Skip to main content

Obituary: Sir Bernard Crick

Founder of the School of Politics and Sociology

Sir Bernard Crick was the founding professor of Birkbeck's Department (later School) of Politics and Sociology in 1971. He was a man of many parts: academic political theorist and energetic activist in a variety of political institutions and events. He obtained his first degree at UCL, then his doctorate at LSE and Harvard. He was appointed a lecturer at LSE in 1957, then to the Chair of Politics at Sheffield University in 1965. At Birkbeck, Crick built up a successful department: initially entirely postgraduate, the teaching seminars were lively forums of political and intellectual ferment.

Crick's three early books, The American Science of Politics (1958), In Defence of Politics (1962) and The Reform of Parliament (1964) established his reputation. His best known work was George Orwell: A Life, published in 1980. Crick established the annual Birkbeck Orwell Lecture and the Orwell Prize for political writing. He himself believed in the maxim that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and advocated participatory citizenship; he edited The Political Quarterly, a forum for political theory and debate; he was active as researcher and interlocutor in the Northern Ireland conflict in the 1980s. He was concerned at what seemed like the decline of the Labour Party in the 1980s, and championed Neil Kinnock as leadership candidate.

Crick retired from Birkbeck in 1984, moving to Edinburgh where he was appointed Honorary Fellow of the University. His enthusiasm for active citizenship led him to the educational plans for citizenship studies in school curricula, appointed to this task in 1997 by his former Sheffield student David Blunkett, then the Secretary of State for Education. He also devised education programmes for immigrants in UK citizenship and tests for candidates seeking British naturalisation. He was knighted in 2002.