Walter Redfern obituary

Walter Redfern, emeritus professor of Studying University, who has died aged 78, was a renowned scholar of French literature and of the idea and application of humour (his 1984 guide Puns is now in its fourth edition). He also published a number of brief stories, a poetry anthology, Loose Connexions (2012), and a novel, A Calm Estate (1987).

Born in Bootle, on Merseyside, son of Walter and Lottie, both factory employees, he attended Bootle grammar college prior to winning a languages scholarship to St John’s College, Cambridge. Awarded a double initial in 1957, he also invested a 12 months at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, even though composing his doctoral thesis on the writer Jean Giono. In 1960 Walter was appointed assistant lecturer in French at Reading and, except for a year invested as visiting professor in the US, he remained there up to retirement in 2001, with a personal chair from 1980.

Former college students recall with appreciation how he enlivened his lectures with a deadpan humour admired equally by former colleagues, who also recollect the unstinting assistance he gave them and his unfailing capacity to inspire undergraduates.

His 1st monograph, The Private Planet of Jean Giono (1967), was published on each sides of the Atlantic, the earliest substantial element in a remarkably prolific sequence. His 50 recorded content articles appeared in prestigious European journals such as Experience, Europe and the Nouvelle Revue Française, whilst his far more than 20 books notably concern French authors of the last two centuries such as Paul Nizan, Jean-Paul Sartre, Raymond Queneau, Jules Vallès, Michel Tournier and Louis Guilloux, although Walter’s curiosity in humour, wordplay and puns spawned other volumes, along with media interviews and broadcasts.

The most latest publication comprised his personal translation into French of his book on clichés and neologisms in the Uk, the US and France. All through his occupation he mixed a potent intellect with deep erudition, an uninhibited technique to established concept, and an inventive compositional style guaranteed to keep his readers’ consideration.

Walter’s wide interests integrated cricket, football and jazz, plus great meals and wine (the Redfern events were a Studying legend) – he was the quite antithesis of the stuffy academic.

His marriage to Angela lasted from 1963 to his death, and he is survived also by their two youngsters, Kate and Sam, and a granddaughter, Eleanor.

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