Christopher Pollitt: Walking his talk, talking his walk

AuthorGeert Bouckaert
Date01 September 2018
Published date01 September 2018
Christopher Pollitt: Walking his talk, talking
his walk
I still remember where I met Christopher Pollitt for the first time. It was in 1987 at an EGPA conference, more pre-
cisely in the Study Group on Quality and Productivity, in Valencia, Spain. That is 31 years ago. He was 41 years old;
he looked younger, he always looked younger, and he was just appointed as Head of Government and Politics at The
Open University.
Headmaster Pollitt, his father, was influential in triggering and pushing his interests: history and geography. It is
clear that Christophers private and public life could certainly be distinguished, but absolutely not separated. There
was an osmosis between them, a cross-fertilization where things he read and experienced were almost recycled in
his teaching and his writings. This was the case with history and geography. When he developed his research and
books on time and place, it was very clear that his lifetime readings on history and geography were all building on
his personal experiences of time and place.
Oxfords Oriel College was the stepping stone to the rest of the world. Modern History was his choice and focus.
Moving to the British civil service was a logical next step. As a promising bright Oxford alumnus, it was near-
inevitable to serve as Private Secretary of two key cabinet ministers, before being promoted to Principal in the Policy
Division of the Department of Trade and Industry. His stories were always so good that I suspected him sometimes
to be the author of the BBC Yes, Minister series. Christopher was a great reader of novels, and a great storyteller in
his refined English.
And then, he made a crucial decision. From outside, it looked like a rupture; from inside, it was a logical step to
study what he had been doing. He moved back to academia to teach and to research. First as a senior lecturerin pub-
lic administration at Middlesex Polytechnic, then, in 1975 as a Lecturer in Government, at The Open University. That
context was a bit different from being a Private Secretary. Context; another key concept where Christopher walked
his talk, but also, where he talked his walk.
He was very English, very Brighton, very Hove. But he was even more reaching out. First to the US; then to
Europe. Christopher became very European, even if he remained very English. His Odyssey made him move to very
different places such as Georgia, London, Rotterdam, and Leuven.
He tackled various policy fields and organizations; however, he had a preference for health policy. Again, a family
context was influential for Christopher to really want to understand systems, especially the NHS. In the last year, as
he told me, he was more familiar with the hospitals and NHS than most of the doctors he visited.
Christopher was very professional in everything he did, also in managing. He managed a faculty as dean (Brunel),
journals as editor (PA,IRAS) or member of the editorial team (JPART), research programmes, all levels of teaching pro-
grammes (from executive to doctoral, from undergraduate to postgraduate), and associations as board member
(EGPA) or president (European Evaluation Society). Here too, he walked his talk, he talked his walk.
Even with his high academic status and his multiple awards (including two doctor honoris causa), Christopher
was modest and remained accessible, also and especially for young researchers. He was available when someone
wanted him to speak, or visit, or write, or comment, or give advice. He was genuinely generous.
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12538
Public Administration. 2018;96:431432. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd 431

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