C. Northcote Parkinson

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Cyril Northcote Parkinson (30 July 1909 – 9 March 1993) was a British naval historian and author of some sixty books, the most famous of which was his bestseller Parkinson's Law, which led him to be also considered as an important scholar within the field of public administration.


Early life and education

The youngest son of William Edward Parkinson (1871–1927), an art master at North East County School and from 1913 principal of York School of Arts and Crafts, and his wife, Rose Emily Mary Curnow (born 1877), the young Parkinson attended St. Peter's School, York, where in 1929 he won an Exhibition to study history at Emmanuel College at the University of Cambridge. He received a BA degree in 1932. As an undergraduate, Parkinson developed an interest in naval history, which he pursued when the Pellew family gave him access to family papers at the recently established National Maritime Museum. The papers formed the basis of his first book, Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, Admiral of the Red. In 1934, then enrolled as a graduate student at King's College London, he wrote his Ph.D. thesis on Trade and War in the Eastern Seas, 1803-1810, which was awarded the Julian Corbett Prize in Naval History for 1935.

Academic and military career

While still a graduate student in 1934, Parkinson was commissioned into the Territorial Army as a member of the 22nd London Regiment (The Queen's), was promoted Lieutenant later the same year, and commanded an infantry company at the jubilee of King George V in 1935. In the same year, Emmanuel College, Cambridge elected him a research fellow. While at Cambridge, he commanded an infantry unity of the Cambridge University Officers' Training Corps. He was promoted Captain in 1937.

From 1938 to 1945, he held a succession of positions, first becoming senior history master at Blundell's School in Tiverton, Devon in 1938 (and also a Captain in the school's OTC), then instructor at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth in 1939. In 1940, he joined the Queen's Royal Regiment as a Captain and undertook a range of staff and military teaching positions in Britain. In 1943 he married Ethelwyn Edith Graves (born 1915), a nurse tutor at Middlesex Hospital, with whom he was to have two children.

Demobilized as a Major in 1945, he was appointed lecturer in history at the University of Liverpool from 1946 to 1949. In 1950, he was appointed Raffles Professor of History at the newly-established University of Malaya in Singapore. While there, he initiated an important series of historical monographs on the history of Malaya, publishing the very first of the series in 1960. A movement developed in the mid-1950s to establish two campuses, one in Kuala Lumpur and one in Singapore. Parkinson actively attempted to persuade the authorities to avoid dividing the university, but to maintain it to serve both Singapore and Malaya in Johor Bahru. His efforts were unsuccessful and the two campuses were established in 1959. The original Singapore campus, where Parkinson taught, later became the University of Singapore.

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