Peter Saville 1946-2022

A tribute from Rab MacIver.

Peter Saville was a remarkable man. A Psychologist, Psychometrician and a serial entrepreneur who was fascinated by personality, cognition and their measurement.

To fully understand the human side of Peter, it is important to know that he faced real challenges in his life. He had scoliosis as a child, the treatment of which at the time was extremely harsh manual manipulation. As an adult, he nearly died during an Electro-Convulsive Therapy session attempting to treat his depression. A Specialist later told Peter that he had a better understanding of his Physiology than the consultant himself. Peter contributed to the diagnosis and treatment that led towards his greatly improved wellbeing in later life.

Despite these and other adversities that Peter faced, he had seemingly limitless ambition. Peter successfully listed his first business Saville and Holdsworth Ltd on the London Stock Exchange before going on to form a second and then a third psychometrics’ business.

I first worked for Peter as a R&D Assistant from 1991, alongside Dr George Sik. Peter was 45 then and had already built Saville and Holdsworth Ltd into a major international assessment business with its own management centre in Surrey. His philosophy was that his door was always open, and he seemed happier walking about chatting (or playing football) with staff than attending a formal meeting.

You didn’t always know what you would get when you met Peter. In 2004, he picked me up at Jersey airport on a gloriously sunny day in a silver open-top convertible, white hair driven back, well-tanned and wearing shades. Jumping into the car, I realised he was in a pair of beach shorts and he had bare feet operating the pedals.  We went to a café in nearby St Ouen’s beach – Peter tiptoeing gingerly from the car to avoid the stones and shells in the car park. It was an interview of sorts!

I have recently been reflecting on what made Peter so successful. He did have an incredible intellect, but he also thought differently to most other people. A few months after my trip to Jersey, Peter and I were discussing different ways we could trial and validate a new suite of psychometric instruments. I said that one of the options being proposed was damn near impossible – “Brilliant, then we will do it, no one else can follow us”. I never said anything was impossible to him again.

Peter forged a career in Psychology, but also had an active interest in many topics. He was passionate about music from Pink Floyd to Ray Charles, and could tell you everything you needed to know about a whole host of artists. Chris Small worked with Peter on many presentations as they toured different countries: “Peter can effortlessly move through subjects as diverse as statistics, football, personality theory, effects of dopamine, Stan Bowles and military history without missing a beat.” But this was not the sign of an unfocused mind, he always knew what really mattered and the concept of ‘Test Validity’ ran through him like the lettering in a stick of rock.

What most stands out for me about Peter was his awareness around the importance of the end-user experience. Whether that is the ability to communicate psychological and statistical concepts straightforwardly or ensuring his customers receive a high-quality service. And, of course, that candidates should take assessments that reflect positively on the organisation they are applying to.  

Peter was justly proud of his achievements and in particular the BPS Honorary Fellowship the Society bestowed on him in 2012. He brought the full force of his personality and intellect to bear on his profession and leaves the world a different place. He influenced, inspired and for many in our profession, opened doors and enabled their careers in the assessment work that he pioneered.

Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues. We will miss you, Peter.

- See also our 2007 interview.

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