Geoffrey Stern

Scholar of international relations

Sunday 07 July 2013 06:29

Geoffrey Stern spent all his working career as an international relations specialist at the London School of Economics and Political Science, but had a higher public profile as a BBC radio presenter on World Service programmes such as 24 Hours and News Hour. Less well known was his interest and involvement in classical music.

Born in Liverpool, in 1935, of an accountant father and a music-teacher mother, he was brought up in London with stays in Bournemouth and Nottingham. Two key influences were the BBC - its reporting of the Second World War, its comedians and classical music; the feeling the radio gave him of being connected to the other side of the globe - and his Jewish background: he was strongly affected by revelations about the Nazi Holocaust, by the setting up of Israel in 1948, the McCarthy witch hunt, and, in 1956, Suez and the Hungarian Revolution.

After attending St Marylebone Grammar School, he studied for a degree in International Relations at the LSE under Professor Charles Manning and his colleagues Geoffrey Goodwin and Fred Northedge, each in their own ways memorable personalities. After graduation, Stern stayed on completing a PhD and, with a little bit of help from them, started interviewing for the World Service of the BBC. He could often be seen slipping out of the LSE on Houghton Street to Bush House at the bottom of Kingsway. His contribution to broadcasting lasted for over 40 years, during which time he interviewed many world leaders.

As an academic subject international relations was in its infancy in the 1950s and it was a time when British academics were not under great pressure to publish. This was later to prove a disadvantage for Stern in climbing the ladder. Instead, he became a popular teacher of his subject and an "old stalwart" of the Department of International Relations. He retired as a senior lecturer in 2001.

Stern did, however, produce a number of published works. His The Structure of International Society: an introduction to the study of international relations (1995) was widely used, especially in the United States. He was also responsible for several works on Communism including Fifty Years of Communism (1967), The Rise and Decline of International Communism (1990) and Communism: an illustrated history from 1848 to the present day (1991) - the last edited by Stern, who designed it as a serious work, popularly presented, persuading 10 of his colleagues to collaborate in the project.

His Leaders and Leadership (1993) was based on his many interviews with leading politicians from around the world from Helmut Schmidt to Lee Kuan Yew. His interest in Eastern Europe did not diminish and he was interviewed on a number of occasions in the 1990s about his views on the emerging democracies there, including Albania. He was also interested in the Non-Aligned Movement, that attempt, in the 1950s, by countries such as Tito's Yugoslavia, Nehru's India, Nasser's Egypt, Sukarno's Indonesia and Nkrumah's Ghana, to build up a third bloc between the superpowers to give them a say in international politics. He was disappointed that it ended in failure.

Stern continued to comment on world affairs to the end of his life. He thought the invasion of Iraq was

first of all about American domestic politics. Don't forget there's a doubt about Bush's political legitimacy. I mean, did he really win that election? And, in order to try to dispel those doubts, I think what he's decided to try and do is to finish the work which a lot of people think that his father should have finished . . . finish off Saddam Hussein.

Although he did not keep it secret, Stern's lifelong interest in music came as a surprise to many who knew him professionally. In April, he told the Hendon & Finchley Times how, as a student, he had invited Ralph Vaughan Williams to the performance of an opera he had composed, The Happy Deception (based on Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer). To his surprise, Vaughan Williams accepted and they "got on extremely well". He saw quite a lot of the composer before he died in 1958.

Stern confided that he himself was "driven" to compose. His musical compositions were performed by respected musicians and found audiences. In 2001, a concert of his works was performed in the Shaw Library of the LSE. The programme included several first performances, among them Sequence for piano and string quartet and Theme, Variations and Fugato for harpsichord, written for, and performed by, Alan Lowson, Shaw Librarian. Other works included a Scottish Rhapsody for flute and strings, first performed at LSE in 1958, and Serenade for solo flute, first heard in 1961.

Stern described his music as "English, modern but approachable". Of his life, he said recently, "I have been lucky, I have done things that I enjoyed doing. I have achieved far more than my ambition."

David Childs

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments