Professor of social research and prominent figure in the Scottish folk scene

Born: October 10, 1935;

Died: December 10, 2018.

FRANK Bechhofer, who has died aged 83, was a prominent academic, a Research Fellow in the Institute of Governance and Professor Emeritus of Social Research at Edinburgh University. He was also a very well-known figure on the Scottish and wider folk scenes who devoted a great deal of time in helping to maintain Edinburgh Folk Club as one of the leading clubs in the UK and serving on the board of Edinburgh Folk Festival as well as supporting music and the arts in general.

He was born in Nuremburg and in February 1939, at the age of three, he emigrated to Britain with his parents as refugees. The family settled in Nottingham, where Frank began nursery school without any English. On leaving Nottingham High School, he deferred his university place and spent two years on national service as a commissioned officer in Germany. He returned in 1956 to read mechanical sciences at Queen’s College, Cambridge, graduating in 1959, and then became a research student in industrial management in the department of engineering.

In 1960 he was elected Foundation Scholar at Queen’s College. He then joined the research team in the department of applied economics led by John Goldthorpe and David Lockwood, along with Jennifer Platt, and between 1962 and 1965 they carried out the Affluent Worker Study, which was published by Cambridge University Press as three major co-authored volumes and translated into many languages.

Frank Bechhofer’s interests broadened into studies of inequality, stratification and the class structure and he moved to Edinburgh as a lecturer in sociology in 1965. He became Reader in Sociology in 1971, served as dean of graduate studies and won a string of research grants. His research activity moved away from class and stratification towards the study of the social structure of Scotland and in the early 1980s he began a long collaboration with David McCrone, a partnership that took them into studies of national identity and culminated in their book, Understanding National Identity (2015), just one of a number of books Frank Bechhofer authored or co-authored.

In addition to his work in Edinburgh, he served on numerous committees of the British Sociological Association, and was its chair from 1984-86. He was also external examiner at Trinity College Dublin, Surrey, Warwick, and Essex, and was a stalwart of economic and social research council committees, sitting on its research grants board and its research resources advisory board, and convening its Review of British Cohort Studies.

Having become Professor of Social Research at Edinburgh in 1987, he took early retirement in 1997, although he never actually retired from academic life. He revived the Research Centre for Social Research at Edinburgh, and turned it into the premier unit for empirical research in social science. He served on many university committees and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2008. He also served on the society’s digital participation inquiry in 2014.

His life away from academia was just as busy and was enriched by his interest in theatre and music. He had been an active member of the college drama group at Cambridge, producing May week productions in 1959 and 1960, and after plans to take the 1960 production to Germany fell through he formed a company that appeared regularly at the Minack Theatre in Porthcurno, in Cornwall, for the next 22 years.

In 1960 he married Jean, a Shetlander with a keen interest in traditional songs, and during their summers in Cornwall they attended the Pipers Folk Club, where they heard musicians including Michael Chapman and Jasper Carrott. After they moved to Edinburgh Jean came across an advertisement for Edinburgh Folk Club and they began attending the club as well as taking in sessions at the Triangle, the Crown and the Police Folk Club.

They continued to pursue their interest in theatre, producing plays for the Graduate Theatre group, and Frank Bechhofer’s political leanings saw him organise a benefit for Chile in the early 1970s. Though not a musician, he found an organisational role with Edinburgh Folk Club and as well as booking the programme he became an effusive and enthusiastic emcee. In 1981, having noted that touring musicians needed help with bookings, he formed the Bechhofer Agency and went on to book gigs, tours and festival appearances for a roster that included Nic Jones, Archie Fisher, Rab Noakes, Andy Irvine, Rod Paterson, Bruce Molsky, Tommy Sands, and Austrian blues guitarist-singer Hans Theessink.

He was always very encouraging towards young singers and musicians and went out of his way to give a helping hand to the Belfast-based uilleann piper John McSherry, fiddle and harp duo Chris Stout & Catriona McKay and twins Mike & Ali Vass.

Having stood down from the Edinburgh Folk Club committee in the mid-1990s Frank and Jean came to the club’s rescue after mismanagement had threatened its existence and put it back on a sound footing, handing over to a new committee in 2002. Frank continued to support the club by attending regularly and by delivering the Immortal Memory at the club’s annual Burns Supper until this year. He was also instrumental in setting up the Hamish Henderson Trust which was formed in 2011 to secure the father of the Scottish folk revival’s massive archive of papers and writings and make it publicly accessible.

Although he began to wind the agency down as he approached 80, he remained passionate about discovering new talent and he and Jean were regulars at Celtic Connections and remained great supporters of live music and theatre in Edinburgh. His involvement in the folk scene also extended to contributing to the Living Tradition magazine, writing reviews and opinion pieces, and his assessment of James Robertson’s book about Michael Marra, Arrest This Moment, graces the current issue of the magazine.

He is survived by his wife, Jean, daughter, Kirsten and son, Sean.