Obituary: David Eversley

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Ernst Carl Edouard Eberstadt (David Edward Charles Eversley), social researcher: born Frankfurt 22 November 1921; Assistant Lecturer, Lecturer then Reader in Economic (and then Social History), Birmingham University 1949-66; Director, West Midlands Social and Policy Research Unit 1962-65; Reader in Population and Regional Studies, Sussex University 1966, Director, Social Research Unit 1967-69, Professor 1969; Chief Planner (Strategy), Greater London Council 1969-72; Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Environmental Studies, then Policy Studies Institute 1972-81; President, British Society for Population Studies 1981-83; married 1945 Edith Wembridge (died 1978; one son, three daughters), 1986 Barbara Rojo (marriage dissolved 1990), 1994 Marion Bennathan; died Ashwell, Hertfordshire 3 July 1995.

Demography, social research and planning were all illuminated by David Eversley's trenchant contributions to the social sciences.

He was born Ernst Eberstadt, in Frankfurt, and was one of the great diaspora of talent from Germany in the Thirties; on settling in Britain his family changed their name to Eversley. He went from gymnasium in Frankfurt to Quaker school in Reading after leaving Germany, then, like many other refugees, through internment camp and the Pioneer Corps to "special duties". Released to read economic history at the London School of Economics, he came under the influence of David Glass and his new demography.

He followed this with a PhD at Birmingham University, where he rose rapidly through the academic ranks, but diverged to set up the first of the series of policy-oriented research units - the West Midlands Social and Policy Research Unit - with which he was associated throughout his working life. This became the vehicle for his vigorous campaigning on local and regional issues. So vigorous, in fact, that it was also the first of a line of upset applecarts that marked Eversley's turbulent professional passage.

Undaunted, Eversley passed on to the brand new Sussex University, where Asa Briggs was assembling a galaxy of like-minded younger historians. There he secured the expected chair, in Population and Regional Studies, but was spirited away in 1969 to join another recent creation, the Greater London Council. He arrived at County Hall with the resounding title of Chief Planner (Strategy) to take on two jobs, rescuing the Greater London Development Plan from its critics and justifying it to the outside world. The second task he discharged brilliantly with the report Tomorrow's London, which, with its clear and vigorous English prose - of which Eversley was a master all his adult life - still repays rereading.

But the dismantling and reconstruction of the plan presented a more formidable challenge. He dealt with it by recruiting a batch of irregulars into the vast bureaucratic edifice of the Planning Department. Inevitably, there were tensions and Eversley himself contributed enthusiastically to them. He didn't bother to conceal his contempt for conventional planners, a disdain they returned with interest. Perhaps worse, Eversley fell out with some of the young radicals in his own ranks, and he came to see them as the enemies within.

It could not last; and after three years Eversley retired to the more congenial atmosphere of the Centre for Environmental Studies, also in London, where he produced his apologia for his time at County Hall, The Planner in Society (1973). For all his insights and brilliant epigrams it is not a wholly satisfactory work - perhaps because of his insistence on using it to pay off every old debt and score. He himself came to be dissatisfied with it, commenting characteristically that his publishers had done everything they could to make the book unattractive "short of scenting the pages with dung".

From CES, Eversley moved to the Policy Studies Institute. There were numerous projects and many publications; and fruitful periods spent abroad as visiting professor. But the summary work that would bring together his vast range of knowledge and experience never appeared. Rather, Eversley flourished as editor, inspired critic and tireless contributor to debate. It was as author of stimulating papers that he particularly excelled - produced with incredible rapidity, defended with passion in the seminar and then often equally swiftly repudiated.

Eversley mellowed; he made his peace with the planning profession and watched sardonically as some of the young radicals he had nurtured returned to County Hall under Ken Livingstone, driving the GLC to its pre-programmed abolition. Strategic planning in London was thereafter superseded by market forces, with the consequences that all Londoners know.

David Eversley listed his recreations as "walking, talking and working". Towards the end there was less of the first, but his involvement in the others never flagged. He was perhaps the least likely Quaker you could ever expect to meet; yet in The Planner in Society he quotes the old Quaker adage - "Speak truth to power"; adding, "That is as far as most of us can go." Not a bad motto for someone who went further than most down that difficult road.