Obituary: Geoffrey Hubbard

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The Independent Culture
IN 1969, Geoffrey Hubbard became Director of the recently formed Council for Educational Technology (CET), an independent body with core funding from the Department of Education and Science.

Under his leadership, CET became an important influence on educational method in the United Kingdom. In particular, it mounted two major national programmes on computing in education - the National Development Programme for Computer Assisted Learning (1974-79) and the Micro-Electronics Project (1980-86) - and a significant programme on open learning that contributed much of the basic development underlying the Open Tech and Open College projects.

In 1979, the incoming Conservative government conducted a sweeping review of quangos. The report on CET concluded that it was a worthwhile organisation whose grant should nonetheless be cut by a third. Hubbard negotiated to spread the cut over three years, and set out to make up the shortfall from contract work. His success was such that, before he retired, CET's turnover was pounds 2.5m, of which the government grant accounted for only 40 per cent.

Hubbard was born in Kentish Town, London, the youngest son of a cabinetmaker. Like his five elder brothers, he won a scholarship, which took him to University College School in Hampstead. At UCS, he coxed the successful school eight and began his lifelong interest in science and technology.

On leaving school in 1940, he was employed as a trainee at the Research Laboratories (now the Hirst Research Centre) of GEC (the General Electric Co) in North Wembley, Middlesex. Before long he was helping to develop, and supervising the production of, radar components for use by the British fleet.

He attended evening classes at Chelsea Polytechnic, obtaining a degree in maths and physics in 1944. At the same time, avid concert-going was developing his passion for music, and discovering the work of W.H. Auden awakened his love of English poetry. His other enduring cultural interests were architecture, the visual arts and fine writing. In a generation where much was made of the division between those with a science or an arts background, Hubbard drew nourishment and pleasure from both.

In 1948 he took an administrative post in the civil service where he remained for 20 years, reaching the grade of Assistant Secretary. In the early 1960s, his administrative work at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research involved regular contacts with the European Nuclear Research Organisation (Cern) in Geneva. This experience of efficient collaboration between people of different countries in pursuit of a common, non-political aim stirred his latent Europeanism.

In 1964, he moved to the Ministry of Technology, working first under Frank Cousins and C.P. Snow, then under Tony Benn. It was here that his interest in educational technology began. His growing commitment to pacifism began to make him uneasy about his work for the civil service, and to suggest a professional shift, and in 1969 he took up the post of director of the Council for Educational Technology.

At about the same time, he joined the Religious Society of Friends. His influential book Quaker by Convincement was first published in 1974 and has been in print ever since. During his civil service years, Hubbard had published some short stories and poems, completed several unpublished novels and started writing radio plays, a number of which were broadcast by the BBC and abroad. He also published Cooke and Wheatstone and the Invention of the Electric Telegraph (1965), a biography that conveys the excitement of mid-Victorian technological invention.

When commercial television started in the mid-1950s, he was one of a team that produced Johnny and Flonny for under-fives, the second programme ever broadcast by Associated Rediffusion, which became a series of 39 episodes over two years. Hubbard wrote the script and the words of each episode's song, Ernest J. Kaye wrote the music and Paul Hansard built the puppets and the set, and gave the performance. Many years later, CBS issued a recording of Hubbard's songs for the show, by Benjamin Luxon, Robert Tear and the Nash Ensemble.

He joined the Brussels-based Quaker Council for European Affairs in 1980, and acted as its Chairman 1982-93. Years of helping to shape the council's programme honed Hubbard's vision of how Quaker values might be translated into policy objectives at a European level, to promote "a society based on awareness of our interdependence rather than on greed and exploitation". This was the subject of his 1991 Swarthmore Lecture.

Retirement from CET in 1986 allowed Hubbard to devote more time, in a voluntary capacity, to a variety of projects dear to his heart. He had become a trustee of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust in 1984 and now found himself available to play a more active role in meeting applicants and grant holders. This stimulating and rewarding work brought him great satisfaction and personal fulfilment until his death.

He was approached by Michael Young to help reverse the decline of the ailing National Extension College (NEC) in Cambridge. As a member, and then Chairman until his death, of NEC's Board of Trustees, Hubbard was instrumental in setting the organisation on more robust foundations, helping to secure the future of what is a highly successful operation. As a member of the Council of Woodbrooke College, the Quaker continuing education institution in Birmingham, he was closely involved in the late 1980s in reviewing the college's structure and organisation.

These and other activities, which made large demands on his time and energy, were somehow sandwiched between regular trips abroad to join his wife, who for much of this time worked for a succession of European organisations. Their strong bond and many shared interests brought him great personal happiness in the last 25 years of his life.

Geoffrey Hubbard will be remembered by many as a wise, liberal yet deeply ethical, irrepressibly witty and optimistic man whose strong loyalty to close friends and professional colleagues alike was matched by his commitment to the very diverse projects and activities to which he contributed.

Geoffrey Hubbard, administrator and writer: born London 22 May 1923; married first Marian Fox (one son, and one son deceased; marriage dissolved), second Alison Burrell; died Bennekom, Holland 12 June 1998.