I was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1937. My parents were Communists and I learned from them to speak up fearlessly for what is right.
At age fourteen I went blind and finished my schooling at The Royal Blind School, Edinburgh. My novel The Panopticon, gives an impression of that rather mixed experience.
In 1958 I went up to Edinburgh University, where I studied history and law. In 1962 I graduated with first class honours in history and went to The Queen's College, Oxford, where I obtained my doctorate in 1967.
Meanwhile I married my wife, Etta, who was also blind and had just qualified as a physiotherapist. We have three sighted children and several grandchildren.
Between 1966 and 1997 I lectured in history at the University of Warwick, England. During that time I published my biography of Keir Hardie, essays on Scottish coal miners in the nineteenth century and critical essays on Thomas Hardy. After retirement came the book about my grandfather, In Search of Willie Patterson: a Scottish Soldier in the Age of Imperialism, and The Panopticon.
At a very early stage I resolved to speak up for the rights of blind people. I served as President of the national Federation of the Blind and Partially Sighted from 1972 to 1975 and as a trustee of The Royal National Institute OF the Blind (RNIB) from 1974 to 1987 (and again from 1999 to 2006). In 1970 I helped to form The Association of Blind and Partially Sighted Teachers and Students and edited its Bulletin for several years.
The rights of blind people could not be divorced from those of disabled people generally and I served on the executives of The Disablement Income Group and the Disability Alliance.
Among the fruits of this work were several ground breaking government programmes, including:
- disability living allowance
- access to work
- mainstream education for visually impaired children
and, in addition the first inclusive college for visually impaired students, opened by RNIB at Loughborough, England.
I continue the struggle and my ambition is to see the rate of unemployment among blind and partially sighted people drop well below the current level of seventy-five percent.
My interest in history and literature is still very much alive. I lecture to family history groups. Signs of the Times: Ideas of History in the Novels of Thomas Hardy is work in progress.
Over the years my interests have included mountaineering, classical music and theatre, but best of all has been my family.
- 19th century English social history
- History and literature
- 'Socialist Sunday Schools in Britain, 1892-1939', International Review of Social History, 1966, pp. 19ff
- Keir Hardie: the Making of a Socialist (Croom Helm, 1978)
- 'Art and Ideology in Far from the Madding Crowd', in Thomas Hardy Annual, No. IV, ed. N. Page (London, 1986) pp. 91ff
- 'THOMAS HARDY HUMANISM AND HISTORY', THE THOMAS HARDY YEAR BOOK, No. 27, Ed. G. Stevens Cox and E. Howitt Toucan Press, 1998) pp. 26ff
- 'Wayfarers And Seafarers: Ideas of History in the Mayor of Casterbridge', Thomas Hardy Journal, 13,1, (1997) pp. 47ff
- In Search of Willie Patterson: a Scottish Soldier in the Age of Imperialism (Cualann P., 2002)
- The Panopticon: a Novel (unpublished, 2006)
- Papers on the Future of Supported Employment for Blind and Partially Sighted People (unpublished, 2005-6)