In 1975, a 549-page book translated by the Italian publisher Einaudi was published. Its original title was “Politics and Society in Postwar Naples”; it was with a distinctive orange cover, and its author was a British academician from the University of Reading named Percy Alum. The book caused a sensation Italy. A rigorous analysis of how politics and society worked in Naples was written with inspiration, vivid and crystal clear. What is most incredible are the names mentioned.
Alum’s analysis of the political power structures used by the Christian Democracy Party and other factions in this southern city, and especially what he called the “clan” around the Gawa family and the “bosses” Silvio and Antonio Gawa, shocked Naples. and its political establishment.
Alum, who died at the age of 88, showed with great care how the elections and the government were organized and how the clientelistic structures connected with the political culture of the city work – street after street, commission after commission, ballot after ballot. It was clear to everyone that the Italian edition of Politics and Socie would be controversial, so the translation was closely monitored, and there were fears that Gawa would sue for publication, something they never did. Alum’s book made him famous in Naples and angered Antonio Gawa himself, who denigrated the British scholar in an interview and reacted angrily if the book was mentioned until the end of his long political career.
How did Alum come to write such an unusual book with quotes from Mao and Stendhal and the ironic use of proverbs as well as sociological theory, history, political analysis and anthropology?
Born in Tema, Oxfordshire, one of six children of Doris (as Clark) and Robert Allum, he adopted Percy (instead of Peter) at an early age. He attended Downs School in Colwall, Malvern Hills, where he was first inspired to draw by an art teacher named Maurice Field. He will paint and paint for the rest of his life, exhibiting his work in France, Italy and the UK in the years to come. To celebrate the new year, Percy sent his friends hand-drawn postcards.
After winning a scholarship to Cambridge, after studying in the army he studied law and history, and received a law degree. His parents wanted him to go into the family business (laundry in the Thames), but the teacher noted his potential and insisted that he continue his studies. His doctoral degree at Oxford by Italian historian Christopher Seton-Watson was a turning point and formed the basis for his Neapolitan book. Alum had already spent time in Naples studying Italian, living in the city as an English assistant in the 1950s. In 1957 in France he met his future wife Marie-Pierre Desmos. They married in 1961.
Alum’s working life spanned a number of institutions and universities. He taught in Manchester, and since 1966 in Reading (where he never played academics, which led to huge delays with his promotion to professor, which took place in 1994), but also in Padua and Naples, Paris and Sudan. . He was well-read and was always aware of Italian and European politics, which contributed to his teaching and further studies.
His comparative textbook for the master’s degree “Democrazia Reale” was written in Italian in 1991 (based on lectures he gave in Padua) and then published in English as “State and Society in Western Europe”. Again, the clarity of his writing was able to combine high-level analysis, history, an eclectic set of sources, ideas and passionate political positions, as well as in-depth and concrete research.
He was a leftist, often advocating ethical positions in public life. In Reading he was part of a wealthy group of Italians who flourished there in the 1960s, 70s and 80s in the historical, Italian and political faculties such as Stuart Wolf, Paul Corner and Christopher Duggan. He later devoted years to another in-depth study of the power and culture of the Christian Democrats, this time in northern Italy, around Vicenza. This work has been published in a number of articles and edited in books, often in collaboration with local scholars.
The great Italian novelist Luigi Menegel was a key figure in the rise of Italian studies in Reading, and he painted a remarkable portrait of Allum (Percy Agonists) in his festschrift. Menegela emphasized Alum’s “tumultuous” way of expressing references when he threw out references, his long blond hair fluttering around his head, and his intense ability to discuss and discuss current but also historical issues.
With the support of Marie-Pierre, whose devotion to her husband and their two children allowed him to write and travel extensively, as well as spend time in archives and libraries, Alumi moved between France, Italy and the UK.
After his early retirement from Reading in 1995, Alum was appointed to the chair at the Università Degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale” in Naples, where he taught and researched for the next 10 years. It was a tumultuous time in Italian politics, and Allum was at the center of debates and political issues, often and directly writing in Italian for the Italian daily newspapers La Repubblica and l’Unità, and speaking at numerous conferences and congresses.
His work has had a profound impact on key figures in Neapolitan and national politics and society, such as the former mayor of Naples, Maurizio ValenciItalian President (and Communist) Giorgio Napolitano and a generation of magistrates and judges who, thanks to Alum’s original works on Naples, were able to engage in epic battles against the influence of the Neapolitan version of the Mafia – the Comoros – in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s.
In the following years, after retiring from Naples, Allum continued to paint and exhibit his works, which ranged from innovative urban landscapes to intimate portraits and self-portraits. In the last period of his life he suffered from dementia.
He is survived by Marie-Pierre, their son Fabrice and daughter Felia, two granddaughters and three sisters.