Obituary: Professor Ian R. Christie

IAN R. Christie was a distinguished scholar in the field of historical scholarship, perhaps the last never to have been a research student.

He was very much a historian with a period. His period was the 1770s and 1780s, and the political history of the reign of George III more generally. He produced a well-used textbook - Wars and Revolutions: Britain, 1760- 1815 (1982) - and a stream of monographs and learned articles on his period, out of which he was never tempted to stray, in 50 years of research, teaching and writing.

Once, at University College London in the 1970s, a short course of lectures on the main themes of modern British history was proposed. Peter Clarke (later professor of history at Cambridge) said he would lecture on class and on gender; I think I offered economic growth; Christie said he would talk about Lord Bute and about Lord North.

It was at University College London that Christie spent the whole of his post- Oxford career: he was appointed assistant lecturer in 1948, followed by lecturer and reader, before becoming professor of modern history by conferment of title in 1966 and finally Astor Professor of British History from 1979 until his retirement in 1984 - in succession to Joel Hurstfield (who had been Astor Professor of English History).

Christie was born in 1919 in Preston, Lancashire, though he spent his early years in Glasgow, and was certainly thought of as an Anglicized Scot. He was an invalid as a child and educated at home, later recovering to go to Worcester Royal Grammar School before going up to Oxford. His time as an undergraduate at Magdalen College, 1938-40 and 1946-48, was interrupted by war service as an RAF officer. As soon as he graduated he was appointed to the history department at UCL, snaffled up by the grand and tyrannical Sir John Neale.

In June 1948, as he was about to take schools at Oxford, Christie wrote to Neale after he had offered him the job: "Mr A.J.P. Taylor here has said he will procure me an introduction to Professor Namier in order that I may get advice on my proposed subject for research".

Thus Christie became a Namierite, sitting at the feet of that other grand and not untyrannical historian at the Institute of Historical Research, London University in the 1950s. Christie's first book, The End of North's Ministry, 1780-82 (1958), appeared as the second volume in Sir Lewis Namier's series, and Christie began his long association with the history of Parliament.

A respectable stream of articles and books followed, and Christie held office in the Royal Historical Society. At UCL he came to serve as chairman of the history department in 1975-79; earlier he had been dean of the faculty of arts, in the days when that office was decorative rather than managerial. In the demanding task of being head of department, he needed to be neither decorative nor managerial; he was wise, judicious, fair. Dare one think it was the good old days?

At all events, Christie's scholarly achievements were recognised: in 1977 he was elected Fellow of the British Academy and in 1983 he was invited to give the Ford Lectures at Oxford. The lectures, on why there was no revolution in Britain in the 1790s, were published as Stress and Stability in Late Eighteenth Century Britain (1984).

Christie's retirement speech at a dinner in his honour at UCL was memorable. He said that when he had joined the history department in 1948 there had been great men in it, and he was sure that one day there would be again. It caused quite a stir.

Although he appeared buttoned-up and conventional, Christie's views were often quite unpredictable. He was a sceptical rationalist, sometimes in a rather earnest Victorian manner. He once told me that he had become a historian because he wanted to understand why for centuries intelligent people had believed in Christianity.

He had a fascination for illness, sometimes legitimately channelled, as with his enthusiasm for discussing George III's porphyria, sometimes taking bizarre forms, as with his obsession about the medical records that supposedly revealed that Rudolf Hess was not the real Hess.

His first book was dedicated to his mother, and he was himself dedicated to his mother. When he was head of the department, meetings had to be rearranged so that he could always get home so his mother was not left alone after dark. He never stayed around chatting after a seminar at the Institute of Historical Research or after a meeting of the Royal Historical Society, as historians generally do; he went back to Croxley Green to be with his mother. She lived into ripe old age, and it was not until after her death, when Christie was in his seventies, that he permitted himself to marry.

Ann Hastings, his wife from 1992, was, like him, a keen member of the Croxley Green Tennis Club. His last years, until the last few months, were happy: his "recreations" in Who's Who evolved from "walking" to "gardening"; he beavered away, researching the history of his family and writing two unpublished volumes of autobiography, and earlier this year an article by him appeared in the English Historical Review that he could have begun nearly half a century ago.

Negley Harte

Ian Ralph Christie, historian: born Preston, Lancashire 11 May 1919; Assistant Lecturer in History, University College London 1948-51, Lecturer 1951-1960, Reader 1960-66, Professor 1966-79, Dean of Arts 1971-73, Chairman, History Department 1975-79, Astor Professor of British History 1979-84; FBA 1977; married 1992 Ann Hastings; died Poole, Dorset 25 November 1998.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing