A.J.P. Taylor, 84, an English historian whose provocative and original studies of the beginnings of World War II and other aspects of modern history made him one of the most controversial and influential scholars of the 20th century, died yesterday in a London nursing home. He had Parkinson's disease.
A brilliant and epigrammatic writer, Mr. Taylor published more than 30 books, including two volumes in the prestigious Oxford History of England. Several became bestsellers in England and the United States, and several are standard entries on university reading lists.
Most of his career was at Oxford University, but he reached an audience far beyond the boundaries of academia through journalism and television debates and lectures. Much of this concerned historical topics -- some of his best journalism consists of sketches of great personages and events of the past for the Guardian of Manchester. His reviews appeared in the New York Review of Books and other publications in the United States.
Mr. Taylor described himself as a "narrative historian" who believed that "the first function of the historian was to answer the child's question, 'What happened next?' " In this way he made the Hapsburg Empire and the policies of Prince Otto von Bismarck and David Lloyd George accessible and compelling reading for everyday people. He also edited pictorial histories of both world wars that are notable not only for the photographs, but also for the accompanying captions.
But by all odds his most influential book was "The Origins of The Second World War," published in 1961. It challenged the view that Hitler was solely and uniquely responsible for causing the war, and it brought forth a storm of criticism in which Mr. Taylor was even accused of being an apologist for the Nazi leader. The book's thesis is now the generally accepted view of the matter, and other historians have devoted whole volumes to dissecting it in minute detail without undermining its basic premise.
The author of this remarkable work was witty, passionate, accessible, arrogant, stubborn, moody, open-minded and sometimes bigoted -- he once described a colleague as "unreliable, like all homosexuals." The son of a successful Lancashire businessman, he claimed he did not learn to speak proper English until he went to Oxford. While a student in Vienna, he learned to speak correct German, but lapsed into the vernacular as a result of hanging around with stable hands while learning to ride. Jumping horses was one of his passions. Others were walking and looking at old buildings, from churches in London to ruins in Rome and monasteries in Yugoslavia.
For years he read a book a day. In his memoirs, "A Personal History," which was published in 1983, he said he had doubts for many years about the integrity of one of his early works about the Hapsburgs. He had not consulted the Italian documents, he said, because he did not think he could read Italian. "In this I was mistaken," he said. "Anyone can read Italian."
A socialist, he was a member of the British Labour Party for most of his life, but he said that trade unionists "have become the principal exploiters of the poor and humble. Like all aristocrats, they cling to their privileges at the expense of everyone else."
Mr. Taylor's hero in life was Lord Beaverbrook, the press magnate and public official, and he wrote a biography about him. He also admired Winston Churchill, deploring his conservative politics while applauding his statesmanship. "He saved his country," he wrote of Churchill. One of his best friends was Len Deighton, the writer, and he was pleased to have been asked by Deighton to check the historical accuracy of a book he wrote on the Battle of Britain.
Mr. Taylor never visited the United States, but he used to say he had "seen" it. By this he meant that he had stared across the water at the coast of Maine from the Canadian province of New Brunswick, which he was visiting with Beaverbrook. Although he was a great authority on Germany, he refused for 30 years to visit the country for fear of meeting a Nazi. When he finally relented in 1963, the first taxi driver he met said he knew about "The Origins of the Second World War" and greatly admired it because he had served in the SS.
One of Mr. Taylor's most successful books was "English History, 1914-1945," which came out in 1965 and is part of the Oxford series. The book became a bestseller. One of its widely quoted passages is a footnote in which he explained at some length that the "f-word" had become acceptable in literature but not in conversation. He confessed later it was all a parody of a certain kind of pedantic scholarship.
Mr. Taylor made his mark on the culture of his time with "The Origins Of The Second World War." The idea that Hitler had followed a carefully worked out scheme in taking the steps that led to the outbreak of war in 1939 had been advanced by William L. Shirer and many other respected writers. According to this theory, the territorial expansion into the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia and Austria and the rearmament of Germany -- all in violation of the Versailles Treaty that ended World War I -- were forecast in Hitler's book, "Mein Kampf," and this proved his guilt.
Mr. Taylor asserted that Hitler never had a serious plan and that he merely took advantage of opportunities as they came along. Moreover, he pointed out that many Germans apart from Hitler -- and many statesmen in Britain and other countries -- believed that the Versailles Treaty should be changed or abandoned. In effect, they agreed that his demands were reasonable, and the policy of appeasement gave effect to these views.
The book raised troubling questions about responsibility for the war, and it had a near incendiary effect in historical circles when it came out. The highly respected British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper called it a "disgrace," and the historian A.L. Rowse said it was a whitewash of Hitler. Others were more measured but still highly critical.
Some had professional reputations at stake. But it is also true that most readers 30 years ago had firsthand memories of the war, and there was an almost visceral need to blame all of it on Hitler. This suited the Germans as well as the Allies. Indeed, Mr. Taylor pointed out that Hitler's greatest service to them was to die, thus making it possible to blame him for all their misfortunes.
In his introduction to the American edition of the book, Mr. Taylor defended himself by saying: "I do not believe a historian should either excuse or condemn. His duty is to explain."
Alan John Percival Taylor was born on March 25, 1906, in Birkdale, Lancashire, England, the son of Percy Lees and Constance Sumner Taylor. He went to Bootham School in York and then to Oriel College, Oxford.
He taught at the University of Manchester before going to Magdalen College, Oxford, as a tutor in history in 1938. He was a fellow of Magdalen from 1938 to 1976 and was an honorary fellow at the time of his death. He also taught at the University of Bristol. During World War II, he taught members of the British armed forces.
Although he was by consensus the most distinguished British historian of his day, Mr. Taylor was denied certain high honors, such as a knighthood, that often are conferred on people of his stature. In later life, he said this was because of the controversies that he had engendered and that he would not accept them even if they were offered. He also said the honor he cherished most was the presidency of the City Music Society, which gives lunchtime concerts in London.
Mr. Taylor's survivors include his wife, the former Eva Haraszti, a Hungarian historian, and six children by two previous marriages that ended in divorce.
ROBERT L. CUSTER
Psychiatrist and VA Official
Robert L. Custer, 63, a Bethesda psychiatrist and former Veterans Administration official who was an authority on the treatment of pathological gambling, died of cancer Sept. 4 at his home in Bethesda.
He had long advocated that gambling should be treated as a psychiatric disorder. In 1980, he helped persuade the American Psychiatric Association to classify pathological gambling as a disease.
Dr. Custer was a native of Pennsylvania. He served in the Army from 1945 to 1947. A 1949 graduate of Ohio State University, he received his medical degree from what was then Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He practiced general medicine in Ohio from 1955 to 1965, then spent three years at the University of Missouri, where he received his psychiatric training.
He joined the Veterans Administration in 1968, working until 1974 at the Veterans Administration psychiatric hospital in Drexel, Ohio. He became acting director before transferring here in 1974. He worked in the VA central offices, retiring from the government in 1986 as director of patient treatment services for mental health.
He then spent two years with the Taylor Manor psychiatric facility in Ellicott City before starting his own private psychiatric practice in Bethesda in 1988. In recent years, he also had done work for the Charter Hospital in Las Vegas, where he developed a treatment program for pathological gamblers.
Dr. Custer had lectured on gambling in Europe and Latin America and was the author of the 1985 book, "When Luck Runs Out." He had appeared on such television programs as "Good Morning America" and "Donahue." He had been active in programs for Al-Anon and Gamblers Anonymous.
Survivors include his wife, Lillian, of Bethesda; and two brothers, Claude, of Ravenna, Ohio, and Dr. M.A. Custer of La Jolla, Calif.
CHARLES B. HALL
Charles Baynes Hall, 84, a retired dentist who practiced in Washington for more than 50 years, died of leukemia Sept. 7 at his home in Bethesda.
Dr. Hall was born in Person County, N.C. He graduated from the University of North Carolina, did dental training at Atlanta Southern Dental College and held a dental internship at Forsythe Dental Infirmary in Boston before moving to Washington in 1932. He practiced dentistry here until retiring in 1987.
In the 1950s, Dr. Hall was secretary to the council of dental research of the National Bureau of Standards. In connection with that work, he was a pioneer in the use of white porcelain in tooth inlays. He conducted clinics on crown and bridge work in the United States and Britain.
He was a fellow of the American College of Dentists and the International College of Dentists and a member of the American Academy of Restorative Dentistry.
Dr. Hall, a golfer, was a member of Columbia Country Club and Burning Tree Club, where he was a frequent participant in Sunday morning foursomes.
Survivors include his wife of 57 years, the former Florence E. Hill of Bethesda; two daughters, Mary Elizabeth Clark of Helena, Mont., and Linda Bank of Pebble Beach, Calif.; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
VERDA V. HITCHENS
Verda Vane "Vidge" Hitchens, 62, who had done volunteer work for WAMU-FM when she lived in Washington from 1969 to 1985, died of cancer Sept. 3 at her home in Frankford, Del.
Mrs. Hitchens, who was a native of Delaware, had attended the University of Delaware. In the late 1940s, she had performed in the Rehoboth summer theater with such actors as John Carradine. She gave up acting to raise a family.
She accompanied her husband, Howard B. Hitchens, on Air Force assignments around the country. Recently, they had edited a reference book, "America on Film and Tape" for the USIA.
In addition to her husband, a retired lieutenant colonel who lives in Frankford, Mrs. Hitchens's survivors include a son, Sean O'Casey Hitchens of Takoma Park; a daughter, Melissa H. Mulrooney of Wilmington, Del.; her mother, Agnes Wainwright Vane of Harrington, Del.; and two brothers, Ridgely W. Vane of Dover, Del., and Donald W. Vane of Seaford, Del.
ADA R. WAUGH
Ada Riggin Waugh, 69, a retired registered nurse at Hadley Memorial Hospital, died of cancer Sept. 7 at the Hospice of Washington.
Mrs. Waugh, who lived in Temple Hills, was a native of Princess Anne, Md. She graduated from the Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Wilmington, Del. During the 1940s, she worked as a nurse in Washington state, California, Indiana, Delaware, New Jersey and Baltimore.
She came to the Washington area about 1950. She went to work at Hadley Memorial in the early 1960s. In 1978, she went to the Hospice of Washington, but returned to Hadley a year later. She retired for health reasons in 1984.
Her husband, William V. Waugh, died in 1989.
Survivors include three daughters, Nora Waugh Jones of Cockeysville, Md., and Nancy Waugh and Debra Riggin Waugh, both of Takoma Park; a sister, Albia Elliott of Fallston, Md.; a brother, Hollis Riggin of Princess Anne; her stepmother, Lucy Riggin of Philadelphia; and two grandchildren.