Obituary: Professor Duncan McMillan

Duncan McMillan, philologist: born London 1914; Lecteur d'anglais, University of Paris 1938-40; served Army 1940- 46; Lecturer in French and Romance Philology, Aberdeen University 1946-50; Lecturer in French, Edinburgh University 1950-55, John Orr Professor of French Language and Romance Linguistics 1955-80 (Emeritus); founder member, Societe Internationale Rencesvals 1955, President, British branch 1956-59; Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur 1958; founder member, council, Societe des anciens textes francais 1963; member, council Societe de Linguistique romane 1977-83; married 1945 Genevieve Busse (one son); died Moulins, France 1 June 1993.

DUNCAN McMILLAN was an extrovert in philology, a subject frequently seen as a byword for mustiness.

Born in London in 1914 of Scottish parents, McMillan was educated at St Dunstan's College, Catford, and University College London, where his academic excellence was signalled by a Troughton Scholarship and a Rothschild Prize. Along with his academic work went an enthusiasm for sport, and his playing of water polo stands as a mark of the combative and gritty side of his nature. Following his BA he prepared a Ph D at University College, studying two British Museum manuscripts of the epic poem 'Les Enfances Guillaume', before going to the Sorbonne on a Clothmakers Scholarship. There and at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, whose diploma he gained in the same year, 1938, as he gained his doctorate, he studied under the pre-war luminaries of French philology, Mario Roques, Clovis Brunel and Charles Samaran. It was also in Paris that he met his future wife, Genevieve Busse, whom he married in 1945 and who is herself a considerable scholar of modern French language and literature.

His academic career was interrupted by service in the Army during the Second World War. On demobilisation in 1946 he was appointed to a lectureship at Aberdeen University, moving from there to Edinburgh University in 1950. In Edinburgh he worked under the great Scottish exponent of Romance philology John Orr, to whose chair of French Language and Romance Philology he was appointed on the latter's retirement in 1955.

He served as professor and head of the French Deparment from 1955 to 1969 and from then until his own retirement in 1981 as head of the Department of Romance Linguistics. He was elected Emeritus Professor in 1982.

Among a long list of publications devoted to his two specialist areas of historical linguistics and Old French epic his editions of La Chanson de Guillaume (1949-50) and Le Charroi de Nimes (1972) stand out, and it was on a third poem from the same cycle that he was working before his death. His love of this poetry led to his being a founder member of the Societe Internationale Rencesvals in 1955; from 1956 to 1959 he was President of the British branch of the society who recognised his service to the discipline with a volume of essays in 1984. His contribution to French medieval studies had already been rewarded by his election to the Council of the Societe des Anciens Textes Francais in 1963. His was not a 'cloistered' mind, however, and he maintained a lively interest in contemporary France, its language and culture, an interest manifest in his publishing jointly, with his wife, An Anthology of the Contemporary French Novel (1950). This broader role in disseminating French culture was recognised by his appointment as Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur in 1958. As a head of department, too, he was forward-looking, instituting a pioneering joint honours degree in French and European Institutions.

As a colleague McMillan was generous and unstinting of his support where he felt it merited, but his outspoken abrasiveness inevitably made him enemies. A flamboyant figure in the city as well as in the university he could frequently be seen at the opera and theatre sporting black velvet jacket and McMillan tartan trews. The last years of his life were dogged by ill-health, which he confronted with a 'nil carborundum' brand of humour, remarking, following a severe hip operation, that he could no longer fly to conferences as his mere presence in the terminal set off the security alarm. He did continue to attend and address conferences, however, using his elbow crutch like an epic blade to extend the rhetorical flourish of his right arm.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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 People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

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
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect