Derek Diamond: a tribute

Posted on June 19, 2015

Professor Derek Diamond  died in May aged 81. He was my tutor at LSE in the 1970s  when I was  there doing a postgraduate course in Urban and Regional Planning. Derek was a leading British planner, or as he preferred to call himself, ‘an applied urban geographer’, for decades.

Son of the Labour politician Lord ‘Jack’ Diamond and Sadie Diamond he was born in 1933. He went up to Pembroke College, Oxford to read geography in 1952 and then took an MSc at North Western University, Illinois in 1957, before returning to the UK in 1958 to a post as assistant lecturer in Geography at Glasgow University, before moving over to the Dept of Town and Regional Planning in 1965. He moved to the London School of Economics (LSE) in 1968 to become Reader in Geography and to take responsibility for the Urban and Regional Planning programme, founded a couple of years earlier by Prof Peter Hall. There he directed the MSc and PhD planning students until 1979. I was one of them, joining the MSc course in 1976. The course participants were notably international and the influence of his boundless energy and razor sharp mind have been felt right across the world.
Derek was very much an activist, combining his academic position with a range of roles including Chair of the Regional Studies Association (1974-76) and President of the Institute of British Geographers (1994-95) as well as from 1989, a Vice President of the Town and Country Planning Association. His desire to get his charges out looking at what was going on in the ‘real world’ led him to develop a series of London walks which became famous with generations of students. His love of London was also reflected in his fifteen year tenure as Director of the Greater London Group at LSE from 1980. As well as a prolific academic, with publications ranging from Regional policy evaluation (1983) to Managing the metropolis in the global village (2002), Derek was a remarkably committed Editor. As well as editing Town and Country Planning (1972-1981) he took on the editorship of both Progress in Planning (1972- 2003) and Geoforum (1975-1993). My first ever article was one he commissioned while I was still a student, and appeared in the December 1977 issue of T&CP. It was on Chinese city planning, a subject that he regularly came back to, being appointed an Honorary Professor of Human Geography at the Institute of Geography in Beijing in 1991. He was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the LSE in 2006.
Derek was a strong administrator. He had to be to carry out the demanding range of roles he set himself, and as a result was something of an LSE stalwart in the academic administrative jungle, acting as Convenor of the Dept of Geography (twice), an Academic Governor, and Vice Chair of the Academic Board. This workload never got in the way of his inter-disciplinary commitment or his visionary intent, so it was no surprise to those who knew him that in 1993 he took on the role of first (interim) Director of the LSE’s Gender Institute which has gone on to produce many of the leading lights in feminist research and theory today. His commitment to this pioneering inter-disciplinary strand of social science scholarship at a time when many other male, and some female colleagues were unconvinced of its importance, is still warmly remembered over 20 years later. He officially retired from LSE in 1995, and was appointed Emeritus Professor, but remained active, publishing and mentoring students.
Derek has a long and happy marriage to Esme Passmore who he met while at Oxford. They married in 1957 and had two children, Stella and Andrew and four grandsons, all of whom survive him. They lived in the same house in Walton-on-Thames for over 45 years and when I last saw him, for lunch at the LSE in October, he was insistent that I come for lunch at home in the spring. Sadly his illness overtook that appointment. Nancy Holman his successor at LSE, summed up this remarkable man saying:

‘In the course of one’s career it is common to come across excellent educators, incisive researchers, strong administrators and champions of students and alumni. However it is rare that all these qualities are encompassed in one individual’. Derek was such a person.


A version of this article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Town and Country Planning


  1. Richard Oram
    June 22, 2015

    Derek and “his” MSc program were compelling and the experiences I had in those years changed my life. After my MSc, when his job with me was done perhaps, he actually helped me most. He wasn’t really and wasn’t just a college professor, he was better and so practical, and the best teacher I had.