Denis Sargan was one of the world's leading econometric theorists, playing a central role in establishing the technical basis for modern "time-series" econometrics. In a distinguished career spanning more than 40 years as a teacher, researcher and practitioner of econometrics, Sargan transformed both the role of econometrics in macroeconomic modelling and the teaching of econometrics. He was Professor of Econometrics at the London School of Economics for over 20 years, eventually becoming the Tooke Professor of Economics and Statistics, and the dominant influence on British econometrics throughout that period.
Sargan was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire. His early ability at mathematics won him a place at Doncaster Grammar School and gained him a State Scholarship for entrance to St John's College, Cambridge, where he pursued the Mathematical Tripos, becoming a Senior Wrangler. He joined the Scientific Branch of the Civil Service during the Second World War, but, on a visit to a bookshop towards the end of the war, he came across John Maynard Keynes's General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936). He was so struck with Keynes's ideas for tackling mass unemployment that he took up economics on returning to Cambridge after the war, and completed a degree in Economics in one year.
His career began as a Lecturer in Economics at Leeds University, where he commenced research into the distribution of wealth, duopoly, production, and growth, and statistical time-series problems (comparing several series of data over a period of time). During a visit to the Universities of Minnesota and Chicago, his interests focused on the econometric theory of estimating economic models from time-series data, and he rapidly established a reputation for insightful, rigorous and powerful analyses. This research was published in Econometrica, the prestigious journal of the Econometric Society, and he was elected to a Fellowship of the Econometric Society in 1963. He came to the London School of Economics in 1964 as a Reader in Statistics, joining A.W.H. (Bill) Phillips (of the Phillips machine and Phillips curve) and Jim Durbin; a Professorship in the Economics Department followed in 1965. His appointment took the LSE group to the technical forefront in research. Perhaps as importantly, he helped attract a vibrant group of young faculty and many able students to the redesigned MSc in Econometrics. This achieved new heights of advanced teaching, and Denis Sargan can be credited with the creation of a generation of econometricians trained to highly technical levels in all aspects of quantitative economics, adopting what is loosely called the "LSE approach to econometric modelling". His teaching would not please the current vogue for assessing "quality": from a few notes, the most arcane mathematics would flow with inadvertent changes of notation, and key steps treated as obvious. …