Obituary: Professor Roger Walker

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The Independent Culture
ROGER WALKER was one of Hispanism's most distinguished medievalists, and one of the academic community's most able and respected administrators.

His research in Spanish medieval studies focused on the epic, the romance and hagiography, his publications including a large number of articles on the Poema de mio Cid, a book on El Libro del Cavallero Zifar, and editions of El Cavallero Placidas and the Estoria de Santa Maria Egiciaca. Here his work was characterised by a common-sense approach and the ruthless demolition of some of the more nationalistic brands of medieval scholarship previously rife, and still not entirely dead, in Spain.

One thinks particularly of his pragmatic view of the Cid as bourgeois hero, and of his brilliant inaugural lecture insisting that many of the anomalies of Spanish medieval literature can be explained by seven centuries of Arab cultural presence in the peninsula: a presence which Hispanists in Spain have, until recently, consistently downgraded, if not ignored.

Walker's concern with meticulous scholarship led him to study Arabic in order to acquire first-hand knowledge of Spain's Islamic heritage. His broad knowledge of the European medieval literary tradition, particularly that of France and Portugal, was also evident in much of his work.

He co-authored Cassell's compact Spanish-English, English-Spanish Dictionary (1969), edited Spanish hagiographical texts, and wrote about a range of Spanish epic and lyric literature. His other research specialism was 16th- and 17th- century Portuguese literature, particularly the work of Cames (he contributed to collections on Cames and wrote various articles). He was thus the perfect person to be chosen to catalogue the papers, held in Valence House Museum in Dagenham, of Sir Richard Fanshawe: man of letters and ambassador to Spain and Portugal in the 17th century.

This labour, undertaken in collaboration with the historian W.H. Liddell of Birkbeck College, occupied the last years of his life. Although he was frustrated in his attempt to complete this work in the short span of time he knew was left to him, with characteristic professionalism he succeeded in leaving it in a sufficiently advanced state for the work to be completed after his death.

Born in Huddersfield, Roger Walker incarnated all the positive features of the Yorkshireman stereotype: down to earth, sensible, straight-talking, and above all jovial and a lover of the good things in life. After a distinguished student track record at Manchester University (where he read French and Spanish), he was appointed to an Assistant Lectureship at Bristol University at the age of 23. Two years later in 1963 he was appointed Lecturer in Spanish at Birkbeck College, London University, to which he devoted the rest of his working life, as Reader from 1972, Professor of Spanish Medieval Studies from 1980 and, most notably, as Vice-Master from 1988 to 1993.

To many, Walker will be remembered primarily for his clear thinking and fair-mindedness as an administrator: qualities that made him a popular choice as first Head of the Centre for Language and Literature at Birkbeck in 1987, and a year later for the post of Vice- Master. In both posts, he secured universal respect, and his even-handed but no-nonsense approach allowed him to implement new structures without making enemies: a rare achievement. He also served on numerous London University committees, including its Academic Council and Senate. His administrative talents were recognised on a national level through his work for the Modern Humanities Research Association, on whose committee he served continuously since 1974. He became Hispanic Editor of the Modern Language Review in 1980, serving as its General Editor from 1985 to 1993.

As editor of the MHRA Style Book, the guide to authorial style and presentation most widely used in the UK, he left his mark on scholarship in all fields of the Humanities. Elected a Life Member of MHRA in 1994, he was also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (since 1983) and of the Royal Historical Society (since 1994), and served as President of the British branch of the Societe Rencesvals (1988-91) and of the London Medieval Society (1988- 92).

His major professional and personal achievement was perhaps as a member of the Spanish panel for the first Research Selectivity Exercise in 1989, chair of the Research Assessment Exercise panel for French, Spanish, Russian and European Studies in 1992, and chair of the RAE panel for Spanish in 1995. Thanks to his reputation for fair-mindedness and good sense, the results of these exercises were received by his colleagues in the field of Hispanism with a notable lack of acrimony, confirming the trust and respect with which he was regarded by the profession in an age of increasing competitiveness.

Roger Michael Walker, Hispanist: born Huddersfield, Yorkshire 25 July 1938; Assistant Lecturer, Bristol University 1961-63; Lecturer, Birkbeck College, London University 1963-72, Reader 1972-80, Professor of Spanish Medieval Studies 1980-99, Vice-Master 1988-93; married 1960 Patricia Eccles (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1980); died Colchester, Essex 11 January 1999.