Obituary: Professor Bryan Keith-Lucas

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Bryan Keith-Lucas had a distinguished academic career, notable for his mastery of the politics of local government and for his ability to help establish academic and social communities - first at Nuffield College, Oxford, and secondly at Darwin College, at the University of Kent. Above all, he had an infectious enthusiasm for the study of politics, which he communicated to students who included Alan Beith MP and Professor George Jones of the London School of Economics.

From his background came his intellectual curiosity and a competitive edge. Born in 1912, Keith-Lucas was the youngest son of Dr Keith Lucas FRS, who invented the first aeronautical compass, and both his brothers went on to become professors.

Although by conviction a pacifist and although a member of a reserved occupation, Keith-Lucas volunteered to serve in the Second World War. He enlisted as a private in the Buffs, becoming (as he used to put it) a "temporary, acting (unpaid) corporal" before going on to Sandhurst. He served the rest of the war with the Sherwood Foresters, in which he became a major, was mentioned in despatches, and was the sole staff officer to survive the Volturno Crossing in Italy.

A solicitor by profession, Keith-Lucas moved from work in Nottingham to a lectureship in politics and local government at Oxford in 1948. There he became immersed in a course which was designed to prepare colonial officers for the transition to independence of the British colonies. As a result, he became a member of several constitutional commissions on independence, for Sierra Leone, Mauritius and Fiji. Seminal though these commissions were in the evolution of independence, in retrospect Keith- Lucas was critical of their lack of awareness of the importance of tribal divisions in the make-up of the new nation states.

Yet it was the unfashionable area of local government which he made his own. Nobody could have believed that local government could be interesting and exciting until attending one of his lectures. His professional study of local government was matched by his passionate belief in grass-roots politics. For him the parish council was a fundamental feature of democracy, and to use the word "parochial" in any derogatory sense was to offend. These themes run through his writings - The History of Local Government in the 20th Century (1978) and Parish Government 1894-1994 (1994), of both of which he was joint author; and Redlich and Hirst's History of Local Government in England (1970), of which he was editor.

In addition to his work as a Senior Lecturer, he became the first Bursar of Nuffield College in 1957. With its graduate student body and its system of Visiting Fellows (such as Edward Heath), Keith-Lucas was in his element in pioneering a mixture of practical and academic politics. The intellectual challenge of the courses was complemented by the hospitality that he and his wife Mary extended to their guests, especially at Sunday lunch parties. Outside the academic life, he served from 1950 to 1965 as a university, non-party city councillor. In this capacity, he was elected Chairman of the Oxford City Housing Committee.

When he moved to the new University of Kent at Canterbury in 1964, Keith- Lucas brought something of the atmosphere of the Oxford high table to Canterbury. As Professor of Politics and Local Government he set up a successful and popular department and recruited a team of talented young academics. At the same time, as the inaugural Master of Darwin College he realised the ideal of a college community. He relished the social give- and-take of guest evenings, and was skilled in anecdote. But, even more important, he made sure that nobody was left out of the life of the college, and was always attentive to personal concerns. He was perhaps most at home when entertaining undergraduates to meet the University Chancellor, Jo Grimond.

Keith-Lucas enjoyed running the university's programme of visiting speakers, and confided that it was less difficult to obtain a speaker than an audience. After his retirement from the university in 1977, he enjoyed an Indian summer as a teacher at the King's School, Canterbury, where with characteristic vigour he instituted mock elections and a parliament. He was appointed CBE in 1983 for his work as Chairman of the National Association of Local Councils and for his work with the Hansard Society.

It is his warmth of character and enjoyment of life that remain Keith-Lucas's most enduring and endearing characteristics. A country walk around his beloved retirement village of Wye was a memorable experience, the conversation flowing around local history and high politics. The quintessential English liberal intellectual, with an infectious enthusiasm for life and a belief in democracy at all levels, he gave a legacy for which generations of students can be grateful.

Bryan Keith-Lucas, political scientist: born 1 August 1912; Assistant Solicitor, Kensington Council 1938-46, Nottingham 1946-48; Senior Lecturer in Local Government, Oxford University 1948-65; Faculty Fellow, Nuffield College, Oxford 1950-65, Domestic Bursar 1957-65, Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow 1983-96; Professor of Government, University of Kent at Canterbury 1965-77 (Emeritus), Master of Darwin College 1970-74; CBE 1983; married 1946 Mary Hardwicke (one son, two daughters); died Canterbury, Kent 7 November 1996.