[Having been prompted to pen a brief account of Adrian’s life

by one of his old College friends,

I found that the memories just flowed.

So I’ve decided to web-publish this account in honour of Adrian

and his two grand-daughters, the second of whom was born yesterday.

P.J.C. 14 February 2014]

Adrian Corfield, also known to family and old friends as Ady, was a happy person, and he had a happy life, lived exuberantly. It was almost unbelievable that someone of such an unflaggingly cheerful and optimistic personality should die in mid-life of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Before that happened, Adrian had certainly packed a lot into his 44 years. He was the second of six siblings, with loving parents, who brought up the family in simplicity and strong left-wing principles. There were lots of children’s games, books read aloud, cricket on the beach at family seaside holidays, laughter, and singing around the piano. Adrian himself was always the most cheerful and active among the throng. He loved company and he loved competitive sports, in his teens playing rugby (as anything from fly half to inside or outside centre) to almost Kent County standard. His next brother Julian spent hours with him, when they were kids, playing football and cricket in the back garden – and, on one memorable occasion, hurling coals purloined from the outside coal-shed, in a great trajectory over two fences into the next-but-one neighbour’s back-garden.

As a student, Adrian always lived on his wits, being averse to long periods of study. But his wits were good and he did well. He went from Chislehurst & Sidcup Boys County Grammar School (as it then was) to Oriel College Oxford (1965-8) to read Biology; and he got his Second, surprising his tutor in the process – not because Adrian lacked abilities but because he left his revision to the absolute last minute. He had found College life difficult at first, finding many public school Oxonians to be snooty and unapproachable. But, being a gregarious person, he eventually enjoyed the Oxford experience, becoming as much a part of town as of gown. His many friends remember him with great affection. Dave Sherrif (Oriel 1965-8) recalls Adrian as ‘a contemporary hero, athletic, good-looking, clever, full of fun, a bit of a rebel but without an ounce of malice. The rugby field was one of the few places where Adrian seemed to obey the rules’. He always loved parties, at which he would arrive on his motor-bike, accompanied by a beautiful girlfriend. And he was always restlessly active, playing harmless pranks and College rugby with equal enthusiasm. Adrian kept up all his family contacts while he was a student. He often visited our ever-effervescent cousin Jojo at his East Hendred (Oxon) general store and dairy, helping Jojo to repair old cars and to organise the dairy round; and Adrian enjoyed home lunches on Sundays with our uncle Christopher Hill, then Master of Balliol College Oxford, but never one to stand on dignity.

After University, Adrian’s career was highly eclectic. He renovated dilapidated but characterful old properties; he restored an old barge, moored by Oxford’s Port Meadow, on which he lived for a while; he taught at a crammer in Pimlico; he did an MSc in Environmental Sciences at Manchester University; he taught at a secondary school in Telford, whilst co-running a restaurant on a barge moored in Shrewsbury; and, finally two years before his death, he found his ideal job as a lecturer in the School of Life Sciences at Brighton University. His forte there was inducting nervous new recruits into the joys of student life. How Adrian would have coped long-term with the dragooning of academics in the increasingly regimented world of today’s Universities remains a moot point. But he was a pioneer of student-centred learning in its most positive guise; and his collegiality and his capacity to enthuse his students would have stood him in good stead.

In the course of all this, Adrian lived simply, not seeking to make money. He was a ‘Green’ before such issues became fashionable and was an early-warner of the dangers of climate change. He loved intensely, with a string of ardent relationships. He and the Corfield family remained especially friendly with three long-term partners: Wendy Mason (née Crew) who died from a brain tumour in 2000; Claire Grove, the radio drama producer, who has recently died; and Maria Bradshaw, who was with Adrian in hospital when he himself died. It was fitting that such a companionable man was in love and loved at the end. His ashes are scattered at Beachy Head, a beauty spot in which he took great delight. And some members of the Corfields walk on the cliff-tops each June in honour of his memory.

Adrian is survived by his daughter with Wendy, Melissa Hunter (née Corfield), and by his two grand-daughters, Scarlett (b.2012) and Jamie (b.2014). As a man who believed in women as equals, he would today be delighting in the feisty females who are his descendants. Adrian would, however, still be warning us all, ever more urgently, about the challenge of global warning.

Note: Adrian’s parents Alan ‘Tony’ Corfield and Irene Corfield were commemorated in short obituaries by PJC in The Guardian on 2 Sept. 2011 and 18 May 2013 respectively; and these accounts are also available on PJC’s website An obituary of Claire Grove by Maxine Irving was also published in The Guardian, 5 December 2013.

To read other notices, please click here.


If citing, please kindly acknowledge copyright © Penelope J. Corfield (2014)

Of course, most people who continue to use the language of ‘race’ believe that it has a genuine meaning – and a meaning, moreover, that resonates for them. It’s not just an abstract thing but a personal way of viewing the world. I’ve talked to lots of people about giving up ‘race’ and many respond with puzzlement. The terminology seems to reflect nothing more than the way things are.

But actually, it doesn’t. It’s based upon a pseudo-science that was once genuinely believed but has long since been shown as erroneous by geneticists. So why is this language still used by people who would not dream of insisting that the earth is flat, or the moon made of blue cheese.

Part of the reason is no doubt the power of tradition and continuity – a force of history that is often under-appreciated.1 It’s still possible to hear references to people having the ‘bump of locality’, meaning that they have a strong topographical/spatial awareness and can find their way around easily. The phrase sounds somehow plausible. Yet it’s derived from the now-abandoned study of phrenology. This approach, first advanced in 1796 by the German physician F.J. Gall, sought to analyse people’s characteristics via the contours of the cranium.2  It fitted with the ‘lookism’ of our species. We habitually scrutinise one another to detect moods, intentions, characters. So it may have seemed reasonable to measure skulls for the study of character.

Phrenologist’s view of the human skull: point no. 31 marks the bump of locality, just over the right eyebrow.Yet, despite confident Victorian publications explaining The Science of Phrenology3  and advice manuals on How to Read Heads,4  these theories turned out to be no more than a pseudo-science. The critics were right after all. Robust tracts like Anti-Phrenology: Or a Chapter on Humbug won the day. Nevertheless, some key phrenological phrases linger on.5  My own partner in life has an exceptionally strong sense of topographical orientation. So sometimes I joke about his ‘bump of locality’, even though there’s no protrusion on his right forehead. It’s a just linguistic remnant of vanished views.

That pattern may apply similarly in the language of race, which is partly based upon a simple ‘lookism’. People who look like us are assumed to be part of ‘our tribe’. Those who do not seem to be ‘a race apart’ (except that they are not). The survival of the phrasing is thus partly a matter of inertia.

Another element may also spring, paradoxically, from opponents of ‘racial’ divisions. They are properly dedicated to ‘anti-racism’. Yet they don’t oppose the core language itself. That’s no doubt because they want to confront prejudices directly. They accept that humans are divided into separate races but insist that all races should be treated equally. It seems logical therefore that the opponent of a ‘racist’ should be an ‘anti-racist’. Statistics of separate racial groups are collected in order to ensure that there is no discrimination.

Yet one sign of the difficulty in all official surveys remains the utter lack of consistency as to how many ‘races’ there are. Early estimates by would-be experts on racial classification historically ranged from a simplistic two (‘black’ and ‘white’) to a complex 63.6  Census and other listings these days usually invent a hybrid range of categories. Some are based upon ideas of race or skin colour; others of nationality; or a combination And there are often lurking elements of ‘lookism’ within such categories (‘black British’), dividing people by skin colour, even within the separate ‘races’.7

So people like me who say simply that ‘race’ doesn’t exist (i.e. that we are all one human race) can seem evasive, or outright annoying. We are charged with missing the realities of discrimination and failing to provide answers.

Nevertheless, I think that trying to combat a serious error by perpetrating the same error (even if in reverse) is not the right way forward. The answer to pseudo-racism is not ‘anti-racism’ but ‘one-racism’. It’s ok to collect statistics about nationality or world-regional origins or any combination of such descriptors, but without the heading of ‘racial’ classification and the use of phrases that invoke or imply separate races.

Public venues in societies that historically operated a ‘colour bar’  used the brown paper bag test for quick decisions,  admitting people with skins lighter than the bag and rejecting the rest.  As a means of classifying people, it’s as ‘lookist’ as phrenology  but with even fewer claims to being ‘scientific’.  Copyright © Jessica C (Nov. 2013)What’s in a word? And the answer is always: plenty. ‘Race’ is a short, flexible and easy term to use. It also lends itself to quickly comprehensible compounds like ‘racist’ or ‘anti-racist’. Phrases derived from ethnicity (national identity) sound much more foreign in English. And an invented term like ‘anti-ethnicism’ seems abstruse and lacking instant punch.

All the same, it’s time to find or to create some up-to-date phrases to allow for the fact that racism is a pseudo-science that lost its scientific rationale a long time ago. ‘One-racism’? ‘Humanism’? It’s more powerful to oppose discrimination in the name of reality, instead of perpetrating the wrong belief that we are fundamentally divided. The spectrum of human skin colours under the sun is beautiful, nothing more.

1 On this, see esp. PJC website BLOG/1 ‘Why is the Formidable Power of Continuity so often Overlooked?’ (Nov. 2010).

2 See T.M. Parssinen, ‘Popular Science and Society: The Phrenology Movement in Early Victorian Britain’, Journal of Social History, 8 (1974), pp. 1-20.

3 J.C. Lyons, The Science of Phrenology (London, 1846).

4 J. Coates, How to Read Heads: Or Practical Lessons on the Application of Phrenology to the Reading of Character (London, 1891).

5 J. Byrne, Anti-Phrenology: Or a Chapter on Humbug (Washington, 1841).

6 P.J. Corfield, Time and the Shape of History (London, 2007), pp. 40-1.

7 The image comes from Jessica C’s thoughtful website, ‘Colorism: A Battle that Needs to End’ (12 Nov. 2013):

For further discussion, see

To read other discussion-points, please click here

To download Monthly Blog 38 please click here