Tom Behan, 1957-2010

September 16, 2010

A campaigning academic expert on organised crime in Italy has died.

Tom Behan was born into an Irish working-class family in London on 22 June 1957. He attended school in Middlesex but spent almost a year and a half teaching English in Naples before returning to complete his A levels. A first degree in Italian and politics at the University of Reading in 1981 was followed by a PhD, which eventually formed the basis of his 1997 book, The Long Awaited Moment: The Working Class and the Italian Communist Party in Milan, 1943-1948.

After a two-year lectureship in Italian at La Trobe University in Melbourne and another at the University of Glasgow, Dr Behan obtained a permanent position at the University of Kent in 1996, where he went on to become senior lecturer in Italian.

He soon established himself as a leading authority on criminality in Naples and beyond, which bore fruit in his books The Camorra: Political Criminality in Italy (1996), See Naples and Die: The Camorra and Organized Crime (2002) and Defiance: The Untold Story of One Man Who Stood Up to the Sicilian Mafia (2008).

Such criminal milieux, Dr Behan demonstrated, were tightly linked to the "wall-to-wall corruption" that tainted much of Italian political and business life, but bore no relation to "the lives, loves and insecurities of glamorous, roguish but flawed gang leaders" portrayed in dozens of films and TV series about the Mafia. As a result of this work, in 2005 he became the first non-Italian to win the Marcello Torre National Prize for Civic Engagement.

Always a committed political activist, Dr Behan was the author of a study of the radical Nobel prizewinning Italian playwright, Dario Fo: Revolutionary History (2000). His books on fascist Italy, The Resistible Rise of Benito Mussolini (2003) and The Italian Resistance: Fascists, Guerrillas and the Allies (2009), celebrated the "direct democracy" at the heart of a wartime resistance movement that was far larger than is generally acknowledged outside Italy.

For his former colleague Carmen Casaliggi, lecturer in English at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, Dr Behan was someone who "had time for anyone he met". He was "a fierce, a passionate, a genuine, a loyal soul ... His many books are not only uncomfortable and disconcertingly powerful readings, but also memorable sketches written out of necessity by a man who stood up to Italian organised crime - someone who dared with courage and resistance to speak out."

Dr Behan died in Milan on 30 August after a long illness, and is survived by his partner, Barbara Rampoldi.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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