Obituary: Frank Ridley

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The Independent Online
Francis Ambrose Ridley, writer: born 22 February 1897; died London 27 March 1994.

WITH the death of Frank Ridley at the age of 97, a whole world of self-educated historians has come to an end. Ridley was a socialist, internationalist, freethinker and anti-imperialist; president of the National Secular Society from 1951 to 1963 and editor of the Freethinker from 1951 to 1954.

Ridley passed a licentiate in theology at Durham University, but after a brief and unhappy spell working in the City he became anti-capitalist and anti-religious, and then made himself by painstaking study one of the leading humanist and secularist writers and speakers in Britain.

He played an important part in left-wing politics and was Jimmy Maxton's right-hand man in the Independent Labour Party with the second-highest vote to Maxton on the National Administrative Council during the Second World War. He debated with Harold Macmillan, the black liberationist Marcus Garvey, the Dutch Communist astronomer Anton Pannekoek, and HG Wells. After writing his book Next Year's War (1936), Ridley was placed on Hitler's death list prepared for the invasion of Britain.

Ridley was the first person in Britain to set up an organisation influenced by Trotsky's ideas. He founded the Marxian League in 1929 and in 1931 unsuccessfully tried to persuade Trotsky to set up a Fourth International. He was a leading secularist speaker and debater at Hyde Park Corner and in Conway Hall and was the writer of over 50 books and pamphlets. These ranged from an early science-fiction novel The Green Machine to books on ancient and medieval history like Spartacus (1962), Julian the Apostate (1937) and The Assassins (1938) to more modern topics such as The Jesuits (1938), The Revolutionary Tradition in England (1948), At the Crossroads of History (1935) and The Papacy and Fascism (1937).

In all these fields he was totally self-taught and was almost a permanent fixture carrying out research in the National Library in the British Museum.