Professor Else was born in Sheffield on 31 March 1959. Until the age of seven he lived in a dead-end terraced street with no through traffic (except for one occasion when a bull escaped the local slaughterhouse), before his family moved to one of the city’s satellite estates.
He later studied graphic design at what is today Camberwell College of Arts and was an artist before considering a career as a teacher: however, a summer job building adventure playgrounds convinced him that he would be happier outside designing places for children to play than inside telling them what to do.
For two decades, Professor Else supported play and playwork in London, Bristol and his native city (including management, training, policy development and the establishment of a play consultancy, Ludemos, in 2000), before joining Sheffield Hallam University in 2005 as lecturer in play studies.
Course leader for the BA in children and playwork, he was fascinated by the balance in human growth imposed by genetic, cultural and social factors, something evident in his book The Value of Play (2009) and the “Colorado Paper” (1998) co-written with his Ludemos colleague Gordon Sturrock, a staple of UK playwork courses.
Last year Sheffield Hallam awarded him a professorial chair in play studies, a rarity in the field. Among his many contributions to the sector, Professor Else was chair of campaigning group the International Play Association for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where he worked with Paul Hocker, director of charity London Play.
“I first met Perry in 2010,” Mr Hocker recalled. “He was a big name in play academia, so I was not expecting the Hawaiian-shirted, Frank Zappa-moustached figure that I found reclining on a sofa when we were introduced. From the off he was open and unpretentious, with a genuine curiosity in others. He wore his achievements lightly, yet was uncompromising in his work to give children and their play the respect it deserves.”
Speaking on behalf of Sheffield Hallam’s department of education, childhood and inclusion, Damien Fitzgerald, principal lecturer, said: “Perry was a valued colleague and friend to many here. His creative and personal contribution will be greatly missed.”
Professor Else died from cancer on 1 June and is survived by his wife Mary and his children Millie and Ethan. His final book, Making Sense of Play: Supporting Children in their Play, will be published this summer.