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Dennison, Stanley Raymondlocked

(1912–1992)
  • Norman McCord

Dennison, Stanley Raymond (1912–1992), economist and university administrator, was born in a small terrace flat at 49 Trevor Terrace in North Shields on 15 June 1912, son of Stanley Dennison (1884–1943) and his wife, Florence Ann Smythe (d. 1984). His father worked in the office of the local gas company, first as a clerk and then as cashier. The boy went to Tynemouth Municipal High School, in the first year in which economics was taught there. He then went to Armstrong College, Newcastle, part of Durham University, where he so impressed his teachers that they arranged for his admission to Trinity College, Cambridge. From 1935 to 1939 he was lecturer in economics at Manchester University, years which saw the completion of The Location of Industry and the Depressed Areas (1939), an influential book on a theme which had interested him since Armstrong College days. In 1939, when only twenty-seven, he was appointed professor of economics at University College, Swansea, but in 1940 became chief economic assistant in the war cabinet secretariat, one of a team responsible for mobilizing the industrial war effort. For this work he was made a CBE. In 1945 he became a fellow of Gonville and Caius College, and university lecturer in economics, at Cambridge. His lectures on the structure of industry were informed by deep practical knowledge of the subject gained during the war, and were very popular with students.

In post-war decades Dennison encountered conflicts both in college and in the university's economics faculty. At Caius, discontent was aimed at reforming an old-fashioned system of college government. Dennison was on the side of the reformers; as senior tutor from 1952 he did much to modernize the college's administrative procedures. Among Cambridge economists, differing views on economic policy polarized into disputes maintained with a rancour which astonished visiting scholars. Some of the disciples of J. M. Keynes, convinced of the competence of the state as an economic manager, and gullible about contemporary communist regimes, enjoyed a dominant position among Cambridge economists in these years. Those who disagreed with them, like D. H. Robertson and Dennison, were treated with an intolerance which made rational argument difficult. In his writings and teaching Dennison never wavered from his reasoned exposition of more liberal economic doctrines.

In 1958 Dennison left Cambridge to become professor of economics at Queen's University, Belfast. Four years later he was appointed to the prestigious David Dale chair of economics at Newcastle. He modernized the department, expanding staff and student numbers and encouraging a programme of research and publication which greatly enhanced its standing. He also served for six years as pro-vice-chancellor, making a major contribution to the administration of the newly independent University of Newcastle.

In 1972 Dennison became vice-chancellor of the University of Hull, where he secured significant improvements in staffing and subject coverage. He was less happy in dealing with militant students encouraged by a disaffected minority of left-wing academic staff. Dennison was angered by what he saw as unjustified disruption of the university's affairs, and this was reflected in his sometimes abrasive handling of the malcontents. When he retired in 1979 he returned to Tyneside, spending his last years in a flat with views of the sea and the mouth of the Tyne. He continued for some years to chair the governing body of Newcastle's Royal Grammar School. Throughout his career he was in demand for committee work; for example, he served on the review body on remuneration of doctors and dentists, on the University Grants Committee, and as vice-chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. He died, unmarried, on 22 November 1992 at Greenacres Nursing Home, Coast Road, Wallsend, and was cremated on 1 December at Tynemouth crematorium.

Among twentieth-century economists, Dennison was an influential champion of a kind of liberal economic thought which, though overshadowed for a while by post-Keynesian collectivist doctrines, had before the century's end revived to exercise an effective influence on both economic thinking and public policy. He never courted popularity, and expressed profound scepticism about the economic competence of the state at times when to do so was unfashionable. Although his lucid writings and his participation in public inquiries were significant, much of his personal influence was exercised in ways which were less visible, which may account for the limited public recognition which he received. He was always willing to welcome and support visiting scholars who espoused beliefs similar to his own. For example, in Milton Friedman's Memoirs, Dennison appears repeatedly not only as 'a first-rate economist', but also as someone who had warmly but unobtrusively supported Friedman on his early visits to Britain. The Institute of Economic Affairs was one of the most influential think-tanks in twentieth-century Britain, paving the way in its publications and other activities for what came to be seen as the Thatcherite era. For many years, as a member of its council, Dennison played an important role in shaping the institute's work. He was an active early participant in the Mont Pelerin Society, an international group of considerable standing inspired by the work of Hayek.

Sources

  • Daily Telegraph (26 Nov 1992)
  • The Independent (26 Nov 1992)
  • The Independent (28 Nov 1992)
  • The Times (24 Nov 1992)
  • M. Friedman and R. D. Friedman, Two lucky people: memoirs (1998)
  • personal knowledge (2004)
  • Evening News [North Shields] (27 May 1943)
  • private information (2004) [Lord Harris of High Cross; Peter Cropper; William Scott]
  • b. cert.
  • d. cert.

Likenesses

  • J. Gilroy, portrait (as vice-chancellor), Jubilee Room, U. Hull
  • photograph, repro. in Daily Telegraph
  • photograph, repro. in The Independent
  • photograph, repro. in The Times
  • photographs, U. Hull

Wealth at Death

£372,819: probate, 19 Feb 1993, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]