Obituary: Professor John Martin

John Martin was one of that post-war generation of social scientists whose work was done, for the most part, in a benign climate of social change in the 1950s and 1960s. By the mid-1970s, both the social optimism and the public investment which had been directed towards the improvement of British society began rapidly to drain away and, as with many of his academic generation, Martin's later work was accomplished contra mundum.

He was educated at Leighton Park School, Reading, and after reading English at Reading University, he determined on joining the probation service. As a preliminary, he arrived at the London School of Economics in 1951 to read for the Certificate in Social Science. Instead of entering the world of social work he underwent a fundamental re-orientation in his interests and began on a career in research and teaching which was to encompass the rest of his life. There is no doubt but that the person responsible for this was the great Richard Titmuss.

Titmuss, whose appointment to the Chair of Social Administration at LSE had been somewhat controversial, since he was not thought of as an academic, was both a practical socialist and one committed to the ideals of a welfare state as envisaged by Beveridge. The strong tradition at the School, which went back to its founders Sidney and Beatrice Webb, was for developments in social policy to be made in the context, not of abstract ideology, but of the realities of social life as illuminated by empirical research. Titmuss, who was an exceedingly shrewd judge of ability, opened Martin's eyes to wider horizons, and in 1953 recruited him to the staff of his department.

Although Titmuss is remembered predominantly in the fields of health policy and social security, he encouraged his proteges to range widely. Martin's first modest but thoughtful publication had been an article on nursery schools. It was to be the first work in what was to be a prodigious output of writing. In 1957 Social Aspects of Prescribing appeared; not merely to be favourably reviewed but to be discussed in a Times leader - a notable achievement in those days for one still barely 30. It revealed the facts about the uneven quality of healthcare in general practice, illuminating the inequalities of region and class still with us 40 years later.

In 1959 Martin was recruited by that other great academic entrepreneur of the day, the legendary Leon Radzinowicz, to become Assistant Director of Research at the newly founded Institute of Criminology in Cambridge. He was elected a Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, in 1964. At Cambridge he produced his Offenders as Employees (1962) and became responsible for the supervision of graduate research at the Institute. By 1967 it had become time to move on, to a chair of Sociology and Social Administration (later Social Policy) at Southampton which he held until his early "retirement" in 1989, remaining with the department as Research Professor until he left for Manchester in 1992 where he characteristically formed a connection with the university's Department of Social Policy as a Visiting Professor.

While at Southampton he served as a member of the Isle of Wight Health Authority and on the Board of Visitors at Albany Prison. He contributed significantly to the work of the Jellicoe Committee on Boards of Visitors which reported in 1975.

In all he did he followed in the tradition of radical social research to which he had been introduced at LSE. Upon him, as on a whole generation of academics, Titmuss made his imprint and Martin was numbered among those who, come the long winter of Thatcherism, or the political cataract of New Labour, held fast to that precious combination of commitment to a just society resourced by patient and painstaking research. At Southampton University, although not the titular head of department, he shouldered many of its administrative burdens and is remembered with great affection as a generous, wise and just administrator and the most patient of teachers. Few professors have commanded greater respect from their colleagues and students.

Married first in 1951 to Sheila Feather, with whom he had three sons, all of whose considerable achievements brought him great pleasure, he married in 1983 Professor Joan Higgins, with whom the last years of his life were a time of great happiness. Voyaging was Martin's great love, and he was a small boat sailor of no mean competence. He used to say that the best thing about sighting the French coast was the thought of the food and the wine that awaited ashore. He was a skilful photographer, producing pictures that would have graced any exhibition. A true bricoleur, he was a keen woodworker, attending evening classes for more than 25 years; a talented cabinet maker, he passed his City and Guilds examination only this summer.

His father having lived to a great age - notwithstanding a shell fragment from the Somme lodged in his head for over 60 years - John Martin had hoped for a similarly long life. Fit and lithe of body, he loved the outdoor life and had plans as yet incomplete when cancer was discovered. That he was a fine scholar in his generation is a mark of distinction; that he was so good and generous a man was enough to earn him the enduring regard of those who knew him, who worked with him and who loved him.

John Powell Martin, social scientist: born 22 December 1925; Lecturer, London School of Economics 1953-59; Assistant Director of Research, Institute of Criminology, Cambridge University 1961-66; Fellow, King's College, Cambridge 1964-67; Professor of Sociology and Social Administration (later Social Policy), Southampton University 1967-89 (Emeritus), Research Professor 1989-92; Hill Foundation Visiting Professor, University of Minnesota 1973; Visiting Fellow, Yale Law School 1974; Visiting Professor, Department of Social Policy and Social Work, Manchester University 1992-97; married 1951 Sheila Feather (marriage dissolved 1981; three sons), 1983 Joan Higgins; died Manchester 17 August 1997.