Obituary: Sir Alan Turner Peacock

Born: 26 June, 1922, near Newcastle. Died: 2 August, 2014, in Edinburgh, aged 92.

Sir Alan Turner Peacock, economics lecturer and recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for intelligence work. Picture: Contributed
Sir Alan Turner Peacock, economics lecturer and recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for intelligence work. Picture: Contributed

Sir Alan Turner Peacock was formerly chief economic adviser to the Department of Trade and Industry of the United Kingdom.

He taught economics at Edinburgh and York Universities and the London School of Economics and was vice-chancellor of Buckingham University.

He was a visiting scholar at many other European universities, including being an honorary professor at Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University.

Alan often referred to “a village near Newcastle” as his birth place, and then moved with his family to St Andrews, where his father – who had done path-breaking scientific research into the causes of trench fever during the First World War – was a professor of zoology.

He was educated entirely in Dundee until he left school and went on to university.

His great passion was music; playing, writing and discursing about the technical details.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his naval intelligence work in the Arctic in the Second World War, and had been and remained fluent in German since his student days.

He recalled when editors and printers, thinking “DSC” was a mis-setting of a DSc degree, corrected it to his grumpy annoyance, given everything sailors had to endure in Arctic winters to earn it.

I met Alan in the early 1980s, at the Esmée Fairbairn Research Centre at Heriot-Watt University, the progenitor of the Edinburgh Business School, where we became, first, colleagues and over the years firm friends.

He helped me develop my academic career, guiding me, often behind the scenes, including, I believe, by prompting a publisher to invite me to show them early drafts of what became my book, Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy (2005), for which research he (typically) gave me several copies from his scholar’s library and selected several articles on Smith, and much advice.

In his last years we met almost weekly, usually at a café mid-way between our homes in south Edinburgh, until latterly both our mobilities deteriorated, and we met at his sheltered flat first and, most recently, at what he described as his “cell” in his care home.

Alan wrote very well and his last booklet, Defying Decrepitude: A Personal Memoir by Alan Peacock, is typical of his style of self-effacing defiance and mocking irreverence for one’s fate.

I shall always remember my friend, Alan Peacock, for the breadth of his knowledge of those subjects that interested him, especially his deep love of music; for his private, guarded confidences about his very active life and work and his interest in whatever I was up to, especially on matters related to Adam Smith.

At our last meeting, where he was recovering from a serious fall, he urged me to read a couple of books he had extracted on Samuel Johnson from his library and, typically, he also urged me to continue with his recommendation of a book of coherent essays on Adam Smith that we had discussed in detail a week earlier.

Unfortunately, my printer had stopped functioning, so he was unable to read what I had written, though we discussed the approach I was taking.

We had a short telephone conversation two days before he died to rearrange our next meeting – our arranged one had to be postponed because Alan had fallen again (for which, typically, he profusely apologised).

That meeting will now never take place.

When I rang his room that morning and checked with the care home’s switchboard, I was told that Alan had passed away at 4:30am.

I feel disconsolate because I thought we would meet several times more. We had so much still to talk about.

He was talking about adding another chapter to Defying Decrepitude and no doubt wanted to talk about it and read me his draft.

Alan probably knew he was rapidly approaching that final moment. He was probably recalling that Adam Smith – according to his close friend, the geologist, James Hutton, as reported by his first biographer, Dugald Stewart – told his friends at their last meeting with them: “I believe we must adjourn this meeting to some other place” (Ian Ross, 2010, The Life of Adam Smith).

I doubt there is “another place”, as I had told Alan when he asked me about it a week ago.

However, if there is, I can hear Alan, at 92, warmly welcoming his friends with typical apologies for the accommodation offered in his “little cell” and informing his hosts how it might be improved, perhaps with a good claret or two, and selections from a short list of operas that he happened to have with him.

Alan is survived by two sons and a daughter. His wife, Margaret (nee Burt), predeceased him.