Lives Remembered: Ben Fisher

The academic and railway historian Ben Fisher, who has died unexpectedly aged 45, was in some ways a figure from a past age, in others a man with his face set very firmly towards the future.

The son of Roy Fisher, the poet and musician, and the former Barbara Venables, he grew up mainly on the university campus at Keele. Rather than continue at Cambridge, where he read Modern and Medieval Languages at Selwyn College, for his PhD, he chose instead to go to Bangor, where he stayed for the rest of his life, moving seamlessly from research student to Lecturer in French to Head of Department and, by the time of his death, its longest-serving staff member. Congenial as he found colleagues and students, Ben happily admitted that the move was influenced as much by the number of preserved narrow gauge steam railways nearby.

Ben was sceptical of transient critical theories and careerist academic job-hoppers; his concern as a teacher was simply to help his students learn French language, literature and cinema as well as possible. That didn't consist only or primarily of chalking up Firsts; the number of tributes after Ben's death from students who wouldn't have completed their degrees at all without his going the extra mile for them said far more.

An inspiring, idiosyncratic and very funny teacher – a post on his students' Facebook page describes a class that had to be stopped when Ben became helpless with silent laughter – his lateral thinking with new technologies also made an immeasurable contribution to the School of Modern Languages at Bangor, perhaps most significantly as the co-developer (with Adrian Ritchie) of the UK's first digital language laboratory, and director of the Multimedia Language Centre which grew out of it. His interest in technology was at the forefront of his research activity in the 1990s when he took part in and then directed the ESTEL project which brought multilingual satellite television into classrooms all over Wales.

Ben's PhD was on the work of the complex, often irreverent French avant-garde writer, Alfred Jarry. The volume was published by Liverpool University Press as The Pataphysician's Library (2000) and received a string of highly complimentary reviews. Ben continued to work in this field with a series of articles in major journals covering a variety of often under-researched authors of the avant-garde. At the time of his death he was embarking on a new project – a French Symbolist Reader.

Ben's other publishing project, , has been a public work in progress for 10 years: the official website of the rebuilding of the Welsh Highland Railway, the 26-mile narrow gauge line connecting Caernarfon and Porthmadog, skirting Snowdon, which closed in 1937. Detailing every stage of this massive undertaking, Ben's now majestic site became and remains one of the most visited of its kind in the world, with literally millions of hits.

Since Ben didn't live to see the line's re-opening, due in 2010, his ashes will travel on the first through train from Caernarfon to Porthmadog instead: his site and photographs are also to be published in book form under the title Welsh Highland Adventure.

Carol Tully

Benjamin James Valentine Fisher, lecturer in French and railway historian: born Birmingham 3 September 1963; died Bangor, Gwynedd 13 August 2009.

If you would like to contribute an obituary of a friend, colleague or family member, please send a piece of no more than 500 words to Obituaries, 'The Independent', 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF, by fax to 020 7005 2399 or by email to We reserve the right to edit copy for length and style.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
David Silva strokes home his and City's second goal
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas