Richard Blair awarded Honorary Fellowship from University College London

Thursday 07 September 2023

We are delighted to announce that Richard Blair has been presented with an Honorary Fellowship from UCL in recognition of his “very considerable contribution to promoting academic work and public engagement with the work and legacy of George Orwell” and his major philanthropic support for the Orwell Archive, which has been at UCL since 1960.

Richard, who has always been clear that his father would have wanted his papers in public ownership, has been active in managing and supporting the archive for many years. More recently, he has purchased two important, newly discovered caches of his father’s letters – at substantial cost – and donated them to the archive. In 2016 The Orwell Foundation took up residence at UCL, and in 2018 the archive was granted UNESCO World Heritage status, making UCL the centre and destination for Orwell scholars and work surrounding his legacy.

Richard’s support for The Orwell Foundation is also unstinting. Our schools programme, The Orwell Youth Prize, is especially close to his affections and he has toured the country, from Sunderland to Coventry, encouraging young people to follow in his father’s footsteps. We are deeply grateful to him as patron of the Orwell Lecture, held each year at UCL, and founding sponsor of The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction.

Richard was born in May 1944 and adopted soon after by Eric Blair – Orwell’s real name – and Eileen O’Shaughnessy. When Eileen died less than a year later, in tragic circumstances, Orwell became a single parent, taking Richard to the Hebridean island of Jura in the late 1940s, where he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. When Orwell died in 1950, at University College Hospital, Richard, aged just five years old, was brought up by his aunt Avril, Orwell’s sister.

Richard was educated at Loretto School and attended agricultural college. He worked for the tractor company Massey Ferguson for many years before running his own business. Since 2008, he has dedicated his time and energy to supporting his father’s legacy.

Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Orwell Foundation, Lord Macdonald, said:

Richard’s extraordinary generosity to the Archive is a testament to the importance he attaches to UCL as the nation’s ‘Orwell Centre’…In addition to the intelligence and charm that he brings with his contributions, he is also, in the realest sense, a living link to the great man that is much cherished by those who would keep Orwell’s spirit alive.”

D J Taylor, Orwell’s official biographer, adds:

in terms of making material available and encouraging its use, [Richard] has done more for Orwell Studies in recent years than anyone living, and deserves the widest possible recognition for his work.”

Professor Jean Seaton, Director of The Orwell Foundation said:

It is not only Richard the public man we would like to thank and celebrate, it is the kind, supportive, funny, private Richard who has been both generous and graceful.”

About the Orwell Archive

The Orwell Archive, housed at UCL Special Collections, is the most comprehensive body of research material relating to Orwell anywhere in the world, including manuscript notebooks, diaries, letters and other personal papers, and photographs belonging to the author.

The collection, which has been formally inscribed to the prestigious UNESCO Memory of the World International Register, features the first hand-written notes of some Orwell’s most famous words and phrases, such as “Two Minutes Hate”, “Newspeak”, and “War is Peace. Ignorance is strength. Freedom is slavery”.