Professor Ian McFarlane

Born: 7 November, 1915 in Newcastle.

Died: 17 August, 2002 in St Andrews, aged 86

IAN McFarlane was a distinguished linguist who believed that an ability to speak languages broadened the mind and enhanced one’s outlook on life.

Back in the Fifties that was not so accepted as it is today. Professor McFarlane, through his writing and teaching, brought a new vitality to languages and certainly released much of the drudgery then associated with the process.

His own enthusiasm helped, but his personal love of life in several languages encouraged many students to lose their inhibitions and talk freely - if not always accurately. Apart from writing several academic books in French, Prof McFarlane was also responsible for a comprehensive account of the life and works of the Scottish humanist, George Buchanan.

Ian Dalrymple McFarlane’s father came from an old Scottish family, but he was born in Newcastle. His education, for the Thirties, might be considered adventurous. Firstly, he went to a Marseilles lyce, then on to Westminster to read classics.

He decided to give up classics in his final year and concentrate on languages. His French was already fluent and to perfect his German he went every summer to Germany.

Each summer the restrictions and horrors of the Nazi regime grew worse and concerned him greatly, but in 1935 he went up to St Andrews to read modern languages. He took a first-class degree with honours in 1938 and immediately joined the First Battalion of the Black Watch. He was dispatched to France, but was caught up in the retreat to Dunkirk.

Prof McFarlane was among those stranded on the beaches and he and his men surrendered. He spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war and his linguistic knowledge proved invaluable. In 1945 he was made a military MBE.

For two years after the war he was a lecturer at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, but then read for a doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris. However, he did not forsake teaching and brought Caius into the forefront as a modern language college.

His renown was spreading through the academic world and although he was appointed senior tutor at Caius in 1956, he accepted the post of Professor of French language and literature at St Andrews in 1961.

Prof McFarlane was pleased to return to his old university and was well aware that the language department needed some careful attention. He reconstructed the syllabus and revised the list of novels, plays and books. He encouraged students to speak and write in French and also introduced discussion about other aspects of French life. Cooking, wine, films and music were all included: Prof McFarlane enjoyed French music from Rameau to Messiaen - who he had heard playing the organ at St Sulpice in Paris.

During this time Prof McFarlane served with distinction on several Scottish academic committees. In 1964 he was a member of the Scottish Certificate Education Board and two years later joined the Academic Planning Board for the University of Stirling.

A new chair was created for him at Wadham College in Oxford in 1971. It gave McFarlane time to concentrate on research and writing, and by 1974 he published his detailed book on the French Renaissance. Then in 1981 he brought out his remarkable study of the renowned humanist Buchanan.

Prof McFarlane retired in 1983, but often returned to St Andrews. In his last few years this modest, studious man was given many honours from academia. Several from France plus an honorary degree from Caius and a Fellowship of the British Academy. But what gave him the greatest pleasure was an honorary DLitt from St Andrews in 1982.

Mac - as he was known to colleagues and students alike - was an avid writer. He completed several manuscripts on French poetry but also, most intriguingly, an account of his war years which he wrote 40 years ago.

An abiding passion was cricket and apart from being an avid watcher, he also was a beguiling spin bowler. He was forever organising spontaneous games in the prison camp (to the Germans’ total confusion) and enjoyed an annual needle encounter on the West Sands at St Andrews (weather conditions immaterial) when the exams were all finished.

Prof McFarlane married Marjory Hamilton in 1939. She and their daughter pre-deceased him and he is survived by their son.