Catalogue of Geoffrey Vickers’s papers is online

Hooray! The OU Library has published its catalogue of the Geoffrey Vickers papers.

Sir (Charles) Geoffrey Vickers (1894-1982) had a varied life as a lawyer, a soldier, an economic intelligence officer and legal advisor. In the later years of his life he became a prolific writer and speaker on the subject of social systems analysis and the complex patterns of social organisation. The collection includes materials created in this latter stage of his life.

The Geoffrey Vickers Collection at the Open University largely consists of draft material and correspondence relating to his published works, articles and speeches.

I knew him only towards the end of his long life. He was one of the wisest men I’ve ever met. And I guess he was the only winner of the Victoria Cross to write insightfully about complex systems and organisations.

(Image submitted to Wikipedia by Martin Hornby.)

The Wikipedia entry describes how Vickers won his VC:

On 14 October 1915 at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, France, when nearly all his men had been either killed or wounded and there were only two men available to hand him bombs, Captain Vickers held a barrier across a trench for some hours against heavy German bomb attacks (the ‘bombs’ of the citation were early grenades). Regardless of the fact that his own retreat would be cut off, he ordered a second barrier to be built behind him in order to secure the safety of the trench. Finally he was severely wounded, but not before his courage and determination had enabled the second barrier to be completed.

Not exactly your typical academic, then. He was also an astonishingly successful City lawyer, specialising in mergers and acquisitions at Slaughter and May. When Clement Atlee, the great post-war Labour Prime Minister, wanted to nationalise the coal industry, he brought in Vickers to handle the legal side of the process.

One of his sayings has remained with me ever since I first encountered it. “The hardest thing in life”, he said once, “is knowing what to want”. He was right: it is.