We are mourning the loss of Eberhard Georg (George) Wedell, a child refugee from Nazi-Germany who became an LSE student and dedicated his entire life to promote interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural communication.
Wedell’s grandfather was the Chief Rabbi of Hanover but his father had converted to Protestantism in 1914. His godfather was the renowned Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) whose statue is now carved onto the west front of Westminster Abbey as one of the martyrs of the twentieth century. Wedell and his family were viewed by the Nazis as “Mischlings”, tainted by their Jewish origins. He had childhood memories of Kristallnacht and was brought to England at the age of 11 with his mother and brothers in 1938. Their escape was secured by the cooperation of George Bell (1883 –1958), then Bishop of Chichester.
Scholarship at LSE
After schooling in Kent, Wedell came to LSE in 1944, studying first in its evacuated home of Peterhouse in Cambridge and then on Houghton Street after the war ended. He was given a free scholarship and described by his advisor of studies as “an exemplary sincere, high-minded and intelligent man”, “a very good worker who seems certain to make a mark in the world.” While at LSE, Wedell was president of the Student Christian Movement, a significant force at the time for ecumenical cooperation and reconciliation across the world. On graduation, he worked full time for the movement, reflecting his lifelong commitment to the practical expression of faith. Wedell and his wife Rosemarie (1920-2010) also developed an active interest in interfaith dialogue, a cause which he continued to support within LSE.
Distinguished career in communication and education
The twin spheres of education and broadcasting have fed into one another throughout Wedell’s career. In 1950 he became a civil servant working in the Department of Education, but moved in 1958 to be Secretary of the newly created Independent Television Authority. His creative mind and commitment to the ideals of independent public service broadcasting led to a move into academia, taking the Chair of Adult Education at the University of Manchester. Both adult education and media were new disciplines at this time and Wedell dramatically expanded research in both fields, encompassing higher education, social development, broadcasting policy and regulation of advertising. His first book of 1968, Broadcasting and Public Policy, was groundbreaking and took him all around the world lecturing and advising governments on both broadcasting and education. He had a particular interest in the developing world, reflected in publications such as Education and the Development of Malawi (1973) and Broadcasting in the Third World (1977, with Elihu Katz).
Commitment to Europe
In 1973 Wedell transferred to Brussels where he headed up the European Commission division for employment and retraining. He became a prominent figure within the Commission and after he left, to return to the University of Manchester, in 1982 he founded the European Institute for Media (EIM) of which he became director. In this post Wedell drew scholars from this emerging discipline together and contributed significant research to the field. Consonant with Wedell’s ’s ideals, the EIM was not merely a centre of academic research but a driver for the positive role of media in social change, particularly the democratization of former communist countries in which Wedell was significantly involved.
Honorary doctorate from LSE
Wedell received numerous awards and accolades in his lifetime. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France and a Commander of the Order of Merit in Portugal. Wedell received an honorary doctorate from LSE in 2017. LSE was a safe haven where a young German refugee was able to develop his extraordinary intellectual potential and passion to improve the world around him. His lifelong commitment to communication, education, development international cooperation and Europe helped to fashion a world where the horrors of his childhood hopefully are less likely to recur. His accomplished life and noble legacy have brought distinction to LSE and his life and work exemplify our ideals.
James Walters, Director, LSE Faith Centre
Terhi Rantanen, Professor of Global Media and Communications