Humanists UK mourns death of Alan Brownjohn (1931-2024)

27 February, 2024


Humanists UK is saddened to learn of the death of Alan Brownjohn, a luminary poet, novelist, and critic, who has died aged 92.

Alan Brownjohn’s long and successful career saw him at the helm of the Poetry Society as its chair from 1982 to 1988, and influencing public opinion as the poetry editor for the New Statesman and later as the Sunday Times‘s poetry critic for two decades. Beyond poetry, Alan’s talent spanned novels, with his debut, The Way You Tell Them, winning the Author’s Club prize for its incisive satire on stand-up comedy, alongside contributions to children’s literature, playwriting, and criticism.

Alan’s partnership with Humanists UK was defined by his unexpected journey from self-proclaimed ‘negative anti-religionist’ to a champion of humanist ideals. His leadership and advocacy were instrumental, from chairing the inaugural Humanist Philosophers’ conference to advocating for Humanists UK’s campaigns. His signature on letters to The Independent in 2001 and The Times in 2003, advocating against the expansion of religious schools and for a public holiday marking Charles Darwin’s birthday, underscored his commitment to secularism and rational discourse.

A fearless advocate for free speech, Alan’s legacy includes his crucial support in the battle against blasphemy laws, notably backing the re-publication of James Kirkup’s poem The love that dares to speak its name in 1978 in defiance of a private prosecution brought against it by Mary Whitehouse, and promoting a public reading in 2002, organised by Humanists UK. These acts were not just defences of expression but bold statements in favour of the freedom of expression and the rights of individuals to challenge religious orthodoxy without fear of persecution.

Commenting on Alan Brownjohn’s death, Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘I’m so saddened to learn of Alan’s death. His deep interest in people and his wry observation of them, as seen in his poems, has left an indelible mark on the creative world. His death is a profound loss, but his work lives on. We will all miss this incredibly warm and kind man, for so many years a stalwart at all Humanists UK events and a personal support to so many of us who work under the humanist banner.’ 


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

Humanists UK has over 200 patrons who support its work in various ways through their expertise and prominence in various fields. Existing patrons include significant figures from the spheres of science, philosophy, human rights activism, politics, the arts, and broadcasting. The President of Humanists UK is the geneticist, science writer, and broadcaster, Dr Adam Rutherford. He is supported by Vice Presidents Professor Alice Roberts, Shaparak Khorsandi, Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Professor AC Grayling, and Polly Toynbee.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.