Born July 17 1940
Died November 30 2016
Michael (Mike) Smith, as he was known to academic colleagues, was a major driving force in the formation and take-off of leisure studies in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s.
Mike was born and grew up in North London, attended a secondary modern school and left without any academic qualifications. He had jobs in London, and studied in evening classes for A-levels, then read economics and sociology at Regent Street Polytechnic (which subsequently became the Polytechnic and is now the University of Westminster). Mike graduated in 1965 and was immediately appointed to a lectureship in organisational analysis at the Polytechnic. It was during this period that his interest in the role of leisure in society was kindled, and he began to collaborate with other London-based scholars who shared this interest, most notably Stanley Parker and Cyril Smith. They co-edited Leisure and Society in Britain which was published in 1973. By then Mike had taken-up a lectureship in marketing and organisational behaviour at Salford University where he worked from 1971-1982 and, among other achievements, founded a Centre for Leisure Studies. In the North-West he made contact with other scholars who shared his interest in promoting ‘leisure’ as an academic field of enquiry. Most significantly, in 1973 he and John Haworth, a psychologist then at Manchester University, co-convened a one-day conference at Salford to which an open invitation was extended to academics from all disciplines with an interest in leisure. Attendance surpassed all expectations. The outcomes were the book Work and Leisure, edited jointly with John Haworth, a register of leisure scholars, and agreement to hold a subsequent conference which was at the Polytechnic of Central London in 1975, where it was resolved to form the Leisure Studies Association which has held at least annual conferences ever since, and launched its official journal, Leisure Studies, in 1982. Mike completed his PhD at the London School of Economics in 1981 with a thesis on public houses and the brewing industry.
In the 1970s Mike Smith was Britain’s leading university-based entrepreneur for leisure studies. He was promoting what was then an exciting and burgeoning new academic field. He edited collections of conference papers, negotiated with publishers, and arranged two-way visits for leisure scholars based in Britain and North America. He held visiting appointments in the USA, Canada and Poland. He encouraged public sector leisure agencies to sponsor leisure studies, and this they did. The field was seen as a source of professionals for the leisure services, and hopefully as a source of theories which would make these services a valued branch in welfare states. Improbably, at the beginning of the 1980s Mike persuaded a commercial London radio broadcaster to fully fund a conference, based in a major London hotel, to which leisure scholars from throughout Britain, and from Europe and North America were invited. All sessions were recorded, and excerpts, along with interviews with speakers, were subsequently interspersed with the radio station’s normal programming. Then the leisure project encountered Margaret Thatcher and monetarism, subsequently assimilated into neo-liberalism.
Mike left Salford in 1982 for a readership in business policy at Bristol Polytechnic. Then from 1986-1990 he held posts directing management programmes in Northampton and London.
Mike suffered a major stroke in 1990 which effectively terminated his academic career. Few if any leisure scholars were aware of what had happened to Mike. Apart from a brief period teaching in Swaziland in the 1990s, and re-establishing contact with older leisure scholars in 2014-16 when he attended an LSA event in Bolton, Mike was lost to leisure studies. However, he was not lost to leisure. In retirement he cultivated interests in art, poetry and antiques, and published books of poetry and the study of public houses that he had commenced in the 1970s.
Late in life Mike was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and experienced a series of complications including the total kidney failure with which he died peacefully. He married Christine Bampton in 1965. They had two children, Adam and Rachael. All were with Mike when he passed away. By then the family included an 11 month old grandson, Arthur.
Young leisure scholars may not recognise the name, but Mike Smith was a key figure in the generation that pioneered their subject in the 1960s and 1970s. This was despite, like other first generation leisure scholars, never holding an academic post with ’leisure’ in the title.