Parris won an Open Exhibition to University College, Oxford, graduating in History in 1949. He was awarded an MA with distinction by Leeds University in 1954, and achieved a PhD at Leicester University in 1960. He lectured at universities including Sheffield and Durham, and was Director of Studies in Public Administration at the Civil Service College. He was Visiting Professor in the London School of Economics Department of Government from 1988 to 1994.
Parris's book Government and the Railways in Nineteenth Century Britain (1965) is highly relevant to today's controversy on privatisation, and challenges many assumptions of current laissez-faire doctrines. But he will be particularly remembered for his dialogue with Oliver MacDonagh about the "19th-century revolution in government", made famous by a series of articles and rejoinders that grew out of A.V. Dicey's work, in particular, Dicey's interpretation of Benthamism.
Parris demonstrated that, although 19th-century governments preached laissez-faire, they energetically practised intervention. The distinction between individualism and collectivism was never as clear-cut as the theorists maintained - both policies were pursued side by side. The debate raised important issues about the roles of generalist civil servants (mandarins), and specialist experts in the shaping of policy - issues which re-emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
More recently, he extended his studies beyond the confines of the UK with publications on Swedish and French administration. For a time, his articles on the Ecole National d'Administration and the Conseil d'Etat were the only works available in English, and are still a recognised authority. About a recent lecture, which Parris gave in French, the President of the Conseil d'Etat remarked on the fact that they had to get an Englishman to tell them the virtues of their institutions.
As visiting Professor at the LSE from 1988 to 1994, Parris was responsible for the masters course and for supervision of doctoral students in the study of comparative public enterprises. He ranged widely over the practices of many countries, both developed and developing, and won the respect of the many graduate students who later went on to run public enterprises in their own countries.
Henry Parris was an all-rounder, without being superficial or dilettante. He had a deep affection for literature and poetry, was a member of the Trollope Society, and recently took a flourishing class in literature with the Bury University of the Third Age, of which he was a founder member and former chairman. He was actively involved in civic affairs, conservation and town- planning and a lifelong, though sometimes critical, supporter of the Labour Party. A keen feminist, he was a member of the Fawcett Society for 20 years.
Parris was a gentle, shy and retiring man, who loathed war. He was rejected by the War Office Selection Board because he "totally lacked aggression". His distinction would have been more widely recognised had he not been so very diffident.
Henry Walter Parris, historian: born Reading 20 November 1923; Research Fellow, Manchester University 1959-61; Lecturer in History, Sheffield University 1961-63; Lecturer in Politics, Durham University 1963-69; Director of Studies in Public Administration, Civil Service College 1970-76; Visiting Professor, Department of Government, London School of Economics 1988-94; FRHS 1973; married 1949 Judith Studd (two sons, two daughters, and one son deceased); died Bury St Edmunds 31 January 1996.