He used to say that he had never had an original thought in his life, which may have been true but did not actually matter. David's skill was in taking ideas from other people and other places, and then applying them with great effectiveness to his current situation. He was in favour of ideals, provided they could be made to work. From his early adult tutoring in Cumbria and his increasingly frequent contacts with colleges in the United States, he took the idea of the community college, transplanted it to Nelson and Colne where he was principal for 22 years, and encouraged it to flourish, until in the words of one commentator "you couldn't tell where the college ended and the community began".
In practical terms, this included such things as the drop-in Skills Centre at the bus station, the night shift work of the industrial language training unit, the production of one of the first talking newspapers for the blind, and an extensive summer school for children with learning difficulties and disabilities. This list could be easily extended, and as it unrolls you begin to wonder if there is anything which we currently claim as an innovation which was not tried out at Nelson and Colne. David did not do it all, of course, but as his colleagues would readily agree, without his support, encouragement and sometimes sheer cunning, it would never have happened. In American football terms, he used to describe his job in part as "running interference", and if you were pursuing something which seemed to have value, he was fierce in your defence.
Before he came to the college in 1967 he had been an assistant education officer for FE, and as gamekeeper turned poacher he was a master of making the rules work for him. His view of public money was summed up by his mercury theory - there was a roughly constant amount of the stuff which moved erratically around the table top of Government, and the skill was to know where to place your hands so that you caught it as it ran off. He used these abilities to their full in successfully building up the country's second tertiary college in 1972 and in developing the open college of the North West from 1975 onwards.
The latter organisation was a good example of the way in which he worked, being franchising writ large 15 to 20 years before it became an everyday occurrence. Charles Carter, vice-chancellor of Lancaster University who had the original idea, was probably never more astonished than when David took it off, knocked it about, turned it into something which worked and which has helped thousands of students since. As a by-product, writing the courses from scratch was marvellous staff development and brought a new lease of life to ex-grammar school teachers who had joined the new tertiary college at re-organisation. Oh, and by the way, the college also ran an international baccalaureate and developed and managed a National Trust property with educational facilities at Gawthorpe Hall.
Nationally, David had a number of key educational involvements from acting as specialist adviser to the education select committee's inquiry into the attainment of the school-leaver, to the co-founding of the Institute of Post-Compulsory Education at Lancaster and his membership of the National Council for Adult and Continuing Education. His overseas involvements were also important, and a list of them would almost fill a telephone directory.
However, his more lasting work at this level was in the world of educational broadcasting where he directed the influential Gulbenkian Foundation report on The Young Adult and the Media, was for many years educational adviser to Granada Television, a director of a commercial radio station and appeared regularly in educational advice programmes on both media.
As a boss, David would sometimes be infuriating but he could also be supportive well beyond the call of duty. He was sociable but not clubbable and never relished the bureaucracy associated with multi-initialled educational bodies. His smart appearance and cheeky chappie personality sometimes offended, but allied with his real achievements they helped to make people take notice of FE in a way which previously they had not. David broke new ground for the sector in a variety of areas but above all he earned it recognition with his flair and panache.