Michael Bradford obituary

Other lives: Academic and teacher who cared deeply about social and environmental justice – and tap dancing

If his father had had his wish, my friend Michael Bradford, who has died aged 74, might have been destined for a career as a tap dancer (he performed in the Royal Albert Hall at the age of 11), but his mother believed in the value of education. Michael’s lifelong love of geography and fascination with place was triggered by a remarkable teacher, Charles Larkinson, at Wallington grammar, the school he attended in Surrey and where he was head boy, and endorsed by his immersion in the geographical hothouse of Cambridge University in the 1960s.

A postgraduate year in Madison, Wisconsin, introduced him to his future wife, Sheila Kaplan, whom he married in 1968, and cemented his friendship with a fellow St Catharine’s man, Ashley Kent. Michael’s collaboration with Ashley led later to two successful books: Human Geographies: Theories and their Applications (1977) and Understanding Human Geography: People and their Changing Environments (1993), spreading new ideas on the subject to a wider audience of sixth-formers.

In 1971 Michael moved to the department of geography at Manchester University, and embarked on an academic career that would lead him to the department headship, a professorship (1997-2011) and four years (2001-05) as pro-vice-chancellor responsible for teaching and learning during the years of the university’s successful merger with Umist.

His research ranged across urban consumer behaviour, urban policy and the geographies of children – with a particular interest in places for play. Repeated visits to Sheila’s home town of Rockford, Illinois, provided insights into the relationship between education, race and place.

But it was Michael’s love of teaching that was the hallmark of his career. His skill as a teacher and role in the enhancement of teaching quality were its defining elements, both within the University of Manchester and beyond. Unlike many academics, he retained an involvement with the teaching of geography in schools, emphasised by his presidency of the Geographical Association in 1999-2000. His outstanding abilities as a teacher were recognised by awards from the University of Manchester and the Royal Geographical Society, and a national teaching fellowship.

Michael was born in Carshalton, Surrey. His mother, Kitty, was a factory worker, and his father, Bert, as well as working in the leather trade, was half of a comedy and music act, Bradford and Ashley, who performed in pubs around south London. Michael took tap dancing lessons from the age of four at the Doris Holford stage school, and also did some ballet, but he chose to give up stage ambitions at 15 in favour of further education.

Although Michael will be remembered as an inspiring teacher who cared deeply about social and environmental justice, his performance of YMCA on the Manchester geography department roof (that went viral on YouTube) was a hint of that other path he might have followed.

He is survived by Sheila, with whom he shared a love of films, sport and travel.

Derek Spooner

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Janet Townsend obituary
Other lives: Pioneering feminist geographer who advocated for the inclusion of local people in solutions to environmental problems

Cheryl McEwan

16, Jun, 2023 @4:17 PM

Article image
Jenny Vernon obituary
Other lives: Museum curator and geographer expert in the Inuit of Arctic Canada

Judith Holt

27, Feb, 2020 @12:44 PM

Article image
Stephen Trudgill obituary
Other lives: Cambridge academic who studied the effect of nature on human wellbeing

Chris Elliott

07, Feb, 2022 @6:20 PM

Article image
Ron Johnston obituary
Human geographer who showed that voters are influenced not only by their beliefs, but by where they live and work

Charles Pattie

16, Jul, 2020 @11:56 AM

Article image
Tony Allan obituary
Geographer whose concept of ‘virtual water’ transformed thinking on trade, industry and agriculture

Naho Mirumachi and Matthew Agarwala

07, May, 2021 @3:34 PM

Article image
Claire Dwyer obituary
Other lives: Geographer who researched issues around migration and multiculturalism

Alice Fowler

02, Aug, 2019 @3:37 PM

Article image
Geraint Thomas obituary
Other lives Much-valued councillor and former geography teacher who led Crawley’s response to the climate emergency

Ciarán Mc Mahon

19, Feb, 2020 @5:37 PM

Article image
Alison McCleery obituary
Other lives: Professor of economic and cultural geography at Edinburgh Napier University

Alistair McCleery

22, Mar, 2023 @2:19 PM

Article image
Ray Forrest obituary
Other lives: urban studies professor with a global reputation for his research on east Asian housing

Gill Perry

13, Feb, 2020 @3:14 PM

Article image
Brian Sissons obituary
Other lives: Leading earth scientist who studied the effects of the Ice Age on the Scottish landscape

Murray Gray

19, Feb, 2018 @4:52 PM