Obituary: Ian Bradley

Posted by als26 at Oct 02, 2019 04:58 PM |
It is with great regret that we have learned of the death of Ian Bradley. Ian was a member of the Economics Department for 40 years.

Martin Hoskins with help from Deborah, Derek Deadman and Peter Jackson has written the tribute below.

I knew Ian for nearly forty years and taught a course in economic theory with him for twenty. In all that time we had no serious disagreement. The groups were large and there was often stress. I remember once, in the long-gone days of double blind examination marking, there was, as usual, little disagreement about the marks, but eleven marks had to be recorded on each script; two sets of four for the questions, two separate totals and an agreed total. Having marked over a hundred scripts and having spent a day recording all this, the tension was palpable. No one was going to check these marks, but it would not have crossed Ian’s mind to do anything but apply the same meticulous precision to this mundane and frustrating task as he applied to economic analysis and all his other responsibilities. He may have given the impression of having a somewhat ‘bohemian’ approach to things but this was quite deceptive. His concern for precision, efficiency and the reputation of the Department was always apparent. And particularly when he acted as Head of Department for a number of years. Although the responsibility should have been shouldered by others, Ian executed all the demanding, trivial but essential, frustrating tasks with his usual efficiency, care, good nature and sense of humour. And the Department progressed. I remember at this time spending about five minutes with him standing in the corridor while we designed a new Master’s degree programme which earned millions for the University. Quick, efficient and effective. Needless to say, neither of us saw a penny!

His reliability meant that Ian was invariably called on to teach the large lecture groups which inevitably accompanied the rapid rise in student numbers in the 1970’s and beyond. The strain of teaching groups invariably greater than 100 and often more than 200 in the Rattray lecture theatre before the acoustics were improved, before the advent of photocopied student notes, let alone computers and word processors and with only blackboard and chalk, was immense. Yet Ian’s good humour was much appreciated and the Department’s teaching well regarded.

In those days undergraduate students wrote extensive, carefully supervised dissertations. The University as always, wanted more money and the Economics Department, being economists, could see no reason why car parking spaces should be free. Internal departmental discussions naturally turned to how much could be charged and what method of allocation should be used. The more radical proposals that they should be auctioned, with members of the general public invited to bid as well as University staff, were thought to be non-starters, despite the economic attractions. Ian took an empirical approach and got one of his students to survey University staff. They were asked how much they would pay for a car parking space and those who had car parking permits were asked how much they would sell their space for: the numbers are not necessarily the same. This was remarkably successful and elicited some entertaining responses. One Professor of Physics replied ‘I couldn’t possibly sell my permit, it’s my property’; apparently unaware that it’s illegal to sell other people’s property.

Ian had many interests outside the University. Not least a passionate interest in horse racing. He had a natural facility with numbers, mathematics and a quick assessment of the odds. He was also great friends with Gerry Bernbaum, the University’s former Executive pro Vice-Chancellor and Registrar. They enjoyed many visits to the race track. On occasion the friendship and interest coalesced in unexpected ways. Following China’s change to a market economy Ian spent some time in Shanghai teaching western economics to Chinese students. This did not dampen his interest in horse racing. On one occasion Gerry was hauled from an important meeting to answer an urgent, but somewhat enigmatic, message on the tele printer: ‘£5 Slip Anchor 3.30 Bradley Shanghai’. I think Ian was quietly proud of the way his students had responded to a way of economic analysis hitherto alien to them. His only regret was that he had managed to sleep soundly through the only likely experience of an earthquake he was likely to encounter.

Ian was always prepared to make his contribution. He was captain of the Economics Department cricket team, playing in the inter-departmental ‘Gilmour – Lee’ cup competition, in the days when departments had sufficient members who knew the rules and were young enough to run about- or at least stand about looking interested. Although more of a batsman than a bowler, Ian often tried an over of leg spin. Although not particularly effective, I remember him once producing a, no-doubt unintentional, but nevertheless devastating, ‘donkey drop’. The ball looped high over the batsman and much to the joy and amusement of his team-mates and the despair of the batsman descended unerringly onto the top of the stumps.

Ian contributed to a wide variety of academic activities. He was instrumental in establishing a degree in ‘Economics and Law’ which ran successfully for many years. He was a national assessor for the quality of economics teaching in the UK during the QAA exercise and an external examiner at the University of East Anglia. He edited a Festschrift for Ronald Meek, a distinguished scholar of the history of economic thought, who was for many years Tyler Professor of Economics at Leicester. This included a contribution from Paul Samuelson, the first Nobel Laureate in Economics, with Ian saving the famous economist from a potentially embarrassing error, which was graciously acknowledged.  For many years he supplied basic mathematics questions for the Cambridge entrance examination. Just before his retirement he produced a much cited article with two other members of the Department on ‘prospect theory’, an approach to the analysis of decision making in uncertain situations, no doubt reflecting his personal experiences with the horses. After his retirement students continued to benefit from his teaching skills at Sheffield, where he was much appreciated.

Ian came from Liverpool and won a scholarship to Merchant Taylor’s School. He progressed to Pembroke College, Cambridge and came to Leicester at the end of the 1960’s after lecturing at Bristol University. He retired in 2008. His contribution to the Economics Department and University were immense and are commemorated with the Ian Bradley prize awarded each year to the best student in the BA Economics Degree. One of the last of a generation of free spirits dedicated to their jobs. Our thoughts are with Deborah, Jake and Hes.

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