John Pinder: an obituary by Mayer Hillman

John Pinder, who died earlier this year, was Director of PSI for 21 years, from 1964 to 1985. Here, Mayer Hillman, PSI emeritus fellow, offers his own appreciation of John’s work.


John Pinder

It was with considerable sadness on returning from holiday earlier in the year that I heard of the death of John Pinder.

Having completed my doctoral thesis at the University of Edinburgh in the summer of 1970, my attention was drawn to a research post at PEP (Political and Economic Planning) of which John was then director. This organisation – later to be named Policy Studies Institute – was known to me as an independent non-party charity. It was founded in 1931 with the aim of contributing to improved policy-making through the medium of research. As such, it fitted in perfectly both with my professional interests and my wish to be engaged in policy-oriented study. I applied and was interviewed by John, and in view of my background, was appointed as head of its small environmental team.

I found him to be an ideal ‘boss’, determined to maintain the Institute’s high standards and its ethos of aiming to employ people with an inner dedication to their sphere of research rather than the more conventional pursuit of people with equivalent qualifications, namely employment in institutions with prospects of academic advancement. Indeed, research staff appeared to me to be far more focused on delivering ‘quality’ research that was likely to influence decision-making. They were largely disinterested in their salary and few restricted themselves to office hours.

John’s door was nearly always encouragingly open, as was his warm welcome when one wished to discuss matters with him. He was invariably a sympathetic listener and could always be relied on to give helpful advice and suggestions as to how to resolve problems put to him. I cannot recall even one instance during my years when he was running the Institute that he was the subject of any unkind word or criticism from any member of the staff.

His editorship of the history of the Institute, Fifty Years of Political and Economic Planning – Looking Forward 1931-1981 amply displayed some of his skills in bringing together distinguished people who had been involved in the five decades since it was founded. Contributors included Max Nicholson, a member of PEP’s governing body from its inception in 1931 to 1978, Michael Young, Secretary of PEP during the Second World War, and Lord Roll, Joint-President of the newly formed Policy Studies Institute. His own contribution to the book also reflected his modesty: he ensured that almost everyone, research and administrative staff alike, who had or were still working in the Institute was acknowledged, making scant reference to his not inconsiderable role in PEP/PSI’s development during the 21 years up to his retirement in 1985.

John was in command during PEP’s impressively seamless merger in 1978 with the Centre for Studies in Social Policy - an especially challenging task that could so easily have brought turbulence in its wake in view of the overlap of subject areas of the two institutes and the seniority of researchers in both bodies.

He steered the Institute from a time in which staff numbers rose from single figures to close on 80, with the scope of research groups extending into several policy domains such as the arts in which there had been no earlier involvement. During his years in charge, the Institute’s reputation grew to the point at which it was recognised as one of Europe’s most influential independent research bodies.

There are very few people for whom I retain such high regard for their expertise in their line of work and such warm feelings. I believe this view to be widely shared.