Richard Hoggart, a British scholar who helped launch the academic fields of media and cultural studies, and who was a key witness in a British trial in 1960 over whether the novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was obscene, died April 10. He was 95.
The death was announced by the University of London’s Goldsmiths college, where Mr. Hoggart had been an administrator, and was widely reported in the British press. A granddaughter wrote in an essay in Britain’s Guardian newspaper in January that he had dementia.
Mr. Hoggart (pronounced HOGG-ert) was a towering figure of scholarly authority in Britain, largely through his influential 1957 book, “The Uses of Literacy.” In that study, which the Guardian described as “among the great books of the 20th century,” he wrote that the stable working-class society he had known during his youth was dissolving under the onslaught of Hollywood films, tabloid journalism, pop music and mass entertainment.
Writing with an idealistic moral fervor, Mr. Hoggart argued that the spiritual enlightenment attained through literature and other traditional art forms was in danger of being replaced by popular culture, largely imported from the United States. The long-term result, he feared, would be a society “in which progress is conceived as a seeking of material possessions, equality as a moral levelling and freedom as the ground for endless irresponsible pleasure.”
As a professor in British universities, Mr. Hoggart established some of the first academic programs to study popular culture and media. His lively defense of British cultural standards brought him into the public sphere.
When he was summoned to court as an expert witness in the obscenity trial concerning “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” he became a celebrity.
Born into the working class of northern England, Mr. Hoggart had a background similar to that of D.H. Lawrence, who wrote “Lady Chatterley” in 1928. The novel included frank depictions of sexual encounters between the title character, Constance Chatterley, and a gamekeeper on her husband’s estate. It also used uncensored four-letter words.
The book was not allowed to be published in England for decades until Penguin Books challenged the ban. Other expert witnesses at the 1960 trial included writer and journalist Rebecca West, novelist E.M. Forster and poet Cecil Day-Lewis, but Mr. Hoggart was the most compelling witness.
The prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, kept him on the stand for three days, but Mr. Hoggart remained unyielding, unflappable and unimpeachable. Far from being a pornographic book, he said, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was “puritanical, poignant and tender.”
“I thought I had lived my life under a misapprehension as to the meaning of the word ‘puritanical,’ ” Griffith-Jones said with more than a touch of condescension. “Will you help me?”
The word “puritanical” was often applied to people who were offended by discussions of sexual matters, Mr. Hoggart noted.
“The proper meaning of it, to a literary man or to a linguist,” he added, “is somebody who belongs to the tradition of British Puritanism generally, and the distinguishing feature of that is an intense sense of responsibility for one’s conscience. In that sense, the book is puritanical.”
The prosecutor asked Mr. Hoggart to read passages from the book aloud and to define the blunter terms in it. Mr. Hoggart remained composed.
Writing in the Observer newspaper, cultural critic Kenneth Tynan described Mr. Hoggart as a man of “immense scholarship and fierce integrity.” When he uttered a word the prosecutor deemed obscene, “there was no reaction of shock in the court, so calmly was the word pronounced, and so literally employed.”
The jury determined that publishing “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” would not corrupt the public morals, and the ruling was seen as a landmark for literary expression and freedom of speech.
Mr. Hoggart’s testimony was considered the turning point in the trial. His “imperturbability owed nothing to dogmatism or to the ivory-tower arrogance often imputed to academics,” noted an official report written for the British government. “His triumph was as much a matter of character as of intellectual brilliance.”
Richard Herbert Hoggart was born Sept. 24, 1918, in the Yorkshire city of Leeds. Both parents died when he was young, and he grew up in poverty, raised by aunts and a grandmother.
He won a scholarship to the University of Leeds, from which he graduated in 1939 and received a master’s degree in English literature a year later. While serving in British artillery units during World War II, he found time to edit anthologies written by soldiers and taught courses in cultural history on military bases.
While teaching at Britain’s University of Hull in 1951, Mr. Hoggart published the first full-length study of the poetry of W.H. Auden. He went on to write more than 15 books, including three autobiographical volumes, and edited many others.
After teaching at the University of Leicester and the University of Birmingham in England, he spent five years in the 1970s working for UNESCO, the cultural outreach organization of the United Nations. He was the top administrator of Goldsmiths, part of the University of London, from 1976 until his academic retirement in 1984.
Mr. Hoggart lectured throughout the world and served on many councils in Britain aimed at promoting adult education, public libraries and the role of the arts in everyday life.
Survivors include his wife of 71 years, Mary France Hoggart; two children; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. A son, Simon Hoggart, a well-known British political commentator, died in January.
Mr. Hoggart, who refused offers of a knighthood and a peerage, lived to see many of his gloomy predictions about the commercialism of art and culture come true. He remained unapologetically highbrow in his respect for education and literature, but his views resisted easy classification in any conventional sense.
“We are living in a period in which two mistaken beliefs have become entrenched,” Mr. Hoggart wrote in 1991 essay about the decline of public libraries. “The short-term, shallow myth says that a free market will provide all that the citizens of a commercial democracy need and want.”
“The second belief,” he continued, “is the nervous disinclination to make distinctions, to say that any one thing is better than another. To do that is to be ‘elitist,’ the dirtiest of dirty words.”