In memoriam Professor Peter Fowler



The university is sad to announce the death of retired LJMU member of staff Professor Peter Fowler.

Former colleague Tony Hughes has shared the following tribute about Professor Fowler’s life and incredible contributions in the field of digital education.

“Professor Peter Fowler was born in Rotherham in 1944, his parents were humble folk who instilled in him a love of learning and a thirst for knowledge that would shape the course of his life. As a child, he was precocious and curious, always asking questions and seeking answers. These traits would eventually lead him to the London School of Economics, where he could follow his passion for music and then pursue a career in teaching.

“Peter was a phenomenal talent, one of those talents. Often unappreciated by those above and cherished by those below. He was generous, charming, and always up for a challenge, whether it was helping someone else realise their own talent, or engaging with his peers and mentors. He was never dull, always interesting and funny, his wit as sharp as his intellect.

“But for all his rakish charm and quick wit, Peter was a humble and sensitive man at heart, who believed in the power of society and the collective. He would not approve of this obituary or anything that came across as grandstanding. He was driven by a passion for creativity and the Arts and sought to inspire this same passion in the projects and people he worked with.

“In the early 1990s, Peter arrived in Liverpool, where he would spend the next 15 years doing some of his most substantial work. He was appointed head of the Open Learning Unit at Liverpool Polytechnic. But Peter being Peter, he quickly turned it into something much more, putting together a portfolio of projects that reflected his active and curious mind. He surrounded himself with a team of talented, off beat, and intelligent collaborators, and together they brought his and their ideas to life.

“One such project was Cytofocus, a cytology training tool for cervical cancer technicians. What started as a dry and straightforward project to produce training manuals, became an interactive tool that technicians could use. With the help of his collaborator, the brilliant technologist and designer Roy Stringer, Peter transformed the project into a software application that won the prestigious global prize at Comdex (now CES) against competition from Microsoft and Apple.

“The Open Learning Unit also launched the Mediactive conference in 1994, involving Ted Nelson and Brian Eno, attracting keynote speakers such as Ray Kurzweil, who later became Google's director of engineering and recipient of the US National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

“Roy span Amaze out of the now renamed Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) - Peter had championed the “John Lennon University” name instead. Established in 1995, Amaze was one of Liverpool’s earliest digital agencies and most successful, winning commercial contracts with global corporations such as Toyota and Volkswagen. Peter transformed the Open Learning Unity into the Learning Methods Unit (LMU), incorporating academics but more significantly a small but growing team of multimedia designers and programmers including Charlotte Corke and Peter Kelly who worked on Cytofocus.

“In the mid-1990s, as the dot coms began to take hold of the internet, Peter saw the transformative potential of this new technology. As a fan of the punk philosophy and a believer in the disruptive power of the web, he saw the need for artists and designers to get to grips with it and make it accessible to everyone. He was instrumental in establishing a master's degree in multimedia and recruited its graduates into the Learning Methods Unit (LMU), where they worked on a range of projects covering everything from education to industrial design, from medicine to heritage and sports. The unit started to expand with hugely talented ‘kids’ – including a teenage Daniel Brown who went on to win multiple global design awards – winning all kinds of interactive awards for their work.

“As the LMU grew and attracted entrepreneurs and creatives who wanted their own interactive and online projects, including James Dyson, Jamie Reid and Pete Fulwell. One of Peter’s great friends, Harry Pepp (who sadly died the same week as Peter), was LJMU’s mover and shaker. Harry connected Peter with Phil Redmond. They formed a natural partnership. Phil, a 'hypenate' in his own words, has a similarly creative and agile mind. Together, they developed a plan to create a digital media centre between Phil’s Mersey Television and Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), with the goal of placing Liverpool at the forefront of the new economy and harnessing its creative energy to secure its future prosperity.

“I joined Peter's gang of reprobates around this time. On first meeting I was banging on about digital futures and Pete looked bored until I mentioned an encounter with Kurt Cobain. Pete was hooked and so was I. I was thrown into projects like Childs Play, developing an interactive soap opera with a group of 12-year-old girls. Years later, two of the participants approached me after a lecture and said that the project inspired them to study computer science. Proof positive of Peter's impact and belief in seeding technologies as a creative tool from an early age - “A generation of digital creators, not just digital consumers”.

“Peter threw himself into promoting the use of digital technologies as a powerful creative toolkit, for school children and students to communities and companies. He welcomed a diverse range of people into his projects, including nuns, chancers, pranksters, academics, and more. He and Phil secured funding from LJMU, industry and the EU to establish the International Centre for Digital Content. They established the UK's first digital content incubator in a run-down part of the city, a forerunner of the now thriving Baltic Quarter. They pushed a radical agenda to transform the city from the ground up and reached for national and global connections, attracting luminaries from all walks of life. They reached for national and global supporters, pulling in glitterati including Steven Speilberg, Cherie Blair, Greg Dyke and Tony Wilson from across the M62.

“Through various informal and formal courses and projects, Peter and his team inspired countless more kids and students of all ages. A notable one being the Liverpool Dockers project - off the back of Jimmy McGovern’s work (another Harry contact). LMU trained the dockers and possibly more effectively their wives in multimedia tools and techniques. Peter and Phil's vision for a digital media centre and their commitment to transforming the city will forever be remembered as a testament to their passion, creativity, and unwavering dedication to making a positive impact on the world.

“More funding followed but Peter’s health was not keeping pace with his ambition – a nagging heart defect he had from his youth dictated a slow-down. The digital media centre had grown in size as it sought to support more training and business support functions for the city. Peter sought semi-retirement from LJMU in 2003 but continued to contribute to the development of the digital industries across the North West for another decade.

“Over the following years Peter worked closely with Lindsay Sharples, a collaborator from LJMU days, to support 27 projects across the North West – from helping Cumbrian farmers to use digital photography during the foot and mouth crisis to training British Asian women in Rochdale to acquire digital skills through computerised sewing machines.  Peter was always trying to get new and innovative tools and techniques into the hands of people who need them to improve their lives and their wellbeing. 

“Peter had a profound impact on countless individuals, including many 'kids' like the writer of this piece, who were inspired by him and given a platform to showcase their talents. These individuals have gone on to establish companies, teach, and work in Liverpool and beyond, and Peter embraced the city with its irreverence, intelligence, and wit, leading projects that reached out to other 'edgy' cities like Marseille, Athens, and Naples.

“In his later years, Peter fully committed to retirement, focusing on his greatest talent, writing. He always said that he only fully understood the world when writing about it, and he was in the process of completing his memoirs of the Liverpool years right up to his death. It is hoped that these memoirs will reach a wider audience soon. He was schooled in English Literature and being a fan of Jane Austen I should really have included a semi colon in this piece so here it is; rest well and find peace Pete.

“Peter is survived by his wife and their four children: Joe, Molly, Greega and Katy. He will be remembered as a man of many talents, a creative force, and a true lover of Liverpool, who left a lasting impact on the lives of those he touched.”

Tony Hughes, March 2023

 


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