Edward Elliot 1920-2021

A tribute to an early pioneer of applied psychology, from Kate Tinson.

It has been my great privilege to have known this extraordinary man, during the last 8 years of his life. The Rev. Alice Goodall, then Curate of the parish of Donhead St Andrew, introduced me to him. Alice had been a Senior Clinical Psychologist before her ordination, I was then still in post as an Educational Psychologist and Edward had been an applied cognitive psychologist notably working with the Admiralty Research laboratory. We joked that we were the Donhead St Andrew Psychological Society and covered all bases!

I was well aware of Edward’s commitment to applied cognitive psychology but it was only on reading his papers, after his death, that I realised how significant his work had been in those early days and the academically distinguished circles in which he moved.

Edward grew up in East London. He described his parents as “very Edwardian”. Musically talented, even as a child he played piano and church organ by ear. His family moved to Epping after their home was bombed.

Edwards’s education was interrupted by spells of serious illness and time in hospital, but despite this he won a scholarship to grammar school and later a place at The London School of Tropical Medicine. Edward completed a degree in Psychology and Mathematics at University College London and went on to have a distinguished career in The Admiralty and Ministry of Defense as a Senior Psychologist in the Admiralty research laboratory. 

I have a copy of The Quarterly Bulletin of The British Psychological Society, Volume 1 Number 2, October 1948. On the last few pages is a list of all names and addresses of the BPS members including Edward’s. Then a small and elite group! Edward continued to be a BPS member until his death.

He contributed a paper called Auditory Vigilance Tasks to the symposium titled “Vigilance” – The Advancement of Science, June 1957.” The symposium included a paper by the great D E Broadbent. In his own paper The Vigilant Man and The Active Man, Broadbent positively acknowledges Edward’s own work. 

In another paper 'Perception and Alertness, Ergonomics 1960', Edward presents a model of vigilance and discusses how laboratory studies of vigilance do not accurately predict what occurs in real life military watch keeping tasks. 

Other publications included “The Shape of a Typical Audiogram” and “Evaluating a Sonic Aid for Blind Guidance”. Edward’s papers were all beautifully written, fascinating and arguably still relevant today.  

Edward worked also in the field including spending time on submarines. He was tasked with devising psychological screening and assessment tools to aid submariner recruitment.

Edward must have been one of the earliest applied psychologists working in a rapidly developing field.

Edward was a modest, gentle rather shy man but he did say with some pride that his office, when with the MoD, was in Admiralty Arch, which must have been fun! 

He retired in 1980 with his wife to a thatched cottage in Wiltshire. Edward’s wife Patricia, a horticulturalist, gardener and educator, also published and achieved much. She died in 1986. Edward missed her greatly. Their partnership was one of truly like minds. They did not have children, nieces or nephews.  

Edward’s interests included Art History, local church architecture, music and lichens. In these areas he meticulously researched and recorded. He produced, using the latest digital equipment posters advertising lectures for The Salisbury Fine Arts Group. He would read at least three books on the artist or topic before designing the poster. When I, once, tactlessly expressed surprise at his current and excellent digital skills he retorted that he had been using computers long before I was born! 

Edward’s fascination and frustration with “The Hard Question” of Consciousness continued, almost as an intellectual obsession, until his death. Now, having all his books on that topic, I am trying to pick up that particular baton. 

Over the last few years of his very long life Edward was very frail physically and annoyed to be challenged by diminishing sight and hearing. He never lost his sharp and enquiring mind or his sense of humour. Typically he would set his “Alexa” mathematical challenges, which amused him greatly. 

Edward was pleased to have made it to 101, because he considered a prime number to be more distinguished.

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