In 1982 Geoffrey was appointed Keeper of the Public Records, to the temporary consternation of senior administrative staff at the PRO. As his obituary in the The Times (31 Jan. 2008), notes, “While not temperamentally attuned to the increasing bureaucracy of the Civil Service with its relentless demands for targets and performance indicators, Martin ensured that the PRO conformed to these requirements without losing sight of its enduring purpose’. Geoffrey arranged a major conference in 1986 to mark the centenary of the initiation of the great series of PRO calendars by Sir Henry Maxwell-Lyte. He also ensured that the 900th anniversary of Domesday Book in the same year was celebrated with a major public exhibition, held at Chancery Lane in the former Rolls Chapel, on a scale not attempted before or since. It was a great success, linking sound scholarship with the use of the then new technology of ‘talking heads’, and accompanied by occasional side-shows, such as morris-dancing on the lawn outside. Less fortunate was the need to disassemble the long-standing and exceptional display of records in the PRO museum in the Rolls Chapel, with the resulting loss of the beautiful 15th century chest which had belonged to Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. Geoffrey always felt more at home in the Chancery Lane building than the new record office at Kew, which he avoided visiting as much as he could.
Retiring from the PRO in 1988, Geoffrey returned to his roots, becoming Research Professor at the University of Essex, where his polymathic interests were revealed in enthusiastic teaching on the Second World War, a major critical edition of Knighton’s Chronicle 1337-1396 (1995), which he had first encountered as an undergraduate doing the Richard II special subject at Oxford, and his many contributions to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Among his 51 entries there are a number on distinguished predecessors as archivists as well as many historians and antiquarians, including Thomas Frankland (1632/3-90), also described as an ‘impostor’. Indeed Geoffrey produced short biographies on figures from every century from the twelfth to the twenty-first, the last being for the On-line edition in 2006 on Michael Robbins, a railway historian like his friend Jack Simmons. By chance or design, Geoffrey also wrote about the benign and wise Abbot William Clowne of Leicester (d. 1378), renowned above all for his hunting abilities as Henry Knighton, one of his monks, tells us, and about Friar Tuck, ‘legendary outlaw’.
Geoffrey himself was not an extrovert but he always had a distinctive, independent and, usually, humorous take on whatever subject he was dealing with (one of us remembers him as a slim young lecturer with a rather unruly head of hair, slipping inconspicuously into lecture rooms, diffidently producing a small scroll of notes from an inside pocket, before delivering, in a slightly staccato fashion, lectures that were shot through with shafts of irony and recondite learning). Among recreations listed in his Who’s Who entry was ‘adjusting phrases’ and Geoffrey had a deep and abiding love of playing with words. To the end he retained the Elephant child’s ‘insatiable curiosity’ about people and things. As an historian, editor of documents and member of numerous national and local learned societies, he played a full part in both academic history and in making records more widely accessible. Among many honours, we can note that he was Chairman of the British Records Association, 1981-92, Vice-President of the Royal Historical Society, 1984-8, and Member of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England), 1987-94. His sage counsel and immense learning were widely shared; we are grateful that LRS benefited from his advice and long support, and we offer to his wife, Janet and their family, our sincerest condolences in their loss.