An interview with Mark Abrams (1906-1994)

Categories: Qualitative

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Readers  may be interested in a new  page on my website dedicated to the late Dr Mark Abrams (1906 – 1994) with whom I worked from 1970 to 1976 at the then SSRC Survey Unit (“at, but not of” the LSE) and subsequently from 1976 and beyond when I had my own Survey Research Unit at the then Polytechnic of North London. 

One of the founding fathers of survey and market research in the UK, Dr Mark Abrams was an eminent social scientist who pioneered a range of research methods and major surveys (including the National Food Survey during the second World War).  During a career spanning six decades, he became the youngest ever Director of the London Press Exchange (LPE).  In  WW2 he was seconded to the BBC to head up a special unit interpreting and advising on German propaganda.  In 1946 he founded Research Services Ltd (RSL) as an independent vehicle within LPE conducting surveys for major clients, initiating a number of regular major surveys and coining the phrase “Teenage Consumer”.

In 1970, he was invited by the (then) Social Science Research Council (SSRC) to leave RSL and become Director of a new Survey Unit, specially established  to offer advice and assistance in survey methods to academics and others doing surveys with public funds..  When he retired in 1976, aged 70, SSRC failed to appoint a new Director and controversially closed the unit and made all staff redundant. Dr Abrams continued to be actively involved in research, becoming Research Director at Age Concern and also External Examiner for the Social Research and Planning pathway of the new BA Applied Social Studies at the then Polytechnic of North London (PNL, now part of London Metropolitan University).   This pathway, designed and headed up by John Hall, (freshly redundant from SSRC Survey Unit) was the first and only undergraduate degree in social research the UK, consciously filling gaps identified by Dr Abrams and himself.  In 1978, with Dr Abrams’ encouragement and support, PNL agreed to set up a new Survey Research Unit (with John Hall as Director) which broadly continued the work of the SSRC Survey Unit, but on a much smaller scale.   In 1986 Dr Abrams was persuaded to give his name to the Mark Abrams Prize, to be awarded annually via the Social Research Association for the best piece of work linking survey research, social theory and/or social policy, based on his 1974 paper Social Surveys, Social Theory and Social Policy   .  In the same year the Polytechnic awarded Dr Abrams an Honorary Fellowship (the only British academic institution to honour him in this way) in recognition of his services to social science and to PNL where he continued to support and work closely with the Survey Research Unit until 1992.
My website now has a  new page with details,of a 1984 interview recorded by his grandson, Dominic Abrams (then aged 26 and having recently completed his PhD., now Professor of Social Psychology at Kent University)  With the agreement of the Abrams family, Professor Abrams has released a full transcript of the recordings together with copies of the original tapes.  The recordings run to over four hours and the transcript to 102 pages.  Accordingly the transcript has been divided into sections, for each of which there is a corresponding audio file.  The full transcript and the separate transcript sections are available from An interview with Mark Abrams
He also talked about the birth, childhood, education and academic career of his son Philip Abrams (Dominic’s father) who was Professor of Sociology at Durham University when he died suddenly in 1981.   Corresponding audio files have been extracted from the tape recordings and are available from An interview with Mark Abrams (audio files)


He gives a fascinating account of his family origins, his childhood, his schooling, student days at the LSE in the 1920s, where he was taught by Laski, Dalton, Beveridge and Tawney, (his eventual PhD supervisor). 

Other sections cover his son Philip Abrams (Prof of Sociology at Durham, who died suddenly in 1981), his time at the Brookings Institution (1929-31), his wartime service at the BBC, and the various surveys he carried out at the London Press Exchange and Research Services Ltd for government, the Labour Party and major clients, some of which resulted in classic publications, details of, and links to which, are on the site. 


You can also download reprints of most of the papers relating to the surveys we did together on the Quality of Life in Britain.


Hopefully you will find this material both fascinating and informative.


John Hall (Mr)




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PS  The site also contains useful material and on-line resources for survey research in general and a series of entry-level tutorials on the processing and analysis of data from questionnaire aurveys using SPSS for Windows.