Letter: Percy Allum obituary

As John Foot noted in his obituary of Percy Allum, the outstanding historian of Italy never really played the academic game during his time as a lecturer, and eventually professor, at Reading University. When I was there as a student for three years from 1968, I encountered Dr Allum as a very striking teacher of comparative government.

Among an idiosyncratic bunch of academics in the politics department, he stood out as radical. However, his leftwing views were always subordinated to the needs of his students.

A lecture on, say, political parties or interest groups would begin with: “Notebooks and pens out – here’s the stuff you need to pass your exams.” After half an hour or so of textbook orthodoxy came: “Pens down; notebooks away; here’s how it really works.”

Apart from not wishing to subvert undergraduates’ chances of a degree by regurgitating his “truth”, he also took a proactive stand in their welfare. Unlike his less libertarian colleagues, he held a roll-call of those attending every class. This uncharacteristically old-fashioned habit was, as he explained, the result of an incident at his previous university, where it seems that a student had died, and the fact had not been noticed for several weeks.

He was a good man, as well as a gentleman and scholar.