John Golby, 1935-2009

March 19, 2009

John Golby, a leading historian of popular culture, has died.

He was born on 16 July 1935 and brought up in Wembley, London, where his father was catering manager at the football stadium. After two years' National Service in the RAF, he read history at the University of Nottingham, where he won the Gladstone Memorial and Robert Mellors prizes. He stayed on to complete a research MA.

In 1961, Professor Golby was appointed tutor/organiser for adult education by Shropshire's local education authority, a post he held until he joined the University of Southampton's department of extramural studies in 1964. He embarked on the most important phase of his career in 1971 when he became an early member of The Open University's history department and helped develop innovative courses for it and the institution's arts faculty, combining correspondence units, television programmes and tutorials. He later took on the role of staff tutor in the arts in the South region, and sub-dean of the arts faculty. After retirement, he continued tutoring as an associate lecturer.

Professor Golby made an important contribution to the university's pioneering course on popular culture. This became his main area of research interest and led to several books with A.W. Purdue: The Civilisation of the Crowd: Popular Culture in England 1750-1900 (1984); The Making of the Modern Christmas (1986); and The Monarchy and the British People (1988), later revised as Kings and Queens of Empire (2000).

Also of great interest to Professor Golby was The Open University's successful course "Family and Community History". This subject appealed to him not only because of its intrinsic value but also because, as a lifelong adult educationist, he saw it as the most effective route to a broader public appreciation of history.

Mr Purdue, visiting reader in British history at The Open University, remembers "a great colleague and a wonderful friend (whose) greatest pleasure and satisfaction came from teaching. He was always professional, never condescending, always able to bring the most tongue-tied student into the discussion, and convinced that discussing history should be enjoyable.

"Working with him was exhilarating. We debated and argued as we altered and added to each other's chapters and had great fun. When writing The Civilisation of the Crowd, we both agreed that, as the pub was central to English popular culture, each day should end in one. Unlike many who write on popular culture, he actually liked the real thing. He combined intellectual depth, sound judgment and common sense."

Professor Golby died of leukaemia on 21 February. He is survived by his wife, Joan, and two stepchildren, Ben and Sophie.

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