Professor Graham Rees

Scholar and inspirational teacher celebrated for his editing of Francis Bacon

In January this year the scholar Graham Rees was awarded an OBE. "So what was your OBE for?" his nurse asked him a few days before he died. "Services to pedantry," he told her.

The joke renders the man. Firstly in that he could have mustered the spirit to make a joke at all at such a time, secondly in that the last person he ever exempted from the mordancy of his wit was himself. In fact, he was one of those scholars who give pedantry a good name. The great scholastic project which he had for many years directed and which must now go on without him – a 15-volume critical edition of the works of the philosopher and essayist Francis Bacon – is widely held to be, on the evidence of the six volumes so far published, four edited by Rees himself, a model of the most scrupulous and enthusiastic erudition. I have seen fellow-scholars quite beside themselves with excitement about the meticulousness of his editing, the quality of his translations from the Latin, his grasp of Bacon's "philosophical lexicon", and this in an academic world not renowned for its generosity of spirit.

I first met Graham in 1974 in Wolverhampton, at whose Polytechnic we both found ourselves teaching English. For six years we shared a rathole of a room – more a broom cupboard than an office – halfway up a staircase that connected Languages for Business and History. Here, with our knees touching, we wrote lectures, marked essays, gave individual tuition, smoked, snoozed and kept each other going with sardonic observations on a town and institution neither of us could believe we had landed up in.

Graham called Wolverhampton his Babylonian Exile. I called him my saviour. He showed me how you could satirise an institution without ever giving less than your best to its students or departing from the highest ideals of teaching. The more fatuous the directives that floated down to us regarding the importance of keeping our work "relevant" to a post-industrial community, and the necessity of eschewing élitism, the more determinedly Graham stuck to his conviction that teaching is about opening a world of thought to students, not depriving them of it. Students appreciated the respect he showed them: his lectures on the Philosophy of Science were probably the best attended of any at the Polytechnic.

He was not someone you expected to find in such a place. Though he had himself studied English at Birmingham he looked an Oxbridge man. His build was that of the attenuated ascetic, his demeanour ironic, his voice extruded. There was a measured precision in him which might well have frightened students off had he not been possessed of a wonderful laugh, with which he was never frugal, and the most sociable of dispositions. He loved learning but he loved life more. He could have passed for a man of God – in whom he did not believe – but also for a Restoration rake. He drank Banks' Bitter by the gallon and indulged me in endless games of lunchtime snooker that often spilled over into the afternoon without either of us potting a ball. Never before or since have I seen anyone discuss Bacon's epistemology while chalking a cue. That no man ever looked more out of place at a snooker table he knew and relished, though he enjoyed the advantage his great height gave him of never needing to employ a rest.

Looking out of place, particularly in his own body, was something he enjoyed playing up to. He tried country living for a while, dressing himself up in a squire's outfit and buying a rifle. I spent a Sunday morning shooting on his "estate". Neither of us knew how to load or aim a rifle or had any taste for killing. We shot the grass for half an hour, Graham starting at the report of his own rifle, then repaired to the local. His friends, similarly, tell of his reluctance to go near water. He neither swam nor sunbathed and was rarely seen, whatever the weather, in anything other than a green corduroy suit. Holidaying in France once, and growing increasingly exasperated by people urging him to dip at least a toe into the water, he walked fully clothed into the pool, shoes and hat and all, allowing the water to cover him completely, and emerging only, as though from a tutorial, when he had given everyone a scare.

If his later years were marred by illness, they were also his happiest, in part because he had slipped the springes of the West Midlands and been appointed to a chair in the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary, University of London, but chiefly because of his partnership with Maria Wakely, a Joycean whom he met at Wolverhampton, converted to Francis Bacon, and married in 1995. Up until the hour of his death they were completing a joint project – a history of the creation of a national culture through the printed word, to be published in November under the title Publishing, Politics and Culture: The King's Printers in the Reign of James I and VI.

With Maria, Graham enjoyed a rare reciprocity of intellectual fervour and personal devotion. Happy is the man in whom the love of work and the love of a woman are so perfectly fused.

Howard Jacobson

Graham Charles Rees, scholar: born Salisbury 31 December 1944; Assistant Lecturer in English, Shenstone New College, 1969–72; Part-time tutor, Open University, 1971–81; Lecturer in English, 1972–74, Senior Lecturer, 1974–98, Wolverhampton Polytechnic and University; Research Professor of English, Queen Mary, University of London, since 1998; Fellow, British Academy, 2005; OBE 2009; married firstly Elizabeth Warren (one daughter), secondly Julie Chance, 1995 Maria Wakely (two stepchildren); died London 23 July 2009.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

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
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam