Skip to content

Toggle service links

Featured articles

John Daniel served as The Open University's Vice-Chancellor from 1990 to 2001. John Daniel was born...

Walter Perry

Walter Perry (1921-2003) was the first Vice-Chancellor of the Open University from 1969 to 1979 and one of its key architects. He was made a Fellow of the University in 1981.

Harold Wilson, who as Prime Minister created the Open University, described Walter Perry as ‘the man who has done more than anyone to ensure the success of what is now recognised in Britain, and in the wider world, as one of the most important educational and social developments of this century.’

Walter Laing MacDonald Perry was born in Dundee on 16 June 1921, to Fletcher Perry and Flora MacDonald. He was educated at Ayr Academy, Dundee High School, and the University of St. Andrews, where he gained MB, ChB (1943), MD (1948) and DSc (1958).

He began his career as Medical Officer in Colonial Services (Nigeria), 1944-1946, and then for the RAF, 1946-1947. Between 1947 and 1952 he was a member of staff for the Medical Research Council and then became Director of the Department of Biological Standards at the National Institute for Medical Research (1952-1958). In 1958 he was appointed Professor of Pharmacology at University of Edinburgh and its Vice-Principal from 1967 to 1968, until he took on the role of Vice-Chancellor at the Open University in 1969.

In 1960 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society (Edinburgh). In 1963, he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians (Edinburgh), in 1967 a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (Edinburgh), and in 1978 a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. In 1985 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society.

As well as his educational work Walter Perry was the Chairman of Community Radio Milton Keynes from 1979 to 1982, Chairman of Living Tapes Ltd from 1980, Chairman of Videotel Marine International from 1985 to 1998 and President of the Company from 1998 onwards. He was Deputy Leader of the SDP in the House of Lords from 1981 to 1983.

Walter Perry received several honorary degrees and has been involved in various societies and commissions, many educational. He was awarded an OBE in 1957, a knighthood in 1974 and was created a Life Peer in 1979, taking as his title Baron Perry of Walton. In 1994 he was awarded the Wellcome Gold Medal and in 2000 he was awarded the Royal medal from the RSE.

Walter Perry was married twice; first to Anne Elizabeth Grant from 1946 to 1971 with whom he had three sons, Michael, Alan and Niall; and second to Catharine Hilda Crawley from 1971, with whom he has two sons and one daughter, Robin, Colin and Jennifer. He died in 2003 in Edinburgh.

Walter Perry was instrumental in setting up The Open University as it is known today. His book, Open University, A personal account by the first Vice-Chancellor, provides a wealth of information about how this was done. Information about his influence as Vice-Chancellor is spread throughout this website, particularly in the 1969-1979 section.

The Walter Perry Collection is housed in The Open University Archive. It comprises papers relating to the University’s creation, Perry’s work as Vice-Chancellor and papers relating to the many projects and initiatives in which he was involved after he stepped down as Vice Chancellor of the Open University in 1981. For more information contact