Obituary: Professor Roy Knight

ROY KNIGHT, who for 24 years until his retirement in 1974 was Professor of French at the University College of Swansea (now the University of Wales Swansea), was one of the leading scholars in the field of French 17th-century tragic drama.

After his early education in Bournemouth, where he was born, in 1926, he entered Oriel College, Oxford, as an exhibitioner, and characteristically combined a fine undergraduate career with coxing a successful Oriel eight and being active in the Dramatic Society and the Christian Union. He was a man who found his abiding interests, his values and his very varied enthusiasms early in life and remained true to them throughout his university career and his long retirement.

Graduating with first class honours in 1931, he became in the same year a temporary lecturer at Queen's College, where he subsequently held the Laming Travelling Fellowship before being appointed successively Assistant Lecturer (1933), Lecturer (1936) and Senior Lecturer (1948) at Birmingham University, during which period he saw war service, including time at the intelligence code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park.

When he took the Chair in Swansea in 1950, the Department of French was small. What it lacked in size, it soon made up for in quality. Three factors were instrumental in this: Knight's own scholarship, his skills as an inspiring teacher and the astute appointments he made - all three of Knight's appointments in the 1950s were later to fill chairs themselves.

What united Knight's Swansea department academically was the belief that the greatest service a teacher can perform is to help the student to understand a work of literature by paying close attention to linguistic precision as the only sound basis for appreciation. The basic approach was described and justified in a series of telling articles and in the much-consulted Advice to the Student of French (1955), written in collaboration with F.W.A. George. The department's success is proved by the number of its graduates who went on to make highly successful careers in schools and universities all over the world.

Yet Knight was no empire builder, believing that an essential element of a worthwhile university education was the close contact, both social and academic, between teacher and student. He did, however, cherish breadth of learning, so championed the introduction of Italian and Spanish at Swansea, as well as advocating diversification within the Arts Faculty as expansion took place in the 1960s, and was particularly proud to be Head of the newly created Department of Romance Studies.

Knight's scholarly reputation was made by the publication of his French doctoral thesis, Racine et la Grece (1951 - a work he often claimed that nobody but he himself had ever got the whole way through) and consolidated by his many articles and reviews. Some of his most characteristic achievements as a scholar and teacher are however to be found in his editions of plays by Racine and Corneille and in his translations of the "untranslatable" Racine, the last of which appeared this year thanks to the efforts of his old friend and collaborator Harry Barnwell.

Knight's academic status was recognised by the French government when it created him Chevalier (1956), then Officier (1968) in l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques and Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur (1960). His sphere of influence expanded further still when he received a special Commonwealth Award to act as Professor of French for two years between 1965 and 1968 at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Civil war prevented him serving his full term but he put the French section on a sound footing, created the opportunity for several Nigerian postgraduates to come to study under his supervision in the UK and was able to return as Visiting Professor for a term after his retirement, much to the great pleasure of his hosts and his own delight.

He played an active part in his university's affairs (not shirking stints as Dean, 1960-62, and Vice-Principal, 1962-64) and nationally, becoming President of the Society for French Studies, 1962-64, and Chairman of the Association of University Professors of French, 1971-73. This he did not because he was a natural administrator but out of his profound belief in the Christian ideals of service and his sense of responsibility as a natural democrat: as he said on the occasion of the presentation of his Festschrift in 1977, "The price of liberty is eternal meetings. And none of us, I think, would have it otherwise." His democratic impulses did not always endear him to some colleagues and administrators of a more hierarchical, authoritarian cast of mind.

The same sense of duty also marked his involvement in local church affairs. With his wife Ena, he formed a formidable team until her too early death in 1967. They were both deeply involved in the planning of the new parish church of All Souls in Swansea, and became founder members of the congregation. Roy later became its historian. He was extremely proud when his son, Andrew, chose to enter the ministry and he was especially pleased when he learned that Andrew's first post was to be in Llanwrtyd Wells where they used to go pony-trekking.

Roy and Ena Knight were also promoters of artistic cinema and drama (the French department's annual play was a highlight of the academic year), and Roy's sketching ability (sketching his colleagues was his way of surviving meetings) developed into an interest in portraiture in oils through his involvement with Swansea Arts Society, whose historian he also became.

Even after a major stroke in 1988 he continued to write, publish and socialise, and it was only in the late 1990s that, sadly for his family, friends and colleagues, he became inactive. With his dry wit, his academic's absent-mindedness, his propensity to confuse names and his unnerving ability to drive his car while facing the person in the back seat he was talking to, few have engendered, in colleagues and students alike, such great affection and gratitude for many kindnesses, as well as such profound respect, both as a scholar and a man.

Roy Clement Knight, French scholar: born Bournemouth, Hampshire 10 April 1907; Assistant Lecturer, Birmingham University 1933-36, Lecturer 1936- 48, Senior Lecturer 1948-50; Professor of French, University College of Swansea 1950-1974 (Emeritus); married 1933 Ena Stanbury (died 1967; one son); died Swansea 16 June 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

booksReview: Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments