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Robert Silver obituary | Education

My friend Robert Silver, who has died aged 63 of pulmonary disease, had various lines of work, as a researcher, a lawyer and a journalist, but was characterised above all by a gift for friendship and a generosity of spirit.

He enjoyed a glittering heyday as an undergraduate, with impressive social and intellectual talents, but his later life was affected by mental illness, with a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. However, he was never unduly downcast or embittered, and enjoyed the support of a nucleus of devoted friends.

Born in London into a prosperous Jewish family, Robert was the son of Eva (nee Alexander) and Geoffrey Silver, the owner of a pickled-food company. His early terrain of Kensington encouraged an easy-going social mode, propelled by cigarettes and inquisitiveness. A lifelong passion for history took root at St Paul’s boys’ school, and flourished at Cambridge University, where I met him and where he headed the student Fabian Society.

After graduating in 1977, he embarked on a career as a freelance journalist while studying law for bar exams at City University. Some of his articles on politics were published in the New Statesman, but the life of a freelancer proved difficult. After being called to the bar in 1983, he decided that career was also not for him. Robert’s foothold in a conventional world of achievement was precarious, but such formal expectations were alien to him anyway.

He began a PhD at Cambridge on politics and opinion in the 1930s, but felt somewhat isolated in comparison with his undergraduate experience. After that research was abandoned, his health started to fray, and he was hospitalised on several occasions. Throughout, he robustly challenged the terms of the Mental Health Act. He continued to be supported by his many friends, now mainly through conversations on his landline telephone (never taking to a mobile device), where he remained convivial despite his circumstances.

Everyone who knew Robert has a residue of fond memories, tapping into that distinctive youthful mixture of fun, adventure and subversiveness. My favourite image is of Robert dancing vigorously, half-gigolo, half-dervish, at my parents’ wedding anniversary party with a succession of female guests, to the surprise of their seated husbands. Spontaneous, mildly perplexing, slightly transgressive: those were the marks of a personality unbound.

Robert is survived by a brother, David, and two nieces, Natasha and Sophie.

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