Chancellor of the University, 1999-2017
Honorary DLitt, 2004
Writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg is the first of the University's Chancellors not to have been a member of the royal family or a hereditary peer. It is a mark of his conspicuous success in the role that, having completed his initial term of office, he has been persuaded to continue as Chancellor for several more years.
His promotion of education in the UK, particularly at the University of Leeds, reflects the importance of educational opportunity in his own life. Modestly raised in the market town of Wigton, Cumbria, he attended local schools before taking a place at Wadham College, Oxford, as one of many beneficiaries of the Butler Education Act of 1944. Had he been born a few years earlier, it is very unlikely that he, as a working-class Cumbrian boy, would have been able to progress to Oxford.
As a student he began to pursue many cultural interests, already showing the energy and breadth of curiosity that have characterised his later life. Bragg read Modern History as an undergraduate, but was set on a career as an author of literature. He would come to succeed in his aims, becoming a playwright, a biographer and above all a novelist.
Bragg joined the BBC as a trainee in 1961, judging that broadcasting would be compatible with writing. His determination to succeed in both careers led to his practice of rising early to write before going out to his day job. Bragg's broadcasting work has flourished for over 50 years, most notably with The South Bank Show and In Our Time, both deeply educational in purpose. He has also undertaken prominent roles with charities and cultural organisations, becoming an active, questioning Labour life peer in 1998.
Throughout a phenomenal life in the media and public service, Melvyn Bragg has pursued his second career - he would say first - as a writer for stage and film, of non-fiction and above all of 20 novels imbued with his sense of national, regional and personal history.
In 2009 he gave his massive literary archive to the Library, a generous expression of his permanent commitment to this northern university.