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Peter Hennessy

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Title: Peter Hennessy  
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Peter Hennessy

The Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield
Personal details
Born (1947-03-28) 28 March 1947
Edmonton, London
Occupation English historian and academic
Known for Prominent in the field of contemporary history.

Peter John Hennessy, Baron Hennessy of Nympsfield, FBA (born 28 March 1947) is an English historian and academic specialising in the history of government. Since 1992, he has been Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History at Queen Mary University of London.[1]


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
    • Journalism 2.1
    • Academic career 2.2
  • Elevation to the Peerage 3
  • Bibliography 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Sources 7
  • External links 8

Early life

He was born in Edmonton, the youngest child of William G. Hennessy by his marriage to Edith (Wood-Johnson) Hennessy.[2] Peter Hennessy comes from a large Catholic family of Irish provenance. He was brought up in large houses, requisitioned by the council, first in Allandale Avenue and then in Lyndhurst Gardens, Finchley, north London.[3]

He attended the nearby Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School, and on Sundays he went to St Mary Magdalene church, where he was an altar boy.[3] He was a subject of the first episode of the BBC radio 4 series The House I Grew Up In, first broadcast on 6 August 2007, in which he talked about his childhood.[3]

Hennessy was educated at St Benedict's School, an independent school in Ealing, West London. When his father's job led the family to move to the Cotswolds, he attended Marling School, a grammar school in Stroud, Gloucestershire. He went on to study at St John's College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a BA in 1969 and a PhD in 1990. Hennessy was a Kennedy Memorial Scholar at Harvard University from 1971 to 1972.



Hennessy was a journalist for the Times Higher Education Supplement from 1972–74. He wrote leaders for The Times from 1974–82, for which he was also the Whitehall correspondent. He was The Financial Times' lobby correspondent at Westminster in 1976. In June 1977, Hennessy accused Donald Beves of being the "fourth man" in the affair of Philby, Burgess, and Maclean, but Geoffrey Grigson and others quickly leapt to the defense of Beves, considering him uninterested in politics.[4]

Hennessy wrote for The Economist in 1982. He was a regular presenter of Analysis on BBC Radio 4 from 1987 to 1992. On 17 November 2005, he made a trenchant appearance alongside Lord Wilson of Dinton before the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee on the publication of political memoirs.

In July/August 2013 he was the interviewer for BBC Radio 4's Reflections,[5] a series of four programmes, each of which examined the lives of, and featured Shirley Williams, Jack Straw, Norman Tebbit and Neil Kinnock.

Academic career

He co-founded the Institute of Contemporary British History in 1986. From 1992 to 2000, he was professor of contemporary history at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London. From 1994 to 1997, he gave public lectures as Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College, London. From 2001, he has been Attlee professor of contemporary British history at Queen Mary.

His analysis of post-war Britain, Never Again: Britain 1945–1951, won the Duff Cooper Prize in 1992 and the NCR Book Award in 1993.

His study of Britain in the 1950s and the rise of Harold Macmillan, Having It So Good: Britain in the 1950s, won the 2007 Orwell Prize for political writing.[6]

Elevation to the Peerage

On 5 October 2010 the House of Lords Appointments Commission said Hennessy was to be a non-political crossbench peer. He was created a life peer on 8 November 2010, taking the title Baron Hennessy of Nympsfield, of Nympsfield in the County of Gloucestershire[7] and he was introduced to the House of Lords on 25 November.[8]

"I'm terribly pleased and honoured," Hennessy said at hearing the news. "I hope I can help the House of Lords a bit on constitutional matters. I'll certainly give it my best shot."[9] In August 2014, Lord Hennessy was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.[10]


Hennessy is the author of the following:

  • Cabinet (1986) ISBN 0-631-14968-6
  • Whitehall (1989) ISBN 0-02-914441-8
  • Never Again: Britain 1945–51 (1992) ISBN 0-679-43363-5
  • The Hidden Wiring: Unearthing the British Constitution (1995) ISBN 0-575-06176-6
  • The Prime Minister: The Office and Its Holders since 1945 (2000) ISBN 0-312-29313-5
  • The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War (2002) ISBN 0-7139-9626-9
    Republished and extended as The Secret State: Preparing For The Worst 1945 – 2010 (2010) ISBN 978-0-14-104469-9 Penguin
  • Having it so good : Britain in the fifties (2006) ISBN 978-0-7139-9571-8
  • Cabinets and the Bomb (2007) ISBN 978-0-19-726422-5 Oxford University Press
  • The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945-2010 (2010) ISBN 978-0-1410-4469-9 Penguin

See also


  1. ^ "Queen Mary College website biographical note on Peter Hennessy". The School of History, Queen Mary, University of London. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  2. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 28 September 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c , featuring Peter Hennessy"The House I Grew Up In".  
  4. ^ 'Who was the fourth man?' in The Times, issue 60032 dated Friday, 17 June 1977, p. 17
  5. ^ BBC Radio 4 - Reflections - Episode guide
  6. ^ "Orwell prize winner is Having it So Good"
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 59602. p. 21747. 11 November 2010.
  8. ^ House of Lords Minutes of Proceedings of Thursday 25 November 2010
  9. ^ "Professor Hennessy joins the House of Lords". Queen Mary University of London. 6 October 2010. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  10. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories | Politics". 2014-08-07. Retrieved 2014-08-26. 


  • 'Corrected Oral Transcript of Oral Evidence presented to the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee on the publication of political memoirs on 17 November 2005 by Lord Wilson of Dinton and Professor Peter Hennessy', 7 December 2005. Retrieved 31 December 2005

External links

  • Staff of QMUL Department of History website
  • Archives of Peter Hennessy held by Queen Mary, University of London Archives
  • House of Lords official page
  • Penguin Books
  • March 2004Guardian
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
    • , 26 November 1989.Whitehall interview with Hennessy on Booknotes
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