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LSE and BCP man

29 November 2013

Bernard Palmer on an intellectual's pursuits


The Education of David Martin: The making of an unlikely sociologist
David Martin
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I WAS born in the same year as the author of this book and spent much of my childhood in an outer London suburb a dozen miles or so from Mortlake (of boat-race fame), where he was brought up. So I can testify from personal recollections to the accuracy of his description of this part of England in the 1930s and 1940s - especially during the Second World War, when German bombs were falling all around us.

It is this early part of the book which is likely to be of most interest to the general reader, as it deals mainly with narrative facts. The later chapters are concerned more with ideas. The book is, in fact, an autobiographical memoir rather than a straightforward autobiography. The facts may be there, but you have to hunt for them (the index is less than adequate). There is more, for instance, about the collapse of his first marriage than about his second marriage to a fellow-academic, Bernice, and virtually nothing about his children.

David Martin's childhood was dominated by his father's revivalist enthusiasm. Martin senior was first a chauffeur and then a taxi-driver - his employers included Archbishop Davidson at Lambeth Palace and H. H. Asquith at 10 Downing Street. He was an intensely devout and religious man; so his son attended church regularly from an early age. David Martin was educated at East Sheen Grammar School, and then did his National Service in the Pioneer Corps (he had registered as a conscientious objector, though he later abandoned his pacifist views).

After leaving the army, he worked for some years as a teacher in primary schools before deciding to read sociology at Regent Street Polytechnic. He had become fascinated by an academic discip-line that provided answers to the questions he liked to ask: in his own words, "I was a natural for sociology." He came top in the university examination and, at the age of 30, won a place at the London School of Economics. Twelve years later, he had acquired a university professorship.

Martin is intensely interested in music, writing, and religion. He was a Methodist local preacher for many years before being confirmed in 1979 in the Church of England. Four years later, he was ordained to a non-stipendiary title at Guildford Cathedral. He is a prolific writer, both in academic journals and as a book-reviewer for the TLS and the Church Times - he has acquired a public profile as a controversialist in the media. And he has written 16 previous books.

As an Anglican, he is a passionate supporter both of the Book of Common Prayer and of the King James Version of the Bible. He felt so strongly about the need to protect these bastions of Anglicanism against the modernisers that he organized a monster petition to the General Synod, signed by scores of the great and the good. When the petition had no effect, he followed it up with a draft Parliamentary Bill, which, while it likewise got nowhere, at least led to a summons to Lambeth Palace to meet Archbishop Runcie. He confesses that he found it difficult at times to combine his various duties at the LSE with his other activities, such as running campaigns.

Things were especially difficult during the student revolution of 1968-69. The graduate section of the sociology department was a centre of trouble at the LSE - and Martin was in charge of it.

He is a man of formidable intellect, who has found that sociology has given him full scope for developing his ideas - and not least his religious ideas - in all sorts of different directions. These ideas he discusses at length in a book that is likely to be read with fascination by the author's fellow academics - and indeed by anyone with an intellectual turn of mind.

Dr Palmer is a former editor of the Church Times.

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