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The University of Southampton
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Professor Adrian Anthony Smith BA, MA, PhD, PGCE, FRHisSoc

Emeritus Professor of Modern History

Professor Adrian Anthony Smith's photo

Professor Adrian Smith, modern British historian.

Originally a newspaper historian (funded projects at the University of Kent on the Daily Herald, the cartoonist David Low, and The New Statesman Portrait of a Political Weekly 1913-31), in due course my research shifted to a focus on civil-military relations, and on the impact of ‘industrial war’ on twentieth-century British society.  There followed a management study of defence decision-making in Whitehall from Churchill to Thatcher (1996), and later a biography of Admiral Lord Mountbatten (2010), the second volume of which I am currently writing (embracing research published in 2012-13 on the First Sea Lord and the Suez crisis). 

My two other biographies focus upon scientific and technological change in time of war and peace, with specific reference to the British aircraft industry: the lives of the socialist air ace Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock (2010), and the aviation pioneer and industrialist Sir Richard Fairey (2018).  Both books challenge the ‘declinist’ view of British industry in the last century, as did my article on the making of David Lean’s The Sound Barrier (HJFRT, 2010)

An interest in popular culture is reflected in a collection of essays The City of Coventry A Twentieth Century Icon (2006), and a 2020 book and podcast on music and progressive politics in the United States: Slouching Towards Big Pink Essays on Bob Dylan and The Band, Woody Guthrie, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  My work as a sport historian has included two co-edited books – on amateurs and professionals (2000) and on sport and national identity (2004) – and numerous essays and articles on rugby union in both the northern and the southern hemispheres.

In addition, I write for the New Statesman, Progressive Review, and specialist magazines such as History Today and The Historian.    

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.

'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 here.

Research interests

Civil-military relations, technological change (notably aviation), and war and society, in 20th-21st century UK and Northern Ireland; sport and popular culture in contemporary society.

Research Projects

Presently writing and researching Mountbatten: Viceroy, Empire and Cold War 1943-79 (Bloomsbury, 2022), a sequel to Mountbatten Apprentice War Lord, which covered the life and career of Admiral Lord Mountbatten up to his creation of South-East Asia Command in October 1943; the present volume covers his career as SEAC Supreme Commander, the last Viceroy of India, First Sea Lord, and Chief of the Defence Staff.

Earl Mountbatten
Adrian Smith, Mountbatten: War, Cold War, and Withdrawal from Empire

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

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