Obituary: Professor J. M. Cook

Click to follow
The Independent Online
John Manuel Cook, ancient historian and classical archaeologist: born 11 December 1910; Assistant in Humanity and Lecturer in Classical Archaeology, Edinburgh University 1936-46; Director of British School of Archaeology at Athens 1946-54; Professor of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology, Bristol University 1958-76, Dean, Faculty of Arts, 1966-68, Pro-Vice Chancellor 1972-75; FBA 1974; married 1939 Enid Robertson (died 1976; two sons), 1977 Nancy Law; died Stirling 2 January 1994.

J. M. COOK had a lovable personality, a dry humour and remarkable ability in scholarship and administration. He was Director of the British school of Archaeology at Athens from 1946 to 1954 and Professor of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology at Bristol University from 1958 to 1976.

If John Cook put his hand to a task, whether in peace or in war, he spared no effort to carry it out in an exemplary manner. At the same time he had an innate modesty and an easy touch in dealing with others, which was due to his genuine concern for their well-being.

Born the second son of the Rev CR Cook in 1910, John was educated at Marlborough College and gained a scholarship to King's College, Cambridge, to read Classics in 1930. There he distinguished himself particularly as a linguist, winning the Sir William Browne Gold Medal for a Greek Ode and the Members' Prize for a Latin Essay, and he chose to spend two years in preparation for his special subject, Archaeology, in Part II of the Classical Tripos.

Then came two most enjoyable years at the British School of Archaeology, where he studied early Attic pottery, travelled widely, ascending Mount Olympus, learnt modern Greek, and made a number of lifelong friendships. In those days there was no pressure to take a higher degree. One educated oneself as one pleased. When the studentship he had won at King's College came to an end in 1936, he took a post as Assistant to the Professor in Humanities at Edinburgh University and in 1938 became the Lecturer in Classical Archaeology.

His war service started in 1942 in the Royal Scots, from which he was called for interview with a distinguished classical archaeologist, Stanley Casson, who arranged his transfer to the Intelligence Corps. In 1943 he volunteered for service in occupied Greece as an Officer of the British Military Mission. Life with the Andartes, whether of EDES or ELAS - and Cook had experience with both organisations - was rough and tough, and he had the advantages of a strong physique, little concern for comfort and and a ready understanding of Greek ways. He was highly successful, operating in southern Epirus and the Valtos, until a civil war between the two organisations put a stop to British operations until March 1944.

By then he was suffering from malaria, and in view of his health he was put in charge of a secret landing-ground at Neraidha. By day it was covered with green scrub, and at night the scrub was removed for an aircraft to land. Cook had the thrill of bringing in an aeroplane which was using the previous day's signal. It proved to be landing a party of Russian Officers as a Mission to ELAS only, in breach of the Yalta Agreement. He entertained them royally. Another visitor was less welcome, a regular Brigadier, who landed to inspect the Mission and found the beards and whiskers of Cook and his men unsightly and unsoldierly. Cook continued with the Mission until November 1944, when he returned to England. But his services were needed in liberated Greece. He returned as the Antiquities Officer, and he oversaw the conservation of sites and reopening of museums.

Cook's wide experience of Greek life under varied conditions and his expertise in Greek archaeology made him the ideal choice for the Directorship of the British School of Archaeology, which he held from 1946 to 1954. He and his wife Enid made it an oasis of peace in war-torn Athens. He re-established the school as a centre of learning and research, interested himself in the work of the students, and excavated 'Old Smyrna' on the Turkish coast with exciting results; for he confirmed as accurate the traditional early date of Greek settlement there. He left to his successors a legacy of good relations with Greek and Turkish archaeologists alike.

Cook moved to Bristol University as a lecturer before taking over the Chair of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology in 1958. During that time he published reports on Smyrna, and books on Ionia and the East and on the Troad, which he explored thoroughly on foot; and these led to his election as a Fellow of the British Academy in 1974. He took a full part in university administration as Dean of Arts and Pro-Vice-Chancellor, always with a helping hand to the underdog. In the Classics Department he bequeathed a distinguished archaeological section, thanks partly to his brilliance in making appointments.

During his retirement in Edinburgh he published The Persian Empire (1985) and contributed chapters to The Cambridge History of Iran and The Cambridge Ancient History. When his health declined, he read widely, sunk in a deep armchair and deriving comfort from his pipe, and he enjoyed the company of friends. His fruitful life was crowned by the happiness he shared with Enid, and after her death with his second wife, her best friend, Nancy, and his two sons.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments