Peter Banister 1947-2019

An appreciation of the British Psychological Society's President 2012-2013.

It is with great sadness that we learnt of the death of Peter Banister in July 2019. We remember him as a friend, a colleague and as an effective Head of Department who steered a ground-breaking path in the provision of teaching and research in Psychology. Peter studied Psychology at Durham University and followed this with a PhD entitled ‘Cognitive effects of long term imprisonment’, under the supervision of Professor Fred Smith (Society President, 1959-60). His interest in penal policy followed him throughout his career and he taught undergraduate and postgraduate units on Psychology and Criminology and Forensic Psychology up until his retirement, despite an ever-increasing administrative load.

In 1972 he joined Manchester Polytechnic as Associate Lecturer in social psychology, moving up the ladder to become Principal Lecturer and Head of the School of Psychology in the Department of Social Science. In 1986 he headed the newly formed Department of Psychology and Speech Pathology, which still later became the Department of Psychology. With some stints as Acting Dean of the Faculty, Peter remained Head of Psychology for the rest of his career.

In 1974 he joined the Open University as tutor. He remained with the OU for 45 years as Associate Lecturer, Tutor-Counsellor, contributing to summer schools and the writing of new courses. He worked for Open Awards as a moderator, evaluating teaching of psychology on access courses at Colleges of Further Education.

Over the years he was a member of many different BPS committees, latterly upholding close links with other European colleagues and the QAA Benchmarking in Psychology team. He was active in the Association of Heads of Psychology Departments and was a Chartered Forensic, Health and Teacher of Psychology and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Peter worked tirelessly to ensure that the right kinds of courses and the right kinds of supports were there for students, many of whom were the first in their families to go to University. His commitment to mature and non-traditional students is reflected, too, through his long term work with the OU. Countless cohorts of students remember his enthusiasm, whether teaching criminology, social psychology or qualitative methods. He was never critical, always encouraging. So many students have been enabled to stick to their studies, by Peter’s care and encouragement.

Peter was a strong advocate of a psychology education for many, not just the few entering professional psychology. However, despite the increasing popularity of undergraduate psychology, he always protected his staff from rapid increases in student numbers, refusing to allow psychology to be the University’s cash cow.

Peter had no time for the managerial turn in higher education. He hated the demands of a managerialist culture and resisted them strongly. Instead, he preferred to let people follow their own passions, forge their own careers, according to their own strengths and ambitions. Under his Headship, Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University gained an international reputation for pushing the boundaries of psychology, and as a critical mass and centre of excellence in courses and research that embraced feminist, critical, qualitative and community psychology. It was Peter who gave us the space for these developments, and who often contributed to them as well. Indeed, many staff and students were attracted to the department because of its critical edge. 

Peter led the team that produced the first book on Qualitative Methods in Psychology (1994, 2011) which has been essential reading for many students, a set text on the MSc Qualitative Methods course and an Open University set text. He was also instrumental in ensuring that qualitative methods appeared in the benchmarking statements for Psychology.

Innovation, then, could, and did, blossom in Peter’s department. If people needed any kind of special arrangements, these were put in place, and were rarely questioned. This was not a management strategy or something out of a management manual – it was human decency prevailing. Peter was a member of the BPS courses review teams for many years and we have heard how helpful, kind, empowering and constructive Peter was during the course review process. Several of us experienced him as a facilitating head of department, who was willing to support the promotion of perspectives that he himself may have known little about but thought were worthy of being shared and taught. It was through this kind of non-egotistical support that the department was able to acquire its distinctive and prestigious reputation for innovative and critical work – unusual for a new university at that time.

Peter was instrumental in shaping the nature of an education in psychology, the discipline itself, and its direction. His activities were prolific and his influence wide. His grandfather was Harry Banister, a pupil of Ward, Rivers and Myers, who worked in Bartlett’s Experimental Psychology lab at Cambridge in the 1920s (although he always claimed this had no influence on his love of psychology). Peter was an enthusiastic advocate of conceptual and historical issues in psychology and argued for its inclusion on the undergraduate psychology curriculum. He was one of the few BPS Presidents to attend the History & Philosophy of Psychology Section’s Annual Conference whilst in office. 

Peter had many interests, paramount amongst them was his enthusiasm for Victorian jigsaws, old books (especially travel books) and transport, particularly trains and trams, and this took him, and his family, to many parts of the world. He travelled widely but was nowhere as happy as tramping the Saddleworth moors and hills above Manchester. Some of us also enjoyed (and shared although not quite to the same extent) his interest in and enthusiasm for Star Trek.

Without a doubt, Peter lived a life that mattered and he changed, for the better, the lives of many members of staff over the years, and thousands of students, who will long remember him, and fondly. We are proud to have worked with him and to call him our friend.

Carolyn Kagan, Erica Burman, Rebecca Lawthom, Ian Parker, Geoff Bunn

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