Obituary: W. A. Camps

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The Independent Online
The election of William Anthony Camps to the mastership of Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1970 was a fitting recognition of his quiet but all-pervasive influence at Pembroke over many years and crowned his career in the college he first entered as an undergraduate from Marlborough in 1928.

The son of a surgeon, Tony Camps came to Pembroke as a classical scholar. He was elected to a fellowship in 1933 at the early age of 23, and six years later was appointed a university lecturer. During the Second World War, he was one of the brilliant minds recruited by the Civil Service for special duties with the Ministry of Economic Warfare, but apart from this interlude, his life and talents were devoted to Pembroke.

From 1947 till 1962, Camps was the college's Senior Tutor in Classics, and also responsible for admissions. His insistence on high academic standards ensured that Pembroke got its share of top- quality candidates. He also welcomed able postgraduate students, many of them from overseas, and in 1963 he was appropriately appointed tutor for advanced students.

His talents were appreciated in America, as attested by invitations to visiting professorships in Toronto - which bore fruit in his book on Homer (An Introduction to Homer, 1980) - North Carolina and Princeton. This exposure was also responsible for widening the field from which Pembroke drew postgraduate students.

Camps, Meredith Dewey, the Dean, and Bill Hutton, the Bursar, were a formidable but genial triumvirate who made dining at the Pembroke high table a stimulating and entertaining experience, while at the same time holding the reins of the college firmly, guiding it the way it should go.

When, in 1970, Camps came to the mastership of the college he loved it was not the easiest time in Cambridge - for example, student disturbances arose - but he was well endowed to weather the storm. A combination of wisdom, tact, steadiness and humour enabled him to see Pembroke through those difficult years and even to profit from them. His views were not always universally supported and he was certainly not afraid to maintain an unpopular stand when he was convinced in himself that he was right (for instance, he did not support the admission of women to the college), but his devotion to the college and his concern for its welfare were so patent that no one could doubt the sincerity and integrity of his position.

Those who attended Camps's classical supervisions were a privileged band, for he combined a demand for meticulous accuracy with a rare sense of style. His teaching was based on the authority of the original texts and they were his constant points of reference rather than other commentaries. But none of this prevented him from gentle self-mockery of the scholarly profession. He delighted in quoting dictionary definitions - not necessarily substantiated - such as the description of a Homeric delicacy as "a mess of cheese and honey, a haggis", the latter to gain a rise from his pupils from the North.

His university lectures introduced these gifts to a wider audience, and, although he was handicapped by a hesitation in his speech, he never let it worry him with the result that it did not bother his listeners. Indeed they would affectionately adopt the pronunciation "Hacero" which was his way of getting round his problem with "Cicero". In particular, his lectures on Homer and Virgil attracted students, and the two poets were later the subjects of books (in 1980 and 1969 respectively) which he modestly called "Introductions" but which were really much more.

In the 1960s he also edited a four-volume series of the works of the poet Propertius with typical detailed care. They were perhaps fairly described by the publisher as conservative, but in fact this made them particularly useful to undergraduates and sixth-formers, though there was plenty of meat for the more advanced student. With his innate modesty, and in keeping with his emphasis on the importance of the text, Camps wrote in a preface that "the poetry will be found in the poems themselves, and the reader is warned not to look for it in my part of the book, which is dry stuff".

He followed the further careers of his students with encouragement and advice (which sometimes went beyond mere persuasion) when their studies took them in different directions, and nothing gave him more delight than the appointment of one of his stars, Malcolm Lyons, as the Sir Thomas Adams Professor of Arabic at Cambridge in 1985.

In the post-war years in Paris, he became acquainted, through a fortuitous confusion of mail deliveries based on the similarity of their names, with Miriam Camp, who had served with considerable distinction in the United States Foreign Service. They were married in 1953 and she was a splendid support to him at the Master's Lodge.

Tony and Miriam Camps retired to Little Abingdon, where friends were always sure of a warm welcome. But Tony's eyesight and general health began to fail and he was increasingly dependent on Miriam who devoted herself to his care and comfort. It was then one of life's ironies that she should predecease him. He took the loss hard but carried on bravely for a couple of years in a nursing home.

William Anthony Camps, classical scholar: born 28 December 1910; Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge 1970-81; married 1953 Miriam Camp (died 1994); died Cambridge 17 January 1997.