Archiver > ENGLISH-OBITS > 2006-05 > 1148380968

From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: WILLCOCK: Malcolm Willcock--d.app.may/2006
Date: Tue, 23 May 2006 11:42:48 +0100

Professor Malcolm Willcock
(Filed: 23/05/2006)
The Telegraph.co.uk

Malcolm Willcock, who has died aged 80, was the first Professor of Classics
at the University of Lancaster, emeritus professor of Latin at University
College, London, and one of the finest Homeric scholars of his generation.

Fit, eternally youthful in looks ("like a fighter pilot" was one student's
description) and a keen gardener, Willcock had a passion for games; he
played bridge to tournament standard, and would take on anyone at anything
from squash (which he played till well into his sixties) and billiards to
backgammon and Mah Jong.

His children were brought up on whist, cribbage, piquet and racing demon
(the last always a great favourite at large, raucous family gatherings).
When (after much debate) the classics department at Lancaster bought a
calculator to help work out examination scores and averages, Willcock had
little difficulty competing with that too.

But when it came to scholarship and administration, it would be difficult to
find a fairer or less competitive-minded person. "I like Roger [a fellow
scholar] a great deal," he said with a smile on one occasion, "though his
views on Homer appal me." There was no hint of that odium scholasticum that
can so disfigure the scholarly community.

He gave himself unstintingly to the wider classical cause, teaching at
summer schools and serving on the committees of bodies such as the Joint
Association of Classical Teachers and the Virgil Society.

With students, Willcock had the gift of presenting complex problems of
language and interpretation with luminous clarity, but without
simple-mindedness. He sometimes (charmingly) found the ways of the world
rather bewildering - he could easily be embarrassed when teaching
Aristophanes, for example - but this merely added to the affection and
respect in which he was held.

These gifts carried over into his scholarship. Willcock had no time for the
lazy, slapdash or inaccurate - as an undergraduate at Cambridge in the early
1950s he had been highly critical of the standards of some of the
lecturing - and his own work on Homer, Pindar, Plautus and Cicero was
characterised by clear, balanced, incisive judgment.

A man of great modesty (it was typical of him that his entry in Who's Who
was 15 years out of date), he was always diffident when asked for help: "Do
you really think I could be useful here? I'll be happy to try." Having him
on board with any project was to guarantee that nothing would be missed.

Willcock was a patient and meticulous administrator. One colleague remembers
receiving seven separate letters from him on seven different issues on one
day - none of central importance, but all requiring decisions to be made.

His views on administrative matters were formed only after intensive
consideration, and only equally considered responses would change his
stance. But he never held grudges and was quick to apologise if he got
things wrong.

Malcolm Maurice Willcock was born on October 1 1925 and educated at Fettes
and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he was a research fellow in 1951-52.
He did National Service with the RAF in Ground Control Approach (1944-47).

From 1952 to 1965 he was a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College (and senior tutor
from 1962 to 1965). Here, in 1964, he gave a foretaste of what was to come
with a brilliant paper in which he showed how Homer's characters inventively
tweaked standard myths into serving as persuasive paradigms of the way
heroes should behave.

In 1965 Willcock took up the first chair of Classics at the new University
of Lancaster. He brought a wide range of scholarly talents into the
department and developed visionary courses in translation designed to serve
the whole university, without compromising standards in the languages.

These courses were to become models for the future development of the
subject. At Lancaster he published (rather surprisingly) an edition of
Plautus's raunchy comedy Casina (1976); a brilliant companion to Homer's
Iliad based on Richmond Lattimore's translation (1976); and began his superb
commentary on the Iliad - books I-XII (1978) and books XIII-XXIV (1984).

This was a typical Willcock production: designed in part to help students,
it has become compulsory reading for any Homeric scholar.

As a strong supporter of the collegiate system, though not on the pattern of
Cambridge colleges, which he felt had too much power, he was Principal of
Bowland College from 1966, and a Pro-Vice-Chancellor from 1975 to 1979.

In 1980 Willcock took up the chair of Latin at University College, London.
Since his reputation was mainly as a Homerist, this met with some resistance
from the administration, but it was made clear that the appointment of such
a distinguished scholar and fine teacher equally at home in both languages
was a tremendous coup.

Here he published further important work on Homer and an edition of
Plautus's Pseudolus (1987), and served as Vice-Provost (1988-91).

In 1979 the publishers Aris and Phillips launched a series of brilliant
commentaries on Aristophanes in a brand new format, designed for serious
students with or without the languages - text with translation on the facing
page, and the commentary on the translation.

When it became clear that this was a successful format, Willcock was called
in to advise on expanding the range. He was the ideal man for the job, and
from then on acted as series consultant, reading and commenting on
everything, maintaining the highest standards of scholarly rigour and
clarity, and continuing the work when the series was taken over by Oxbow in
2002/3. It was typically quiet, unsung labour of the highest importance.

Willcock retired in 1991, but the publications continued to flow; an edition
of Cicero's letters and of Pindar's victory odes both made their mark in
1995, and in 2005 he co-authored Battle and Battle Description in Homer, a
translation of the work of a little-known 19th-century German scholar, Franz
Albracht, whose superb analysis of the fighting in the Iliad Willcock had
been instrumental in bringing to the attention of English scholars. A
quadruple heart by-pass in 2002 - surprising in one so fit - did little to
slow him down.

Self-effacing and always shunning the limelight himself, but keenly and
generously interested in others' doings, Willcock was a man whose high
principles and secure judgment made him a much-admired figure. His sudden
death from a stroke on May 2 came as a great shock to his friends and

Malcolm Willcock married Sheena Gourlay in 1957, and leaves four daughters.

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