PETER, Laurence J. (1919-1990)




Author Tags: Advice, Essentials 2010, Literary Landmarks

LITERARY LOCATION: Metro Theatre, 1370 Southwest Marine Drive, Vancouver

One of the most famous non-fiction books written in British Columbia, The Peter Principle (1969), was co-authored by Raymond Hull and Laurence J. Peter after the pair met as strangers while attending an amateur production at the Metro Theatre. In the lobby, during intermission, Hull mentioned the production was a failure. Laurence J. Peter, an Education professor at UBC, suggested to Hull that people invariably rise to their level of incompetence. In their international bestseller that resulted, The Peter Principle, Peter described his theme as “hierarchiology,” a term now commonly used when analyzing systems in human society. Hull described the content as, “the tragi-comic truth about incompetence, its causes and its cure.” Dr. Laurence J. Peter, who was born in Vancouver and worked for the Vancouver school from 1941 to 1965, left B.C. and worked in the Education faculty of the University of Southern California, he wrote 11 more books and died in 1990. Raymond Hull, was a writer, also an actor and playwright, died in 1985, bequeathing most of his royalties from six plays and 18 books to the Canadian Authors Association, and most of the rest of his estate, approximately $100,000, given to the Vancouver Public Library.

ENTRY:

One of the most famous non-fiction books written in British Columbia, The Peter Principle (1969), was co-authored by Raymond Hull and Laurence J. Peter after the pair met as strangers while attending an amateur production at the Metro Theatre. In the lobby, during intermission, Hull mentioned the production was a failure. Laurence J. Peter, an Education professor at UBC, suggested to Hull that people invariably rise to their level of incompetence. In their international bestseller that resulted, The Peter Principle, Peter described his theme as “hierarchiology,” a term now commonly used when analyzing systems in human society. Hull described the content as, “the tragi-comic truth about incompetence, its causes and its cure.” Whereas Hull claimed the ‘principle’ was named after Peter for the purposes of alliteration, Peter’s family contends it was named after Peter simply because he originated the idea. Laurence Peter left B.C. and worked in the Education faculty of the University of Southern California, writing more non-fiction. Raymond Hull, also an actor and playwright, died in 1985, bequeathing most of his royalties from six plays and 18 books to the Canadian Authors Association, and most of the rest of his estate, approximately $100,000, to the Vancouver Public Library. Laurence J. Peter wrote 11 books and died in 1990.

The Peter Principle has been translated into more than 20 languages. Hull happily conceded the title had sexual connotations. “We did no more collaborations,” said Hull, “because the way we worked involved sitting down, face to face, and talking over each point in detail. Obviously this could not be done by correspondence.”

Peter turned out various Peter books such as The Peter Prescription: How To Make Things Go Right (1972), The Peter Plan: A Proposal for Survival (1976), Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Times (1977) and Peter’s People and Their Marvelous Ideas (1979). He died in 1990.

[Born in Shaftesbury, England, in 1919, Raymond Hull was a public servant prior to his arrival in Vancouver in 1947. In 1949, he responded to an advertisement for a summer creative writing course at UBC and soon discovered his aptitude for writing. He sold radio plays to the CBC, wrote stage plays and formed the Gastown Players, a semi-professional company specializing in melodramas. Hull wrote plays for the troupe that included The Drunkard, Son of the Drunkard (now known as The Drunkard’s Revenge) and Wedded to a Villain. Hull wrote and published his 50-minute play about Sweeney Todd long before the character became the subject of a successful Broadway musical.

Co-authored with Helmut J. Ruebsaat, M.D., Hull’s The Male Climacteric (1975) was based on the supposition that men undergo a male “change of life” or mid-life crisis that can frequently ruin their sex lives, destroy marriages, change temperaments and upset careers. Examples provided included Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dickens, Napoleon and Mussolini. Hull died in 1985, bequeathing royalties from six plays and 18 books to the Canadian Authors Association, and most of the rest of his estate, approximately $100,000, to the Vancouver Public Library.]

FULL ENTRY:

Born in Vancouver in 1919, Laurence Peter taught in the Vancouver school system from 1941 to 1965, then joined the Education faculty at UBC. He co-authored The Peter Principle (William Morrow, 1969) with Raymond Hull while he was teaching at the University of British Columbia. It is one of the most famous and successful non-fiction books written in British Columbia.

While attending an amateur production at the Metro Theatre in south Vancouver, Hull mentioned the production was a failure to a fellow audience member in the lobby during an intermission. This stranger, Laurence J. Peter, suggested to Hull that people in any hierarchy invariably rise to their level of incompetence. This was the grist for their co-authored bestseller The Peter Principle, translated into more than 20 languages. Peter has described the theme of their book as hierarchiology. Hull has described the content as 'The tragi-comic truth about incompetence, its causes and its cure.' Hull happily conceded the title suggested underlying sexual connotations. With the runaway success of the book, Laurence Peter moved to southern California to pursue a career as a novelist. "We did no more collaborations," said Hull, "because the way we worked involved sitting down, face to face, and talking over each point in detail. Obviously this could not be done by correspondence."

Laurence Peter began teaching in 1941, received his Ph.D. in Education from Washington State University in 1963 and moved to California in 1964 to be an Associate Professor of Education, Director of the Evelyn Frieden Centre for Prescriptive Teaching, and Coordinator of Programs for Emotionally Disturbed Children at the University of Southern California. Peter once wrote, "Television has changed the American child from an irresistible force into an immovable object." He died in 1990.

BOOKS:

Prescriptive Teaching (McGraw-Hill, 1965)

The Peter Principle: Why Things Go Wrong (Morrow, 1969). Co-authored with Raymond Hull.

The Peter Prescription: How To Make Things Go Right (Morrow, 1972)

The Peter Plan: A Proposal For Survival (Morrow, 1976)

Peter's Quotations: Ideas For Our Times (Morrow, 1977)

Peter's People (Morrow, 1979)

Quotations For Our Time (London: Souvenir Press, 1979)

Peter's Almanac (Morrow/Avon, 1982)

Why Things Go Wrong: Or The Peter Principle Revisited (Morrow/Avon, 1984)

The Peter Pyramid Or, Will We Ever Get The Point (Morrow, 1986)

[BCBW 2010]