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Summary of Career History

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1938 - 1946

September 1939


Up to December 1938, I had been at Bradfield College. near Reading, where I had covered numerous subjects including Classics and History, but ended with French and German. My father was a fairly senior Army officer, but impoverished, and in consequence I had to get a scholarship if I was to go to Cambridge University. My first try in 1937 failed, but my second in 1938 was successful, giving me a scholarship in French and German to Clare College.

I remember staying in Whewells Court, Trinity College, for the exams, learning to face the freezing Cambridge weather. This was because my father had studied in Trinity during the First War, as a Sapper reading engineering between wounds in France, and one of the Fellows was a close friend.

Old Faithful - a 1928 Overland Whippet. I  left school in December 1938, and took a nine months gap, crossing the North Atlantic in an icebreaker in March, driving an ancient car (maximum manageable speed 40 mph) from Montreal to Vancouver, and returning to New York in a Greyhound Bus, via San Francisco, Los Angeles, South Carolina and Washington.


Old Faithful'  1928 Overland Whippet

War broke out soon after my return, but my father said there was no room for all the great number of volunteers, and told me to do a year in Cambridge first. So I arrived in Autumn 1939, my room being on the Backs side of Old Court. I switched to History for my first year, managing a 2.1. We were very air-raid conscious.

Having come from a conservative-minded Public School, I did the obvious and switched to the other side of the political fence. Pre-war poverty and apparent economic mismanagement took me into the Socialist Party, and the need for national planning during wartime led me to favour centralised economic planning for quite a long time, until personal administrative experience taught me otherwise.

The trouble with the Socialist Party was that it was clearly dominated by Communists, who reminded me alarmingly of the Nazis; my pre-university studies in Bavaria had provided a major warning about dictatorships. So my friend Francis Noel-Baker and I broke away and formed a separate Labour Party. This lasted until all hell broke loose in May 1940, when inter-alia my father was killed by a Stuka dive-bomber, sailing away from Dunkirk.

I had been in the Bradfield Officers Training Corps, and had become a member of the CUOTC. Soon after we went down in May 1940, we were recalled to guard Cambridge and its environs. Not all of us were adept with our weaponry After several unfortunate incidents, I myself became a serious 'friendly fire' case. As I prepared to take over a pillbox on the Fowlmere tactical airfield, my predecessor did not ease springs correctly and shot me through the hip. A long and dicey spell in Addenbrookes introduced me to the blood-replacing benefits of Guinness and the charms of the nursing profession.

While in Addenbrookes, I had been offered a place in the major Officer Training Centre in Bangalore, Southern India, having Indian Army family connections. So after months of re-growing my hip muscles, I was called up in Aldershot to join a large contingent, which contained a number of Cambridge friends, travelling on the Highland Chieftain, a former meat transport vessel.

After a further three months training at the Ahmednagar Fighting Vehicle School in Central India, I joined my regiment, the 19th K.G.O. (King George's Own) Lancers , and remained with them until 1945. We started with Humber and Daimler Armoured Cars, trained in the Karachi Desert for the Middle East, were suddenly switched to Madras to patrol 250 miles of coast threatened by the Japanese, were re-armed with Shermans in Secundrabad, retook the south-west coastline of Burma from the Japanese, captured Rangoon on D-Day, joined the 14th Army to our north, and went back to India.

Training in the desert. Armoured car tent in the desert.

I was then posted to command the Gunnery Wing in Ahmednagar. But jungle sores in Burma led to an abscess on my kidney, and on recovery I was given home leave. The chap in the India Office said "I can give you a class B release tomorrow."

I was quite keen to command the Gunnery Wing. But I had about 10 seconds standing there, to decide the whole of my future (rather like asking a woman to marry you!). I plumped for release and returned to Clare College.

So at the beginning of 1946, I needed two terms to complete my War degree, and by now it was clear to me that Economics was the most interesting and relevant subject for my future. I left with a 2.2 in Part One, but returned later, after seven years in the Colonial Administrative Service, in London and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) for a year under the Service's Course B. I had a good year under the supervision of Peter Bauer, concentrating on general development and agricultural economics.


Assessment of Educational Impact

I was surprised to receive an invitation to the Centenary Conference, because I have made virtually no published contribution to academic economics. Naturally, I have written a large number of economic and research reports during my work, only a few of which have been published officially, although I always keep copies. On the other hand, since retirement I have published on many subjects, all for public impact rather than for bibliographic reference, circulating them after publication, on the internet.

The interesting point to emerge from my relatively limited economic education is that, for my whole active life, I have deliberately involved myself with economic related activities in numerous guises;
from constructing public buildings and creating road networks in the districts in my charge; to obtaining government money to establish an aircraft company to control Tsetse flies in southern Zambia; to financing and building an auction floor for the Tobacco Board of Zambia, when Rhodesia declared independence; to examining the economic future of the UK/Hindustan Fertiliser Corporation's development activities in Madhya Pradesh, India; to an assessment of foreign debt in Somalia during an agricultural sector survey of that country; and so on.

A second point arises from the number of my non-economic interests, many of them in scientific and biological fields, including Human Origins. I am a Life Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. I am a member of the Institute of Optimum Nutrition, and of the McCarrison Society for Nutrition and Health. I have published extensively on fertilisers and other agricultural matters in the Tropical Agriculture Association quarterly. I am a member of the International Association of Agricultural Economists, although attendance at overseas conferences is now beyond my purse. I am a Member of Gray's Inn, a residue of my days as a Class 2 Magistrate in Central Africa.

I mention this point because wide interests make it much easier for a practical economist to cross inter-disciplinary boundaries, to sort out conflicts between specialists, and to exercise a co-ordinating role, particularly when also involved in fund allocation. I will make further reference to this point later in this paper, on the role practical economists could play in reducing the confused performance of British science over the past quarter century, leading to serious economic losses, particularly in human health, nutrition and agriculture.



1947 - 1964

Colonial Administrative Service







All of Richard (Tim) Dening's papers relating to his career, first in the colonial administration in Northern Rhodesia and then as an agricultural economist, have been donated to the Bodleian Library  of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House, in Oxford, England.

Tim kept very comprehensive records of all aspects of his working life. Anybody wishing to consult the archived papers should contact the library first for advice:

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Website: Copyright B.Corker 2008     Images: Copyright EGL Dening 2008