Obituary: Philip Brady

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The Independent Online
Philip Brady's scholarly record was by any standards impressive; he published prolifically and for over 30 years taught German at Birkbeck College, London, since 1980 as Reader in German. But he will be remembered above all as a man who knew how to communicate his love for his subject and its importance to the contemporary world.

Over the last 20 years Brady broadcast almost every month on the BBC German and World Service as well as for British radio. He broadcast to Germany on the cultural significance of Marmite, lawnmowers, and the Tottenham Court Road; and to Britain on the importance of Wurst. Among his more serious achievements in the medium (one to which he was outstandingly well suited) are radio talks on writers ranging from Gunter Grass, Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Wolf Biermann to Jurek Becker, Ingeborg Bachmann and Stefan Heym; on composers such as Mahler and Brahms; and on the baroque poet Hans Sachs. Most recently he broadcast a series of lectures on the Romantische Strasse; on nationalistic prejudice and its origins; on Paul Celan and Heidegger.

Equally important was the work he undertook, in close co-operation with the London Goethe Institute, in inviting German writers to London and introducing their work; chairing panel discussions on German cultural themes; reviewing German books and exhibitions of German painting. He delighted in accepting invitations to lecture throughout the German speaking world, and in his recent invitation to become part of the Anglo-German Forum.

He was a staunch supporter, too, of the Germanic Institute of London University, whose meetings with graduate students he regularly hosted and attended. For him, a federal university was more than an administrative arrangement or an assembly of isolated scholars: an idea which became increasingly important to him the more its material basis was eroded.

Born in Lancashire in 1932, Philip Brady attended Bolton Grammar School and went up to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1951, where he was taught by Freddy and Elisabeth Stopp, two of the leading Germanists of their day. Graduating in 1956 with first class Honours in German and French, he proceeded to take a Cambridge doctorate, also under the supervision of Freddy Stopp, on "Doom and Judgement in German Writing from 1550 to 1620". After a brief period as a schoolmaster at Latimer Upper School, Hammersmith, and a temporary appointment at Westfield College, London, he was appointed in 1960 to a lectureship at Birkbeck College, where his whole academic career was spent and to which he had a strong and constant loyalty.

Brady's academic forte lay in two periods of German literature rarely combined in the work of a single scholar: the 17th-century Baroque, especially its sermons, and post-war German writing, which in his case meant the German literature being written and read as he himself studied it.

He wrote on topics as varied as Grimmelshausen; the Ars Moriendi; the social context of 17th-century German rhetoric; the Marxist reception of Goethe; alienation and illusion in Brecht's drama; sexual politics in the work of Gunter Grass; and the most recent productions of the Prenzlauer Berg group of writers in post-unification Berlin. It is no accident that the two modern German writers who most interested him - Brecht and Grass - had literary and historical antecedents in the German Baroque.

Many of his activities were undertaken in the debilitating and sometimes painful circumstances of his final illness. It is thus entirely fitting that his receipt of the Goethe Medal of the Goethe Institute - a distinction held by very few British Germanists and awarded especially for work in intercultural communication - was the crown of his career. The citation for the award, which highlights both the intellectual integrity and the personal enthusiasm with which Brady did that work, is his fitting academic epitaph.

Both qualities found a fitting expression in his work as a teacher at Birkbeck. For him, one of the most important tasks of university teaching, especially in adult education, was to enable people to recognise and to overcome national and cultural prejudice: a commitment which is now more relevant than ever to German Studies. Both the style and the content of his teaching, which never allowed his students or his colleagues to forget that literature is a humane conversation, were ideally suited to Birkbeck, whose students frequently brought both a belief in the human relevance of their studies and a need to see that belief sustained in the teaching they received.

Philip Brady was a person of manifest integrity and transparent goodness: a person who enriched the lives of others often without knowing it. His integrity, like his humour, could be challenging, even disturbing; never malicious or inhumane. He hated only pretence, bullying, and dishonesty.

He shared with his wife Christine and his family, who shouldered the burden of care in the last months, both a very close relationship and a devotion to shared beliefs and shared interests: humanistic values and a love of simple things like walking, cycling, music, the company of friends. He delighted in a son and daughter-in-law who followed him into the academic profession, and with similarly exciting and eclectic interests.

John Walker

Philip Valentine Brady, German scholar: born Bolton 6 May 1932; Lecturer in German, Birkbeck College, London 1960-80, Reader 1980-97; married 1961 Jane White (died 1985; one son), 1990 Christine Huber; died London 15 May 1997.