Brian Manley (1929–2014)

18 February 2015

Brian Manley was one of a select group of four people who, since the beginning of the 20th century, had been presidents of both the Institute of Physics and the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

Brian Manley

That is a testimony to Manley, who understood, and proselytised to great effect, that physics was the basis of much of modern engineering. He was also a leader in stressing the importance of the education of scientists and engineers to the nation.

Manley spent his entire career in industry with the Philips Organisation, starting in the Mullard Research Laboratories in the 1950s, where he was a key figure in several physics-based developments. His research work on channel electron multipliers found applications in imaging devices – in particular those concerned with night vision, space exploration and flat cathode ray tubes. His contribution to the application of microwaves found wide application in communication satellites including the Telstar satellite. His research career was summed up by a former colleague as “distinguished by any standards”.

In the late 1960s Manley was encouraged to leave research to embark upon a commercial career with Philips. In the subsequent 25 years he reached the highest echelons of the business. Within seven years he was managing director of Pye Business Communications, and after a succession of other managing director positions he was appointed group managing director of Philips Business Systems and then chairman and chief executive of Pye Telecommunications. On retirement in the early 1990s he was a director of Philips Industries Ltd and chairman of AT&T Network Systems.

Manley was more than an innovative researcher and a successful businessman. Between 1947 and 1951 he represented England at swimming and was a reserve for the 1948 Olympic team. He continued swimming every morning until recently, with his times comparing favourably with national standards for his age, and during the summers of the late 1940s and early 1950s he found an outlet for his sport by swimming for Paris University.

He did his National Service in the RAF and was surprised, if not worried, when he was called up several weeks before his due date to report to an RAF base at St Asaph in Wales. The reason soon became clear – the annual swimming gala between the three services was due the following week and he was parachuted into the team. Subsequently more of his National Service was spent in the pool than on the parade ground.

Brian Manley was born in 1929 and was educated at Shooters Hill School. After National Service he embarked upon a physics degree at Woolwich Polytechnic followed by a year at Imperial College London. During his business career and later he received many honours and awards. He possessed honorary doctorates from Loughborough, City and Sussex universities and was a Centenary Fellow of the University of Greenwich. In 1995 he became senior pro-chancellor and chair of governors at the University of Sussex.

He was awarded a CBE in 1994 and was a fellow of the Institute of Physics and honorary fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. He served as president of the IOP from 1996-98, having also been a director of IOP Publishing. He continued as a director of IOP Enterprises until recently and was a member of the IOP’s Benevolent Committee until last year.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1984, where he subsequently became a senior vice president. He was for a decade a trustee of the Arundel and Brighton Diocese, where at various times he had responsibility for diocesan finance and education. For his services as a layperson to the Roman Catholic Church he was made a Knight of the Order of St Gregory the Great in 2009.

Manley’s roots were in the Emerald Isle. He and his wife, Doris, would visit Ireland on the flimsiest of excuses. He first attended the annual meeting of Irish physicists in 1997 and returned every year since, not only to keep in touch with physics developments, but also to renew many friendships. His search for his ancestors provided a reason for visits to all corners of the island and to scour graveyard after graveyard in search of evidence of long forgotten Manleys.

His home was a historically listed house in Sussex where the engraver, sculptor and typeface designer Eric Gill once lived. Manley delighted in gardening and his greenhouse provided copious tomatoes and cucumbers. The bane of his life was the rabbits that, in spite of seemingly more than adequate fencing, would appear regularly to enjoy the fruits of his labours. A rifle proved to be no deterrent as expertise in deploying it was lacking, and the rabbits soon learnt that there was no danger involved.

Whatever Manley did, he did with enthusiasm, and whatever position he held he fulfilled the duties to the best of his ability. He encouraged and enthused his colleagues and delighted in mentoring the young. He was a passionate physicist and a celebrated engineer.

Brian Manley was born on 30 June 1929 and died peacefully in his sleep on 20 December 2014. His wife, Doris, and daughter, Susan, survive him. A son Gerald sadly died in 2014.

Remembered by Alun Jones