Obituary: Frank Bealey, Arctic convoys veteran who became an influential professor of politics at Aberdeen

Prof Frank Bealey
Prof Frank Bealey
Share this article
Have your say

Born: 31 August, 1922, in Staffordshire. Died: 18 January, 2013 in Edinburgh, aged 90

Frank Bealey was initially a somewhat reluctant 

Having fought for his country during the Second World War, serving off the coast of north Africa and surviving the bone-chilling misery of the Arctic convoys, followed swiftly by the attainment of a first-class degree, he was uncertain about his future and stalled a decision on his career.

But a short stint as a lecturer in Nordic universities was to set him on a path that would lead him to the top of his chosen field. Pleasantly surprised to discover he enjoyed teaching, he knew then that his career lay in academia, specifically political science, where he took up the first chair of politics at Aberdeen University. He later received an outstanding achievement award for his contribution to UK political studies and his support of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet 

The son of an engineering draughtsman and a school teacher, he was born in Bilston, Staffordshire, raised in Hagley and educated at Edward VI Grammar School in Stourbridge.

His boyhood spanned the General Strike, which he vaguely remembered, and the turbulent years of the Spanish Civil War and the rise of fascism in Germany in the 1930s, resulting in what he observed was an unusually politicised generation.

He joined the navy in 1941 and recalled political debate raging below decks. He saw active service in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and north Africa, for which he was awarded the Africa Star. His ship, HMS Marne, was torpedoed in November 1942 after returning from the Arctic Convoys of the North Atlantic. He did not live to receive the medal finally promised to veterans, after 70 years, for their immense contribution to maintaining supplies to Russia via the gruelling convoys.

In 1946, five days after being demobbed, he enrolled as a student at the London School of Economics. Two years later he graduated with a first, a BSc Economics. Looking back on his career for the Political Studies Association 60 years later, he said research or teaching were both mentioned but he avoided making a decision. Instead, he accepted a one-year British Council scholarship to Finland.

While at the University of Helsinki he was asked to lecture temporarily at the Swedish and Finnish Universities of Abo and Turku for three months. Enthused by the experience, he realised he had found his calling.

He went on to work as an extra-mural lecturer at Manchester University before moving to Keel University in 1951, where he taught politics for 12 years and rose to senior lecturer. He also lectured temporarily at Birmingham University during the late 1950s.

In 1964, when he took up the first chair of politics at Aberdeen University, there was no honours course, only 20 students and a mere three teachers, two of whom left within two years. He then faced the task of recruiting students and expanding the department. By the time he retired, in 1990 it had acquired a chair of international relations and comprised a teaching staff of 16.

During his 26 years at Aberdeen University he had also been a visiting professor at Yale and the organiser of an all-party parliamentary group, Social Science and Policy, established to show members of the Houses of Commons and Lords the value of social science research to policy-making.

A fellow of the Royal Historical Society, in 1960 he had been a founder member and treasurer of the Society for the Study of Labour History. He had an early interest in party history that continued throughout his career and was reflected in a number of his publications.

Books he co-authored include: Labour and Politics 1900-1906; Constituency Politics and The Politics of Independence. In his own right, he produced Social and Political Thought of the British Labour Party plus a history of the Post Office Engineering Union and A Dictionary of Political Science. His last book was The Concentration of Power in Business and the State, in 2001.

When he was awarded the Political Studies Association award in 2010, for his outstanding contribution to his field, it coincided with the diamond jubilee of the association, which he had helped to found in 1950. It recognised not only his scholarship but his long service on the editorial board of the journal Political Studies and his lesser-known role in the development of political science in Czechoslovakia before the Velvet Revolution.

In the 1980s, he supported dissident academics through his work as a trustee of the Jan Hus Educational Foundation, smuggling money and word processing equipment, ostensibly as a tourist and at great risk to personal safety, to support the underground movement.

He attended two clandestine seminars for opponents of the Communist regime, in 1984 and 1989, which gave him the contacts to continue his work post-revolution.

He was awarded a sizeable grant, through the European Union Tempus scheme, which allowed him to initiate the teaching of political science in Czechoslovakia. It supported summer schools at Masaryk University in Brno and courses to retrain Communist-appointed local government officers in modern methods. He also involved other European academic colleagues in delivering the aims of the project.

Away from academia and during his time in Aberdeen, Bealey, who moved to Edinburgh in retirement, was a staunch Dons supporter and enjoyed the north-east countryside. He was one of the Bailies of Bennachie, a member of the voluntary conservation society formed to preserve the Aberdeenshire hill range and literature associated with the landmark.

He was also widely travelled – he particularly enjoyed France and Italy – and retained a love 
of poetry. Latterly, thanks to a highly retentive memory, he was still able to recall poems from his school days and quote at length Wordsworth and Thomas Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard.

He is survived by his wife, Sheila, whom he married in 1960, three children and three grandchildren. A memorial service will be held in Aberdeen University’s King’s College chapel at a later date.