Bill Purdue 1941-2020

Professor A.W. (Bill) Purdue

From Tony Barrow

Many of those connected with the history and heritage of North East England were saddened by news of the sudden and unexpected death of Bill Purdue at his home in Allendale on 17 November 2020. He was 79. Bill was pre-eminent amongst a handful of academic historians responsible for raising the profile of regional history through the range and quality of his published research.

Professor Bill Purdue

Born in North Shields on 29 January 1941, eldest son of a Tynemouth policeman, he studied history at Kings College, London and, after graduation, spent three years as an instructor officer in the Royal Navy. He returned to the North East to take up a lectureship at the College of Commerce in Newcastle which became part of Newcastle Polytechnic in 1969. He was awarded an M.Litt. in 1974 for a dissertation which explored the rise of the Labour Party in the North East 1900-1906, a subject which became the focus of Bill’s earliest published works. A study of George Lansbury and the Middlesbrough Election 1906 was followed by one of Arthur Henderson’s election at Barnard Castle in 1903. Others included articles on Jarrow Politics 1885-1914 and on the Liberal and Labour Parties in North East politics before the First World War.

Bill joined the Open University in 1974 where he taught for most of his career. His collaboration with other notable historians such as Arthur Marwick, John Golby, Clive Emsley and Antony Lentin on the preparation of OU course materials drew his interests towards broader historical themes and periods. His contributions to courses concerned with the character and institutions of British society included a series of studies of Popular Culture with John Golby. In addition to his many contributions to Total War and Social Change: Europe 1914-1955 (1999), The Second World War (2011), was a masterly written monograph of the debate about the origins and character of that war. He later published The First World War (2014) as a companion volume He also collaborated with James Chapman on The Peoples War? (2004) In 2007 he joined forces with Professor Norman McCord on the second edition of British History 1815- 1914. Bill retired from the O.U. as Reader in History in 2006 and was Visiting Professor at Northumbria University.

Although Bill worked at the OU for over 30 years he remained connected to his Northumbrian roots. Affable and engaging, he was a popular resident of Allendale and recognised by many for his distinctive dress sense, usually brightly coloured corduroy trousers, suit jacket and occasionally a cravat. His humour, generosity of spirit and countryman persona will live long in memories. Bill represented South Tynedale as a County Councillor from 1989 – 2009 and regularly demonstrated his commitment to rural issues and the preservation of the countryside. He was often invited to speak to conferences, student groups and local history societies, and his prodigious output of monographs, essays and academic articles demonstrated the ways in which regional history can contribute to an understanding of broader national themes, with contributions particularly to Northern History journal. He did much to promote the OU through his support for NEHI (North East England Historical Institute).

Bill’s published work spanned the political and social spectrum from the rise of the Labour Party through the Monarchy and the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, to the making of the Northumberland landscape. He took a special interest in old Northumberland landed families such as the Carrs, Ellisons, and Blacketts. He was also active in urban studies, publishing Newcastle: the biography (2011). Detailed studies of the Newcastle Custom House (with Richard Pears) were published in 2017 and 2018.

In 2016, perhaps in the context of the Brexit referendum, Bill returned to broader international themes. His The Transformative Impact of World War Two – Europaische Geschichte Online was published on 18 April 2016 (, a summary of economic, cultural and geo-political developments in Europe since 1945. It is an exemplar of historical scholarship and a testimony to Bill’s skills as a historian. He is survived by his wife of 41 years, Marie Conte-Helm, daughter Jessica and a comprehensive archive of books, academic articles and reviews to be quarried by historians for years to come.