The Open University Chancellor Asa Briggs addressing the audience at a graduation ceremony.

OU pays tribute to Asa Briggs, former OU Chancellor

Members of the OU community, past and present, attended yesterday’s thanksgiving service for the late Asa Briggs.

The former Vice-Chancellor Sir John Daniel, representing the OU and a close family friend, paid tribute to Asa’s remarkable contribution to the OU and announced the new Asa Briggs Chair in History. All the speakers brought out just how life-affirming, energetic and inspiring a person Asa was - public intellectual, cultural historian and so much more besides.

The memorial service was organised by the BBC, for whom Briggs was the first official historian, for 37 years. As he himself memorably said ‘to write the history of broadcasting in the 20thth century is to write the history of everything else.’ The BBC will be marking his role as a public historian in a special Radio 4 Archive Hour, to be broadcast in 2017.

'First real historian to take the media seriously'

The memorial celebrated Asa Briggs’s groundbreaking contribution to The Open University, and in recognition of this, the OU has announced the creation of a new Professorial Chair in History – the Asa Briggs Chair. Its first incumbent will be Paul Lawrence from the OU's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, who has made a significant scholarly contribution to British social history. Alongside the Chair, there will be a funded PhD studentship in a related area of research.

Other tributes were made from Professor Miles Taylor, University of York speaking on Briggs the Historian; Professor Jean Seaton, University of Westminster and the current Official Historian of the BBC, on Briggs’s contribution to the BBC; and Sir Jonathan Bate, Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford, on Briggs’s time there as Fellow and later Provost. Finally, Michael Farthing, former Vice Chancellor, University of Sussex, spoke of Briggs’s key role in the creation and development of that university, one of the new wave of post-war universities.

BBC Director-General Tony Hall said: “Asa Briggs was the first real historian to take the media seriously, and his five-volume history of the BBC was foundational, paving the way to media history as we know it today. Asa was also an inspirational guide to the Corporation, illuminating not only its past and present, but its future too.”

Vice Chancellor of The Open University Peter Horrocks said:

Asa Briggs was the OU's Chancellor for 15 years at a critical time in its development. He was a towering figure in education and also a most distinguished scholar, recognised as one of this country’s leading historians.

"It is particularly fitting that one way we will mark Asa Briggs' outstanding contribution is by establishing a Chair in his name. I am very pleased indeed that Paul Lawrence is taking up the new Chair, in tribute to Asa and his pursuit of scholarly endeavour.”

The OU Digital Archive includes an Asa Briggs feature.