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Professor Adrian Smith 

Emeritus Professor of Modern History

Professor Adrian Smith's photo

Although retired, and no longer supervising postgraduates, I remain an active researcher within the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.  My third biography was published in 2018, and a very different kind of book should appear in 2019…

The Man Who Built The Swordfish: The Life of Sir Richard Fairey, 1887-1956

World air speed record breaker Fairey DS2
World air speed record breaker Fairey DS2

May 2018 saw publication (by I.B. Tauris) of my biography of Sir Richard Fairey, 1887-1956.  The founder of Fairey Aviation – Britain’s biggest aircraft company between the wars – was a highly successful designer, engineer, industrialist, diplomat, conservationist, and yachtsman:

'British business biographies are few and far and for this reason alone this brilliant account of the life of Sir Richard Fairey will be welcome. Yet it is much more than this - it gives us a unique insight into the history of the aircraft industry and the Air Force, but also the temper of the British political right wing, transatlantic relations in the Second World War, and the private and leisure world of a British tycoon. It gives an astonishing, and exceedingly rare, insight into the nature of the British elite.'

Sir Richard Fairey
Sir Richard Fairey

David Edgerton, Hans Rausing Professor of the History of Science and Technology and Professor of Modern British History, King's College London

'Adrian Smith's spectacular biography breaks the myth of British industrial decline in the twentieth century, highlighting the contribution of a larger than life individual to the development of cutting edge industries. Richard Fairey created aircraft that pushed the limits of range, speed and durability, and helped mobilise American industry to support the British war effort. The durable, war-winning Swordfish, and the fabulous FD2, test bed for Concorde, are his legacy.'

Andrew Lambert, Laughton Professor of Naval History, King's College London.

Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt – the Search for a Song

Bob Dylan and The Band
Bob Dylan and The Band

I have recently finished writing a book about the Bob Dylan, The Band, and the little known song ‘Dear Mrs Roosevelt’ which they performed at the Woody Guthrie memorial concerts on 20 January 1968. How did the song come to be written, in the autumn of 1948, what was the relationship between Woody Guthrie and FDR and Mrs Roosevelt, and why did Dylan choose to sing a sanitised version of the politically charged original after two years of relative obscurity recording the ‘Basement Tapes’ in Woodstock? The first half of the book constitutes a personal memoir, focused upon Dylan, Guthrie, and Roosevelt. The second half examines radical politics in 1940s America, and its legacy across the postwar years.

Mountbatten (and Mannock)

Completion of the Dylan book will facilitate a return to the life of Lord Mountbatten, having previously written two major articles about his experience during and after the Suez crisis in 1956, and in Mountbatten Apprentice War Lord (I B Tauris, 2010) re-assessed his career from 1900 to 1943.

A previous biography, ‘Mick' Mannock, Fighter Pilot: Myth, Life, and Politics (the basis for BBC2's 2009 Timewatch documentary, ‘WW1 -Falling Aces'; and republished by Palgrave in 2016), echoed earlier work on the British Left and within the broad area of war studies/civil-military relations.

Biography informed the collection of essays, City of Coventry: Twentieth Century Icon (I B Tauris, 2006), as did my continuing interest in the history of sport – especially rugby union.

'Captain Keith Douglas, killed Normandy, 9.6.1944 - the soldier-poet seventy years on'

My inaugural lecture was given on 9 June 2014 to mark the seventieth anniversary that day of the death of Keith Douglas, acclaimed poet and author of From Alamein to Zem Zem, a classic account of the Desert War. The lecture, accompanied that week by an essay on Douglas in the New Statesman, can be downloaded via:

‘Great War Unknown War’

I am actively involved in the University of Southampton’s programme of events marking the centenary of the First World War, details of which can be found at: 

Research interests

Notwithstanding the current project – exploring American progressive politics and folk music in the middle decades of the last century – my primary focus remains the history of Great Britain and of Ireland across the past 150 years, not least during and between two world wars.  That history can range from sport and popular culture through to high politics and civil-military relations.  In recent years I have concentrated my research on the rise, fall, and partial recovery of the British aviation industry from the Edwardian period through to the end of the Cold War. 

However, I retain a keen interest in ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten – Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten of Burma (1900-1979).  Mountbatten’s senior appointments included Chief of Combined Operations, Viceroy and then Governor-General of India, First Sea Lord, and Chief of the Defence Staff; but at present I am particularly interested in his tenure as C-in-C South-East Asia Command, 1943-1946 – my partial biography Mountbatten Apprentice War Lord ended with its subject’s arrival at SEAC. 

Future research will revisit the working and personal relationship between the Supreme Commander and General (later Field Marshal) ‘Bill’ Slim, who led the ‘Forgotten’ 14th Army to victory in Burma.  A parallel line of enquiry will examine Mountbatten’s role in Indo-China after the Japanese surrender saw a power vacuum prior to the French reimposing colonial rule – is there correspondence in the Broadland Archives and at the Musée du Général Leclerc which illuminates our understanding of SEAC’s myopic attitude towards the Viet Minh, and more specifically, of Mountbatten’s dealings with the liberator of Paris, another aristocrat in uniform (albeit with a nom de guerre)?

South-East Asia Command
South-East Asia Command
Earl Mountbatten
Earl Mountbatten

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Book Chapters

Professor Adrian Smith
Building 65 Faculty of Arts and Humanities University of Southampton Avenue Campus Highfield Southampton SO17 1BF United Kingdom

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