Obituary: Professor Peter Morris

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The Independent Online
It was always possible to recognise an article or a review written by Peter Morris without looking for the author's name. It usually began on a conversational tone and, if it was about French politics, it would contain humorous remarks before moving to a more serious appraisal.

For example, he wrote of the advanced age of many French politicians, describing their presence as "government by bus-pass holders" and commenting that, when Harold Wilson talked of a week's being a long time in politics, he could not have had in mind the career structures of French politicians. Then he went on to write about the intellectual agility and administrative competence that the system instilled in its governing elite, the weakness of political parties and the resources provided by city halls.

Morris was a very successful teacher of politics, both British and French, well appreciated both in Britain and France. His sudden and early death from cancer is the more tragic since he was starting on a new and important period in his life.

Having recently been appointed to the Chair of Modern Politics and History at Aston University, he was about to begin his term as Head of the Department of Languages and European Studies. He had been invited by Roland Dumas to become the British representative at the Institut Francois Mitterrand in Paris and was beginning to get embroiled in the controversy concerning the disposal of Mitterrand's private archives and their availability to researchers. The book on which he was working, with his French colleagues Serge Berstein and Nicolas Roussellier, about the history of Democratic Liberalism, is a considerable work in a major series.

Morris was educated at Cambridge High School for Boys and at Emmanuel College, where he became a Research Fellow. He was also an auditeur libre at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. Then for nearly 25 years he was Lecturer and Senior Lecturer at Nottingham University, from where he was three times invited to teach at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris. Both there and in Nottingham he established excellent relations with students.

In Paris Morris appeared as the sort of Englishman whom young French people had read about and who they thought no longer existed. He was cheerful, good-tempered and tolerant. He was patient, ready to help those for whom the intricacies of the French Radical Party (on which he wrote his Cambridge doctorate thesis) or the complexities of Labour Party politics appeared baffling. At the centenary celebrations for General de Gaulle held in Paris during November 1990, he was much in demand when the news broke of the resignation of Margaret Thatcher.

His books French Politics Today (1994) and Consensus Politics from Attlee to Thatcher (1989) were adopted as textbooks in many universities, and his Histoire du Royaume Uni (1993) was widely read in France. He played an important role in the British Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France from its foundation in 1979.

Most summers he spent in Normandy, at Barneville, on the Cotentin coast. There he was a popular figure, especially in the Place de l'Eglise. One of the last stories he brought back from there was about his conversation with a neighbour who assured him that the Princess of Wales had behaved with much more dignity than had President Mitterrand.

Douglas Johnson

Peter Morris, political historian: born Cambridge 2 September 1946; Lecturer in Politics, Nottingham University 1972-89, Senior Lecturer 1989- 96; Professor of Modern History and Politics, Aston University 1996-97; married; died Nottingham 1 February 1997.