Sir Alan Peacock: British economist who also chaired the Peacock Committee on the financing of the BBC in the 1980s


During his long life Sir Alan Peacock immersed himself in his chosen profession of economics – the so-called dismal science – but also in more pleasurable areas such as the arts and fine wines.

He was associated with many British universities and institutions, produced many publications, served as a government advisor, sat on many committees and headed the Arts Council in his native Scotland.

In Who's Who he listed his recreations as "wine spotting and trying to write music". For many years he managed to combine a love of music and economics, studying the financial possibilities of how orchestras could survive in the modern world.

A lifetime of experiencing, and often chairing, committee meetings on serious subjects such as the future of broadcasting did not rob him of his irreverent streak. He never lost his appetite for the slightly improper, a colleague recalling his enjoyment for risqué tales "always told with a twinkle in the eye and the impeccable taste of a Scottish gentleman and scholar".

The same colleague also recalled that he did not lack Scots forthrightness, and once said: "On the application of economics he takes no prisoners when confronting sloppy thinking and crass errors."

Throughout his career he wrote a great deal – 30 books and more than 200 academic articles – which , while perhaps less entertaining, proved much more acceptable for publication. Over the years he came to be regarded as a leading exponent of liberal economics.

Born in Tyneside in 1922, the son of a biology professor, he attended two schools in Dundee before going to the University St Andrews. His college education was interrupted by the war, in which he served as a lieutenant in the RNVR and was decorated for his intelligence work. His fluency in German was useful both in wartime and later when he specialised in the economics of Germany.

In peacetime he lectured in economics and public finance at the universities of London, Edinburgh and York before he was seconded from York into the civil service. He worked as chief economic advisor to the departments of trade and industry.

He later went on to become principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, which he helped to set up and run.

He was, in addition, advisor to seven other governments and to international organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund and the UN.

One of his areas of interest was broadcasting. In the mid-80s he chaired the committee which produced the 1986 Peacock Report on the financing of the BBC which had a major influence on the future structure of broadcasting. This produced some radical ideas but some of its most important suggestions did not find favour with ministers and were attacked as "lunatic fringe thinking".

At the time Margaret Thatcher, intent on shaking up the BBC, was thought to favour abolishing the licence fee, replacing it with advertising, but the Peacock Committee instead proposed that BBC television would be paid for by direct subscription.

Sir Alan complained about the rejection of this idea, calling for "a little less contrived hysteria, please, and a little more good-humoured and informed discussion".

In Edinburgh in the mid-80s Sir Alan founded the David Hume Institute as "a new independent research institute" which he envisaged as providing a Scottish perspective rather than a London view. He headed it for some years, starting from modest beginnings in his home and a university staff club, with papers typed on an ancient portable.

He was serious about music. One of his books, Paying the Piper: Culture, Music and Money, related his own musical education, describing the importance of music in his life and considering the economic problems of contemporary composers of serious music.

He was first a member of the Scottish Arts Council and later its chairman. A genuine aficionado, he appreciated performers such as conductor Sir Charles Mackerras. By contrast, he could be scathing about the avant-garde and the contemporary. He once pronounced dismissively: "It's the Schoenberg syndrome – where the main reason for having the audience is to improve the acoustics."

He could also be forthright on other fronts. In 2008 the Edinburgh house where Adam Smith – one of the economists he most admired – once lived was put on the open market. He and other free-marketeers mounted strong protests: "It's a disgrace that the council has agreed to dispose of a building as significant as this," he said. "It should be saved for the nation."

At the age of 91 he produced his last booklet, Defying Decrepitude, a personal memoir dealing frankly and often humorously with the challenges of ageing. A friend described it as "typical of his style of self-effacing defiance and mocking irreverence".

Sir Alan, who was knighted for public services in 1987, received more than a dozen academic awards and honours. He is survived by two sons and a daughter.

Professor Sir Alan Peacock DSC, FBA, FRSE, economist, born Tyneside 26 June 1922, married 1944 Margaret Martha Astell Burt (d.2011); knighted 1987; died 2 August 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Specialist - Document Management

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A leading provider of document ...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Secretary

£17000 - £17800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to work ...

Recruitment Genius: Ad Ops Manager - Up to £55K + great benefits

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a digital speci...

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent