Robert Pinker CBE (1931-2021)



Robert Arthur Pinker was born on 27 May 1931, the son of Joseph and Dora Pinker. In 1955, he married Jennifer Farrington Boulton, who died in 1994; they had two daughters.

Bob grew up near Tufnell Park and attended Holloway County School where he excelled. His teacher, Mr. Dixon wanted Bob to stay on in the sixth form but Bob’s parents were not of the same opinion, because they couldn’t afford it. Mr. Dixon personally persuaded Mr & Mrs Pinker to allow Bob to stay on for the sixth form and go to university.

He took a certificate in Social Science and Administration at the London School of Economics in 1959, followed by a B.Sc. in Sociology and M.Sc. in Economics. He did his National Service in the Royal Ulster Rifles.

His academic career took him from lecturer at North-Western Polytechnic 1962-64 to Head of Sociology at Goldsmiths College (1964-1972), with a strong emphasis on social policy, to a Chair in the Social Policy Department at LSE. He was also Pro-Director of LSE (1985-88) and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Social Sciences at the University of London 1989-1990. He was Lewisham Professor of Social Administration, Goldsmiths and Bedford College (1972-1974), Professor of Social Studies, Chelsea College, University of London (1974-1978), Professor of Social Work Studies, LSE (1978-1993), including Departmental Convenor (1982-1985), and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Social Sciences and Continuing Education, University of London ((1989-1990), and Professor of Social Administration, LSE (1993-1996). Member of Goldsmiths' Council 2001 to 2007, elected a Fellow of the Society of Editors in 2004 and received an honorary doctor of laws (LLD) degree from the University of Ulster in 2016. The Social Policy Society awarded him their Special Recognition Award in 2015.
Bob's published works include English Hospital Statistics 1861–1938 (1964), Social Theory and Social Policy (1971), ‘The Welfare State: a comparative perspective’ 1973, The Idea of Welfare (1979), Social Work in an Enterprise Society (1990), and, with R. Deacon and N. Lipton, Privacy and Personality Rights (2010). He chaired the editorial board of the journal of Social Policy from 1981 to 1986.

Outside of academia, Bob was a founding lay member of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and sat on the PCC from 1991 to 2004 and he was acting chair for the last year of his tenure. He was a member of the Advertising Standards Authority and a Privacy Commissioner for a decade from 1994. In 2005, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in recognition of his public service. He had been elected a Fellow of the Society of Editors the previous year, and in January 2021 was awarded the Astor Award for Press Freedom by the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust.

After retiring from the PCC in 2004, he served for two years as Chair of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Press Council, the first such body in the Balkans, and had continued helping to establish press councils in overseas countries, including Sri Lanka and South Sudan.

Days before his death on receiving the 2020 Astor Award for Press Freedom, Lord Black of Brentwood, Chair of the CPU described him as, “An indomitable champion of free speech, free press and of self-regulation. His work not only just strengthened press freedom but – as a result – strengthened the Commonwealth, too.”

Bob was approachable to all and a man of many interests outside academic and public life. He was a great conversationalist, a good listener and extremely kind and supportive of many who turned to him for advice.

Bob's party piece was performing a music-hall number, with his thumbs in his braces, at an impromptu sing-along at conferences. He confessed that he’d thought about a career in music hall, but had opted to become a probation officer instead!

He followed the fortunes of Chelsea FC and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of professional boxing. He also loved old motor cars and for many years the family car was a Daimler. He was self-effacing and listed his recreations in Who’s Who as “reading, writing and unskilled gardening”.

He often reminisced about his upbringing in north London and always enjoyed traditional, family home cooking. He regularly attended the Old Camdenians annual dinner and considered a good, shop-bought, fish and chip supper a special treat.

The determination and impact of one special Holloway School English teacher, Mr. R. G. Dixon, by taking extraordinary measures, made it possible for a local boy to achieve international recognition

His wife Jen, to whom he was devoted, died 25 years ago after 25 years of marriage. They had two daughters, Cathy and Lucy, as well as grandchildren and great grandchildren. They were the centre of his life and he filled his house in Blackheath with books, conversation, and laughter.

Bob was a special man who will be much missed.
He died aged 89 on the 2nd of February 2021.