Notable Birkbeckians

Birkbeck graduates follow in the footsteps of radical thinkers, social reformers, poets and writers - and even a prime minister. 

Important historical figures

  • JD Bernal (1901-1971), crystallographer: JD Bernal was the founding father of Birkbeck’s crystallography department. Bernal would become known as the ‘world’s wisest man’ during the Second World War. His intellectual force resonated beyond the world of science through his works for peace as President of the World Peace Council (1958-1965).
  • Annie Besant (1847-1933), social reformer: Annie Besant studied at Birkbeck in the late 1800s. At the time she was a controversial student; her anti-religious views brought her into conflict with the College Governors. She was a strong advocate of women's causes, secularism, birth control, Fabian socialism and workers' rights. In 1893 she moved to India where she joined the Indian National Congress, and in 1916 she launched the Home Rule League, actively promoting self-rule for India. 
  • George Birkbeck (1776-1841), founder of Birkbeck College: Dr George Birkbeck was a doctor, academic and philanthropist. He started a revolution in London's education system in 1823 by establishing the London Mechanics' Institution, which later became Birkbeck College.
  • TS Eliot (1888-1965), poet, playwright and literary critic: The Nobel Prize-winning poet, playwright and literary critic taught English at Birkbeck for a short time in 1915. 
  • Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958), biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer: Rosalind Franklin was a biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer who made important contributions to the understanding of the fine molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal and graphite. She worked as a Research Fellow at Birkbeck during the 1950s, working alongside Aaron Klug, making discoveries into the structure of RNA. It is widely thought that she was deprived of the Nobel Prize by her early death. 
  • Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), Black political leader and advocate of Pan-Africanism: Marcus Garvey was a hugely influential political leader, author and orator. He advocated a Pan-African philosophy that aimed to strengthen bonds of fellowship between all peoples of African descent. Garvey left his homeland of Jamaica to live in London between 1912 and 1914, where he attended law and philosophy classes at Birkbeck.
  • Helen Gwynne-Vaughan (1879-1967), Professor of botany and Birkbeck’s first female professor: a prominent botanist and mycologist, Helen Gwynne-Vaughan was Birkbeck’s first female professor and became head of Birkbeck’s Botany department in 1909. During the First World War, she was appointed Head of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. In 1922 she was made a Dame of the British Empire. 
  • Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012), historian and President of Birkbeck: the world-famous Marxist historian joined the College as a lecturer in 1947 and faithfully served Birkbeck until his death in 2012. He was made Emeritus Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of London in 1982 and he served tirelessly as President of Birkbeck from 2002 until his death in 2012. His best-known works are the hugely popular and influential trilogy about the nineteenth century: The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848 (1962)The Age of Capital: 1848-1875 (1975) and The Age of Empire: 1875-1914 (1987). He followed the trilogy with The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991 (1994). 
  • Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937), British Prime Minister: Ramsay MacDonald studied science, botany, agriculture, mathematics, and physics at Birkbeck in the latter part of the nineteenth century. He went on to become British Prime Minister in the 1920s and 1930s and the first Labour Prime Minister.
  • Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983), architectural historian and critic: a German émigré, Nikolaus Pevsner travelled the length and breadth of England creating a unique record of the country’s most significant buildings and monuments. He published his classic, Outline of European Architecture in 1942. Pevsner became Birkbeck’s first Professor of History of Art in 1959.
  • Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918), artist and poet: Isaac Rosenberg studied in the Art School at Birkbeck between 1907 and 1908, winning a number of awards and prizes for his work. He went on to study at the Slade School where he developed his skills as a Poet. He was one of the group of poets who openly criticised the mass slaughter and incompetent military leadership of the First World War. He was killed while fighting in the battle of the Somme in the spring of 1918.
  • Sidney James Webb, 1st Baron Passfield (1859-1947) student of Law at Birkbeck: socialist, economist, reformer, and husband of Beatrice Potter. He was one of the early members of the Fabian Society, helping turn it into the pre-eminent political-intellectual society of the day, and also founded the London School of Economics. 

graduates in business

  • Marian Bell CBE (MSc Economics, 1986): former member of the Monetary Policy Committee
  • Nicholas Baldwin (MSc Economics, 1984): former Chief Executive, PowerGen Plc
  • Steve Bundred (MSc Economics, 1984): Chief Executive, Audit Commission
  • Moorad Choudhry (PhD Management, 2008): former Head of Treasury, Europe Arab Bank plc
  • Simon Morris (PhD History, 2005): Partner, CMS Cameron McKenna
  • Victor Ng (MSc Economics, 1978): Executive Chairman, London Asia Group
  • Sir Terence Heiser (BA English, 1958): formerly Non-Executive Director of Abbey National Plc, Sainsbury’s plc and Wessex Water plc
  • Eric Salama (MSc Economics, 1986): Chairman and Chief Executive, the Kantar Group
  • Richard Sambrook (MSc Politics and Administration, 1984): formerly Director of the BBC World, responsible for leading the BBC's international news services across radio, television and new media
  • William Stanley (1829-1909): student of technical drawing, engineering and phrenology at the London Mechanics’ Institution, later Birkbeck College: Victorian inventor, engineer and philanthropist
  • Dominic Swan (BSc Financial Economics, 1995): Managing Director Structured Investment Vehicles, HSBC
  • Seijiro Takeshita (PhD Management, 2007): Director, Mizuho International plc
  • David Waller (MA Victorian Studies, 2004): Head of Media Relations, Man Group plc
  • Simon J Ward (MSc Finance, 1994): Chief Economist, Henderson Global Investors
  • Trevor Williams (Doctoral study, Development Studies): Chief Economist, Lloyds TSB Corporate Markets. 

Graduates in Politics and government

  • Luciana Berger MP (Government, Policy and Politics, 2005): Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree since 2010
  • Stephen Bridges LVO (International Studies Diploma, 1996): former Ambassador to Cambodia and Deputy High Commissioner to Bangladesh
  • David Crighton (MSc, Psychology): Deputy Chief Psychologist, Ministry of Justice
  • Mary Dalgleish (MSc Occupational Psychology, 1991): Chief Psychologist, Department of Employment
  • Ed Davey MP (MSc Economics, 1993): Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston and Surbiton 1997-present and Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs
  • Gloria de Piero MP (MSc Political and Social Theory, 2003): MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire since the 2010 General Election, journalist and television presenter
  • Samir El-Youssef (MA Philosophy, 2000): writer, commentator and peace activist
  • Edward Glover CMG MVO (BA History, 1967; MPhil History, 1970): former High Commissioner to Guyana and Ambassador to Suriname (1998-2002). Adviser on Foreign Affairs to Coalitional Provisional Authority, Iraq (2004)
  • Julia Goldsworthy (PG Certificate Economics with Mathematics, 2003): Liberal Democrat MP for Falmouth and Camborne from 2005-2010
  • Richard McKee (BA Classics, 1990): Senior Immigration Judge, Ministry of Justice
  • Denis MacShane MP (PhD International Business, 1990): Labour MP for Rotherham 1994-2012. Minister of State for Europe from 2002 – 2005
  • Leslie Morphy (MSc, Politics and Social Policy): Chief Executive, Crisis
  • Jenny Rowe (MSc Politics and Administration, 1984): Chief Executive, UK Supreme Court
  • Nick Smith MP (MSc Economic and Social Change, 1991): Labour politician, MP for Blaenau Gwent since May 2010
  • Kitty Ussher (MSc Economics, 1998): Labour MP for Burnley 2005-2010. Government Minister 2007-2009. Currently Chief Economist at the Think Tank Demos
  • Sarah Weir (MA Computer Applications for History, 1999): Head of Arts and Cultural Strategy, Olympic Development Authority. 

Graduates in Arts and the media

  • Simon Bird (MA Cultural and Critical Studies, 2007): actor, writer and stand-up comedian best known for playing Will McKenzie in E4's BAFTA-winning comedy The Inbetweeners 
  • Siobhan Butterworth (BA English, 2005): former Legal Director, Guardian Newspapers Ltd
  • Alan Davey (MA Classical Civilisation, 1997): Chief Executive, Arts Council
  • Philippa Forrester (BSc Environmental Conservation, 1998): British television, radio presenter and producer, and author
  • Edward ‘Bear’ Grylls (BA Spanish and Latin American Studies, 2001): British adventurer, writer and television presenter who was one of the youngest people to scale Mount Everest at the age of 23
  • Nerina Pallot (BA English, 2009): platinum selling, BRIT Award-nominated singer and songwriter
  • Sir Arthur Wing Pinero (1855-1934) Law alumnus: English actor and prominent dramatist and stage director
  • David Smith (MSc, Economics): Economics Editor of the Sunday Times 
  • Ben Walters (MA History of Film and Visual Media, 2002): critic of film, television and journalist. 

graduates in Academia

  • Felicia Adeyoyin (BA Hons English, 1968; Diploma Education, 1976): Professor at the University of Lagos
  • Patricia Brewerton (PhD English, 1998): Professor at Queen Mary, University of London
  • Moorad Choudhry (PhD Management, 2008): Professor and author. Former Head of Treasury at Europe Arab Bank
  • Alice Coleman (BA Geography, 1947): Emeritus Professor, Kings College, University of London
  • Alan Cork (MSc Entomology, 1987; PhD Entomology, 1990): Professor of Bio-Rational Pest Management at the University of Greenwich
  • Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll DBE FRSA (BA History and History of Art, 1976): formerly Chancellor of the University of Lincoln, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia and Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Frank Feates (BSc (Spec) Chemistry, 1954; PhD Chemistry, 1956): Professor and formerly Director of the Department of the Environment
  • Peter Gosden (PhD History, 1959): former Professor of the History of Education, Leeds University
  • Kenneth Holmes (PhD Crystallography, 1959): during his studies, Kenneth worked as a Research Assistant and Research Associate for the Department of Crystallography working on the structure of tobacco mosaic virus with Rosalind Franklin and Aaron Klug (officially supervised by JD Bernal)
  • Leonard Mandel (PhD Nuclear Physics, 1951): Physicist
  • Leslie Mayhew (BSc Geography, 1976; PhD Geography, 1979): Professor of Statistics at Cass Business School
  • Peter Mortimore (BSc Psychology, 1973): former Director, Institute of Education
  • J Philippe Rushton (BSc Psychology, 1973): Psychology Professor at the University of Western Ontario, most widely known for his work on intelligence and racial differences
  • Bryan Sewell (PhD Crystallography, 1981): Professor at the University of Cape Town
  • Nicola Spence (MSc Microbiology, 1986): Chief Executive, Science City York
  • Jean Stubbs (PhD History, 1975): Professor of Caribbean Studies, London Metropolitan University
  • Peter Taylor-Gooby (MPhil Philosophy, 1969): Professor of Social Policy, University of Kent. Peter is also a Fellow of the British Academy and an Advisor to the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit 
  • Jill Westerman CBE (MA English Literature and Language, 1982): Principal and Chief Executive of the Northern College for Residential Adult Education in South Yorkshire. Awarded a CBE in 2010 for services to adult learning. 

graduates in Sport

  • Andy Saull (Currently BSc (Econ) Financial Economics): Saracens and England U21 Rugby Union player.