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The Papers of Mark Abrams

Reference Code: GBR/0014/ABMS

Scope and Contents

The collection covers nearly every aspect to Abrams's career and comprises: market research and social survey data; reports on results of surveys produced by the organisations for which Abrams worked, including the London Press Exchange and his own business Research Services Ltd. and their clients; papers covering Abrams's consultancy and committee work for the Labour Party, Social Science Research Council, and Age Concern; and published articles and talks by Abrams himself.

The largest series in the collection consists of 'working papers' connected with Abrams's private research, survey preparation, and talks and publications. Arranged alphabetically by subject, these cover a wide range of topics including advertising and communication, children and youth culture, education, entertainment and leisure, retailing and consumerism, class formation, politics and political parties, economics and personal finance, food, housing and town planning, ageing, racial prejudice, and social forecasting.

Also present are papers connected with Abrams's work for the BBC Overseas Research Unit analysing foreign broadcasts and propaganda during the Second World War.


  • Creation: 1915 - 2012

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff.

Biographical / Historical

Mark Abrams was born Max Alexander Abramowitz on 27 April 1906 in Edmonton, North London to Abraham Abramowitz, a journeyman bootmaker, shopkeeper, and house agent, and his wife Annie (Hannah), née Issacorwitz. He was educated at the Latymer School in Edmonton, then read Economics at the London School of Economics (University of London). He went on to complete a PhD in early modern English economic history under the supervision of R. H. Tawney in 1929.

From 1931-1933 Abrams was a research fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington, DC. In 1933 he joined the research department of the London Press Exchange, one of Britain’s leading advertising agencies. Here Abrams began developing his pioneering work in social investigation, market research, and opinion polling by conducting large-scale surveys into consumer behaviour, including newspaper readership and housing conditions in North London. His contacts with other social scientists working abroad during this period led to his work retrieving refugees from Nazi Europe (in 1939 helping Sigmund Freud make his final move to England). During the Second World War Abrams was employed first in the BBC Overseas Research Department, analysing European propaganda broadcasts, then at the Psychological Warfare Board, where he carried out influential government surveys into working-class diets under rationing and the impact of bombing on civilian morale. His studies of food consumption during the war led to the establishment of the National Food Survey in 1940.

Abrams returned to the London Press Exchange in 1946 and set up its market research department as an independent subsidiary consultancy called Research Services Limited. He produced research for academic, commercial, political, and public sector organisations under this company until 1970, initially as Managing Director, then Chairman. In 1946, he was also one of the founding members of the Market Research Society.

From the mid-1950s Abrams became closely connected with the Labour Party and carried out many of their private opinion polls, first under the modernisers in the party aligned with Hugh Gaitskell and then Harold Wilson, for whom he worked on the development of Labour's publicity campaign for the 1964 general election. Between 1960 and 1971 Abrams was a member of the Labour Party's Advertising Commission, Publicity Group, Race Relations Committee, and Study Group on Immigration.

Abrams left his chairmanship of Research Services Limited to become, in 1970, Director of the Survey Research Unit at the Social Science Research Council. Between 1976-1985, he was Research Director at the Age Concern Institute of Gerontology, King's College London, where he undertook studies of living standards among people aged 65 and over. He was Vice-President of the Policy Studies Institute, 1978-1994, and also advised the Consumers' Association.

Abrams's work in market research and opinion polling was instrumental in establishing the widespread use of statistical surveys to monitor the population's mood, attitudes, and everyday lives. He believed in research not only as a means of describing society, but as a tool for improving it.

In 1931 Abrams married Una Strugnell, a schoolteacher, with whom he had one son and one daughter. The marriage was dissolved in 1951 and in 1953 he married Jean Bird, a journalist, with whom he had one daughter.

Publications include: 'Money and a Changing Civilization' (1934); 'The Population of Great Britain' (1945); 'The Condition of the British People, 1911-1946' (1947); 'Social Surveys and Social Action' (1951); 'The Welfare State' (1951); 'The Teenage Consumer' (1959); 'Must Labour Lose?', with Richard Rose and Rita Hinden (1960); 'The Newspaper Reading Public of Tomorrow' (1964); 'Beyond Three Score and Ten' (1980); 'People in Their Sixties' (1983); and 'Values and Social Change', with David Gerard and Noel Timms (1985).

Abrams died on 25 September 1994.


123 archive box(es)

Language of Materials


External Documents

Other Finding Aids

A copy of this finding aid is available for consultation at Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, the National Register of Archives, London, and on the Janus website,

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were given to Churchill Archives Centre by Mark Abrams' wife, Jean Abrams, and his daughter, Evelyn Abrams, 1995 and 1996.

The papers were previously arranged by Mark Abrams, with filing assistance from his secretary Joan Wright.

Related Materials

See also

The BBC Written Archives hold a set of the reports and papers of its Overseas Research Unit. The National Archives also holds a set of reports in the Ministry of Information's records.


This collection level description was prepared by Natalie Adams and updated by Heidi Egginton using information from Who Was Who, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and obituaries in the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, and the Independent. Accessions 989 and 1003 were box-listed by Natalie Adams and Sophie Clapp at Churchill Archives Centre in 1996. The Research Services Ltd. reports in ABMS 3 were catalogued by Jasmine Jansen, December 2008, and retroconverted by Sophie Bridges, February 2009. Accession 1696 and the remainder of the collection was catalogued by Heidi Egginton, 2017.


Abrams, Mark Alexander, 1906-1994, social scientist and businessman

2001-09-10 14:44:23+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Churchill Archives Centre Repository

Churchill Archives Centre
Churchill College
Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB3 0DS United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 336087