The Rt Hon Sir John Major at the SMGLC

On 14 November 2017 the Rt Hon Sir John Major delivered the inaugural Sir Martin Gilbert Memorial Lecture, which marked the official opening of the Sir Martin Gilbert Learning Centre.  

Praising his friend and former advisor, Sir John said ‘he was highly intelligent, inquisitive – and interested in everything. He was also self-effacing and modest. Rarely has so much talent been so well concealed.’ As a historian, Sir Martin reached innumerable readers, presenting the tumultuous events of the twentieth century with a clarity, lucidity and accessibility which was his special talent.  

Sir John Major discussed the worrying political instabilities, suspicions and threats around the world, dangerous situations where the enquiring mind of Sir Martin would indubitably have offered a fresh and insightful perspective. Sir John referred to the dynamic way in which Sir Martin perceived and depicted the relationship between past, present and future: ‘Martin was an observer of the whole world: he focused on the key events; and – in his writing – not only brought the past to life, but often foresaw what its effects would be. The chronicler and historian was also a seer.’ 

Sir Martin’s work focused on the World Wars, the Holocaust, Israel, modern Jewish history and, famously, Sir Winston Churchill. Over the course of his career he wrote 88 books, and as Sir John rightly said, ‘recording history was an obligation seared deeply into his soul.’ 

The Sir Martin Gilbert Learning Centre, his legacy, reaches thousands of people every year. Adapting to new ways of communicating history during the pandemic, we are proud to continue to promote the importance of history and its relevance for the present and the future.