Obituary: Political activist Bernard Behrman who fought Whittington Hospital sell-off dies aged 81

Bernard Behrman

Bernard Behrman - Credit: Archant

A passionate lifelong political activist who fought against sell-off proposals at the Whittington Hospital has been remembered as an “astonishing man” with the “most incredible energy”.

Bernard Behrman died on August 17, aged 81, after suffering a stroke.

Mr Behrman came to Britain from South Africa in the 1960s to continue his studies, having fought against apartheid, and went on to become one of the founding members of the International Socialists in Manchester – a precursor to the Socialist Workers Party.

In his later years, he became heavily involved in successful campaigns to stop the closure of the Whittington Hospital’s A&E department in 2010, and more recently controversial plans to sell off hospital buildings and close wards, which were scrapped in July this year after a community campaign.

As well as attending demonstrations, he set up petitions and would often be seen handing out leaflets in the street.

His son, Simon Behrman, said: “The last campaign that he was involved in was the successful campaign to save the Whittington Hospital from a program of closures.

“It was fitting that in his last weeks he received excellent care from the wonderful staff there, and that it was where he finally breathed his last.

Most Read

“My dad had an irrepressible anger about the injustices of the world, and he was fearless in arguing his case in any situation.

“He had a great, if occasionally weird, sense of humour, and was quick to laugh.

“But perhaps his defining characteristic was a strength of character that was free from any hint of machismo or arrogance, a rare quality in a man.”

Born in South Africa in 1931 to Lithuanian parents who had escaped anti-Semitic pogroms at the turn of the 20th century, Mr Behrman’s interest in socialist politics began at university in Johannesburg.

There he joined the Unity Movement – a radical national liberation movement founded by a small group of Trotskyites – and he began to fight against apartheid.

After his move to Britain, Mr Behrman focused on sustaining the Unity Movement while in exile.

He had planned to return to South Africa, but a wave of repression made it impossible and many anti-apartheid activists from the Unity Movement were arrested or fled.

Only after the fall of apartheid 30 years later, was he able to return home. But by this time he had missed the funerals of his parents.

He rejoiced at the release of Nelson Mandela but was critical of the African National Congress (ANC), which became the ruling post-apartheid political group, believing it would not deliver for most black South Africans.

After retiring in his 60s, having worked as a lecturer in London, Mr Behrman joined the Socialist Workers Party in 1994 and remained heavily involved in the weekly life of his branch in Islington.

Fellow Socialist Workers Party member, Rob Murthwaite, 62, said: “What was phenomenal about him was that from the earliest age, right through to the end of his life, Bernard was an active campaigner.”

He said Mr Behrman, who lived in Holloway Road, Islington, was heavily involved in local demonstrations against the Iraq war and supported teachers when they went on strike.

Mr Murthwaite said: “He was an absolutely astonishing man and had the most incredible energy.”

More recently Mr Behrman had grown concerned about the rise of the British National Party and English Defence League and attended a lobby event in solidarity with the Islamic community in Muswell Hill following a suspected arson attack at a mosque in June this year. “He had his own opinions and demanded he have his say,” said Mr Murthwaite. “He was known as someone who would raise criticisms and that was part of his strength.”

Mr Behrman is survived by his widow, Terri, two children, Hannah and Simon, daughter-in-law, Asuka and grandson, Dimitri.