21 May 2012

Special Relationships, a new book by Lord Asa Briggs, launches

Special Relationships, a new book by Lord Asa Briggs

Special Relationships, a new book by Lord Asa Briggs

The Open University is sponsoring the launch event for Special Relationships, a new book written by its remarkable ex-Chancellor, Lord Asa Briggs. The launch will take place at The Commonwealth Club, London on Wednesday 23rd May.

Lord Briggs, a distinguished historian, Bletchley Park code-breaker and lifelong OU ambassador who celebrated his 91st birthday in May 2012, makes numerous references to The OU in his book, where he was Chancellor from 1979-1994. He said of The OU’s prominence: “Rightly so. It’s played a fundamental part in my own development, as I hope I’ve played an important part in the development of the Open University.” In the book’s Acknowledgements, he extends thanks to the Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, Martin Bean, and his colleagues in Milton Keynes’ for all their help.

Lord Briggs led the way in documenting the BBC’s history and took part in BBC programmes in education, before later becoming involved in The OU. In Special Relationships, he delves deep into his own history and covers all elements of his life, from the origins of his highly distinctive name and early education, to his wartime experiences as a ‘Hut Six’ cryptographer and his outstanding contributions as a historian. Along the way he sets out to trace the personal relationships which have most shaped his life.

Special Relationships is written in his 91st year, which he calls a year of convergence, as two of the main institutions in his life celebrate their own special anniversaries; The OU took in its first students in 1972 and the University of Sussex was in its own year in 1962. Lord Briggs was a member of the OU's planning committee. He has seen it grow beyond any of their dreams of 1972. As he says, "The OU has become immensely international in its scope, its students and its relationships with various parts of the world and indeed it has been copied as an institution, never in quite the same way, in many different countries. I regard The OU as unique. It is an essential part of the education system.”

In a forthcoming interview with The OU’s student and alumni magazine, OpenMinds, Lord Briggs explained that he was inspired to write the book, published by Frontline Books, after writing Secret Days, which was published to coincide with his 90th birthday, about his two years at Bletchley Park at the end of World War II. He said: “I’m very interested in relationships so this book is less about memoirs and reflections, and more about the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been to.”

Speaking about his time at The OU, he reflected: “We came up with the idea of linking new kinds of technology, in this case television, with older forms of learning, like correspondence courses. Television was placed right in the centre of the picture by Harold Wilson when he talked about ‘a university of the air’. Later, I was the only chancellor of The OU who got involved in the production of programmes, and indeed in radio and television broadcasting for The OU.”

The OU’s current Vice-Chancellor Martin Bean, believes the book is a fascinating autobiographical tale full of warmth, information and gentle humour. He added: “This is a fantastic recollection by a remarkable man. It’s a pleasure to have been involved.” Lord Briggs added: “I have tried to keep fully informed with what is going on in The Open University and have had extremely interesting talks with the present Vice-Chancellor, Martin Bean. I’m delighted that my book will be launched by The Open University and it will be a great pleasure to meet any of the people that I’ve known throughout my own experiences with it.”

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