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Professor Robert Audley, UCL psychology department’s ‘godfather’

27 August, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Professor Robert Audley

PROFESSOR Robert Audley, who has died aged 91, was an influential psychologist and teacher.

He lived in Keats Grove, Hampstead, where he was known for enjoy­ing debates at gatherings among intellectual and artistic circles. That was how he met his second wife, Holocaust survivor and journalist Vera Elyashiv, 91, who he helped care for in his later years.

Professor Audley’s son Matthew Audley, a psychotherapist, said: “He was intellectually gifted and a really interested teacher. He was interested in supporting others in how they develop and made them feel important.”

He is celebrated for guiding University College London’s psychology department, which he headed from 1979, through budget cuts under the then Conserva­tive Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Professor Audley helped it expand from one building to six, increasing admissions from 300 students to 2,500 since his leadership.

On a national level, Professor Audley argued the case for psychology to be seen as a biological science rather than a social science.

Professor Audley would often respond to planning applications affecting the conservation area near his home. He objected to a proposal to create an eruv near South Hampstead Synagogue, marking around some of the streets with poles and wires, on the grounds of aesthetics.

“It was a contentious issue for himself as the husband of a Holocaust survivor,” said his stepson Jonathan Bickerdike.

As a child, Jonathan remembers ‘Bob’ bringing home mechanical experiments like glasses that made the world look upside down – but after some time, things appeared the right way up again.

Professor Robert Audley Photo Credit: The British Psychological Society History of Psychology Centre

Academically Professor Audley worked in mathematical psychology, nowadays known as computational neuroscience. His interest lay in the mechanics of making decisions; his main research was in medical accidents and how to avoid them.

After the war, Professor Audley went to study psychology at UCL where he met his first wife, Sophie, who went on to be a clinical psychologist. He moved quickly up the ranks and became professor of psychology in 1955.

“He influenced the department in a positive way, not just its expansion,” said John Draper, who worked with Professor Audley since 1989.

“I would look on him as the father or godfather of the division as we are now. Without the foundations and visions that he had, we wouldn’t be where we are today. “In the last few weeks I’ve realised he was guiding us all. A lot of how I work, I can see Bob’s influence – he would support you to the max.”

Sophie Scott, current head of department, said: “He was a very genuine head of department. He knew who I was, knew what I was doing and stayed in touch with people after they left. It was extraordinary.”

Professor Robert Audley died at the Royal Free Hospital on July 31.

His funeral took place yesterday (Wednesday) at Golders Green Crematorium. He leaves behind wife Vera Elyashiv, son Matthew Audley and stepson Jonathan Bickerdike.

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