R. J. Quinault

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The Independent Online
<p class="obit"> René James Quinault, teacher and broadcaster: born London 5 October 1913; MBE 1963; married 1940 Clare Taylor (died 1996; two sons); died London 13 November 2001.</p></p>R. J. Quinault ("Q" to friends and colleagues) was an outstanding linguist who between 1943 and his retirement 30 years later was a major force in turning the BBC into a leading teacher of the English language overseas. Born in London to an English mother and a French-speaking father, he delighted in the polyglot books of his French grandfather and said of his early childhood: "I loved studying maps and was much intrigued by the concepts of grammar and the various origins of words." These two passions stayed with him to the end.</p>One of the books that Quinault inherited from his grandfather was the Indicateur Chaix</i>, the French equivalent of Bradshaw, with which he planned imaginary and later real journeys, first to France and then across the German border.</p>Graduating in 1935 with a first class degree in French and German from University College London, he completed a year's teacher training and was working as a courier in the Rhineland when he was diagnosed as having tuberculosis. A skilful German doctor and the bracing regime of a Swiss sanatorium saved him and he returned to England just in time for the Second World War. The BBC was looking for people to monitor foreign-language broadcasts and took the young man on.</p>He had vivid memories of following the tall, striding figure of General de Gaulle down the corridors of Broadcasting House in 1940, where he had been trained to use the "switch censor" key, in the event of foreign speakers' departing from the agreed text ⓠan operation not apparently tried on the General.</p>By this time Quinault had taken an interest in other Germanic languages, so that when the Germans invaded Denmark, Norway and the Low Countries he began to work in their languages as well, particularly Norwegian, which was of crucial importance in keeping in touch with the Norwegian fishing fleet.</p>When the tide of the war began to turn in the Allies' favour in 1943, the Director of External Broadcasting, Ian Jacob, set up a new department called "English by Radio", directed at a world hungry to learn English, under the buccaneering leadership of Sydney Stevens. What Stevens needed was a linguist and a scholar who knew about teaching, and he found him in René Quinault, who became the department's first Programme Organiser, forming links with London University's Institute of Education and with all the big names in the new discipline of teaching English as a Foreign Language, such as Hornby, West, Eckersley and O'Connor.</p>"English by Radio", broadcasting from Bush House, soon became the biggest English-language school in the world. Here Quinault was in his element, hiring producers, speakers and actors, making sure good teaching and good broadcasting went together, collaborating with the language sections at Bush House in "Bilingual" English lessons and dreaming up the annual English Language Summer School when student-listeners from all over the world came to London to meet each other and some of the "voices" they knew so well and to explore British culture rather more intimately.</p>Meanwhile Quinault had never lost touch with his old college, becoming News Editor and Assistant Secretary to the UCL Old Students Association and, after his retirement from the BBC in 1973, through his association with Randolph Quirk, Honorary Research Fellow on the massive Survey of English Usage.</p>A shy man with a fastidiousness that could sometimes irritate, "Q" was, at heart, warm and generous, astonishingly open to new ideas and curious about new subjects though, as he recently told one of his grandsons, life was now too short for him to take a serious interest in chemistry. Nor, it appeared, in driving, whose art of clutch control he never entirely mastered.</p>In or out of his element, what sustained him for more than 45 years was his marriage to Clare Taylor, whom he had first met in the early Thirties when she served him ice-cream in Taylor's sweet-shop on Lisson Grove. When she died in 1996, he was temporarily knocked sideways but recovered to enjoy his hobbies, his linguistic and genealogical researches, his five grandchildren (two of whom followed him into EFL teaching), his four great-grandchildren and the Buckinghamshire cottage Clare had made so beautiful.</p>Piers Plowright</b> </p>