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Timothy Hemming, 1934-2011

15 September 2011

Timothy Hemming, the mainstay of medieval studies in the Department of French for many years, died on 11 August. John Parkin offers this tribute.

Timothy Dominic Hemming (universally known as Tim), who died suddenly at his home on 11 August, joined Bristol University in 1960 as Junior Fellow in the French Department, gaining full lecturer status three years later.

Born in 1934, he attended Long Eaton Grammar School, from where he moved in 1952 to Trinity College Oxford as a minor scholar, taking a first in Modern Languages in 1955. This was followed by graduate study, also at Trinity, but punctuated by his marriage to Anne to whom he remained devoted up to and beyond her own tragically early death in 1994.

Gaining his PhD in 1963, Tim became the mainstay of medieval studies within Bristol’s French Department, working in particular on narrative. He was promoted to a senior lectureship in 1985 and produced important editions of the Chanson de Roland (1993) and La Vie de Saint Alexis (1994) besides co-editing The Secular City, a Festschrift dedicated to his predecessor as Head of French, Professor Haydn Mason.

However, Tim’s activities in university administration were also very considerable, leading to his presidency of the Bristol AUT and his appointment as the first non-professorial head of French in 1994. Bereavement notwithstanding, he served in this capacity until his retirement in 1999, leading the department through an important transitional phase as it increased its research profile and achieved an excellent rating in the Teaching Quality Assurance process. 

A caring and responsive boss, deeply committed to the needs and ambitions of his staff, Tim set an excellent precedent among the new wave of elected heads. His teaching and tutorial work were remembered with great respect and affection by his pupils, not least because of his striking dress sense. His special subject on the Tristan theme was an imaginative and highly popular enterprise that involved material drawn from a range of literatures and cultural forms, and was punctuated annually by a minibus trip to Tintagel with himself at the wheel.

Otherwise, besides the introductory courses on Medieval French, he contributed effectively to the department’s first-year poetry unit, helping to produce a much-needed course anthology which sold widely outside Bristol, while a signal achievement was his doctoral supervision of Professor Alison Adams, whose subsequent career in Glasgow University has marked her as one of Europe’s leading contributors to emblem studies.

Outside the University, Tim was active in several areas, most especially choral work: he and Anne (who had enjoyed professional training as a singer) both performed in each other’s choirs, and he toured frequently with his singing companions. Latterly he divided his time between his home in Clifton and his flat in Paris, maintaining in both cities a wide circle of friends who appreciated his wit, intelligence, erudition, experience, and gourmet taste for food and wines, plus, incidentally, an outstanding ability at crossword-solving. In his time a genuine Bristol institution, he will be greatly missed by many of us who knew him, worked with him or were taught by him.

John Parkin