition of his 50 years of outstanding, pioneering academic work, particularly on the GDR, and his practical work in the field of reconciliation and friendship between Germany and the United Kingdom. The Cross of the German Order of Merit was presented at the German Embassy [18] by the German Ambassador, Georg Boomgaarden, on behalf of the German President, Joachim Gauck. The event [19] was attended by friends, family and former students including Neil Carmichael, MP, Kelvin Hopkins, MP, and Owain Blackwell, Head of Law at Bolton University. Pieces have appeared on many sites including his alma mater, the LSE and Nottingham University's website, and his home town's paper, The Bolton News.


Sole author:

  • The Fall of the GDR: Germany's Road To Unity, Longman, 2001. ISBN 978-0-582-31569-3.
  • The GDR: Moscow's German Ally, (Second Edition 1988, First Edition 1983, George Allen & Unwin, London) ISBN 978-0-04-354029-9.
  • The Fall of the GDR, Longman, 2001. ISBN 0-582-31569-7.
  • The Two Red Flags: European Social Democracy & Soviet Communism Since 1945, Routledge, 2000. ISBN 978-0-41-522195-5
  • Germany in the Twentieth Century, (From pre-1918 to the restoration of German unity), Batsford, Third edition, 1991. ISBN 0-7134-6795-9.
  • East Germany to the 1990s Can It Resist Glasnost?, [20] The Economist Intelligence Unit, 1987. ISBN 978-0-85058-245-1. [21]
  • Germany Since 1918, (second edition 1980, first 1972, Batsford/Harper & Row). ISBN 0060107596
  • Marx and the Marxists an Outline of Practice and Theory, Ernest Benn/Barnes & Noble, 1973. ISBN 978-0-51-026260-0
  • East Germany, Ernest Benn/Praeger, 1969. ISBN 978-0-71-343673-0
  • From Schumacher to Brandt: The Story of German Socialism Since 1945, Pergamon, 1966.
  • Britain Since 1945: A Political History – Sixth Edition, Routledge, 2006. ISBN 0-415-39327-2 [22].
  • Britain since 1939: Progress and Decline, Macmillan, 1995, 2nd Edition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. ISBN 978-0-333-97165-9
  • Britain Since 1945: A Political History – Seventh Edition, Routledge, 2012. ISBN 0415519519


  • The Changing Face of Western Communism, Edited By David Childs, Croom Helm,1980. ISBN 0-85664-734-9, ISBN 07099-0281-6
  • West Germany: Politics And Society, David H. Childs and Jeffrey Johnson, Croom Helm, 1982. ISBN 0-7099-0702-8.
  • Honecker's Germany, Edited By David Childs, Allen & Unwin, 1985. ISBN 0-04-354031-7 [23]
  • East Germany in Comparative Perspective, Thomas A. Baylis, David H. Childs and Marilyn Rueschemeyer, eds., Routledge, 1989.
  • Children In War: Reminiscences of the second World War, Edited by David Childs and Janet Wharton, 1989. ISBN 1-85041-030-5
  • The Stasi: East German Intelligence and Security Service, David H. Childs & Richard Popplewell, Palgrave Macmillan, 1996, Revised paperback edition 1999. ISBN 978-0333772072

Other publications[edit]

Professor Childs has made contributions to 20 other books and over 170 articles with other works pending, including over 250 obituaries for The Independent newspaper. Below is a list of where some of the articles have appeared: The Independent, The Times, The Times Higher Education Supplement, The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, International Affairs [24], Albion (USA) [25], Current History (USA) [26], Political Geography, Political Studies [27], English Historical Review, German Politics (IASGP) [28].

Most recent conference publications:

  • "British Views on the German Economy and the Germans, 1949–1964" in Franz Bosbach, John R. Davis, Andreas Fahrmeir (Hg.), Industrieentwicklung: Ein deutsch-britischer Dialog, Prinz-Albert Studien, Band 27, Munich, 2009. [29]
  • "Schwierigkeiten und Möglichkeiten der britischen DDR-Forschung vor 1990" in Peter Barker, Marc Dietrich Ohse, Dennis Tate (Hg.), Views from Abroad Die DDR aus britischer Perspektive, Bielefeld, 2007. [30]
  • Un paese sconosciuto, La DDR vista dalla Gran Bretagna’ (Ein unbekanntes Land: Die DDR aus britischer Sicht) – An Unknown Country: The GDR from a British Perspective, edited by Magda Martini & Thomas Schaarschmidt, Riflessioni sulla DDR, (Reflections on the DDR / GDR), Bologna, 2011.
  • Intelligence Gathering in Cold War Germany, Journal of Contemporary History, (Volume 48, Number 3, pp. 617–624), Sage Publications, London, July 2013. [31],[32]

More references[edit]

  1. ^ "I was spied on by the East Germans". This is Lancashire. 28 September 1999. Retrieved 16 December 2015.