Bryan Magee, Who Brought Philosophy to British TV, Dies at 89

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The last volume of his memoir, “Making the Most of It,” was published in 2018, ending a trilogy of autobiographies that began with “Clouds of Glory: A Hoxton Childhood” in 2003 and included “Growing Up in a War,” which won the J. R. Ackerley Prize for autobiography.

Bryan Edgar Magee was born on April 12, 1930, in the working-class district of Hoxton in East London to Fred and Kath (Lynch) Magee. His father, who ran a clothing shop, encouraged his son’s interest in Wagner and leftist politics.

He wrote in “Clouds of Glory” that the seeds of “a certain amount of psychological harm that made itself felt later in life” were planted during a childhood in which his mother “made a habit of hitting me in the face,” and told an acquaintance that she had “never felt the slightest affection” for Bryan or Joan, his sister.

The young Mr. Magee won a scholarship in 1941 to Christ’s Hospital in Sussex, a private school. There, his experience echoed that of many British intellectuals of diverse backgrounds. “The way I spoke changed — I learned to speak like everyone around me, but not consciously,” he told The New Statesman magazine last year. “I knew, too, that after I’d gone to Christ’s Hospital I could do anything I wanted to do. I could be a doctor, anything,” he said.

He went on to study history, philosophy, politics and economics at Keble College, Oxford. His contemporaries there in the early ’50s were William Rees-Mogg, future editor of The Times of London; Jeremy Thorpe, who became leader of the Liberal Party; and Michael Heseltine, who went on to serve in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

Mr. Magee carved out a political career of his own, serving as a member of Parliament for the Labour Party starting in 1974. He quit Labour and became a member of Parliament for the short-lived Social Democratic Party from 1982 to 1983, losing his seat in the 1983 general election.

Having realized that he would not achieve his dream of reaching high office, he immersed himself in the study of philosophy and music.


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