- Professor (Thomas) Douglas Macpharlain Gifford MA, PhD, FRSE 1940–2020
Douglas Gifford grew up in Glasgow, attending Hillhead High School, and spent some of his boyhood also in Orkney and elsewhere in Scotland due to his father being a locum doctor. His mother was a teacher of children with special educational needs, and he contemplated a career in school-teaching himself with a brief period as an uncertificated teacher in the highlands before becoming an academic. A first-class honours MA in English Language and Literature from the University of Glasgow led to a Balliol scholarship at the University of Oxford where Douglas was not entirely happy, largely due to his view that his supervisor and other English faculty members cared nothing and knew even less about nineteenth-century Scottish fiction to which he was increasingly drawn as an under-researched area of scholarship. Many of his happiest times in Oxford were spent running, a talent which he pursued for well over fifty years and only gave up when diagnosed a few years ago with a heart arrhythmia, a common occurrence in long-term runners. Douglas’s early talent on the field (especially in cross-country events) in the lean post-war years during the early fifties was rewarded when the young athlete won a race and with it the prize of a turkey (‘nearly as big as me,’ he later remembered). This brought particular cheer to the Gifford family that Christmas, where as ever he enjoyed the close company of his younger brother Hugo. Hugo Gifford would go on to found the Strathclyde Theatre Group at the University of Strathclyde, where he was also that institution’s first Director of Drama. Hugo’s death tragically early from natural causes in 1981 was obviously a sore blow to Douglas. Like Hugo, Douglas had distinct performative talent and with his fine voice the elder sibling seriously considered a career as a singer in his youth. Through the seventies and eighties especially, Douglas’s mellifluous voice could frequently be heard on radio and television discussing Scottish Literature, reviewing new books and events at the Edinburgh Festival. [End Page 167]
Douglas taught at the University of Strathclyde from 1967, while continuing work on a PhD thesis on James Hogg at the University of Glasgow in which he opened up new directions in the exploration of Hogg and the contemporary periodical press and within both the contexts of literary and traditional culture. He had joined a nascent English Studies department under the headship of I. F. Clarke who encouraged his staff to be generalists in their teaching as student demand soared in that post-Robbins time with the ensuing expansion of the UK university sector. This suited the capaciously-minded Douglas who could be found through the years teaching Shakespeare, Thackeray, Ibsen, Joyce and much else. Unsurprisingly Douglas especially developed courses in Scottish Literature that took advantage of new directions in scholarship – his own and that of others who were appearing in that same powerful generation: the pioneers of the Scottish Literature scholarly-area in the sixties and seventies. At Strathclyde, Douglas was at the centre of an impressive academic group with interests in Scottish Literature, which included colleagues, Mike Bath, Andrew Noble, Ken Simpson and Joyce Wilson. In that period, it was Douglas, to a large extent, who built up much of the extensive Scottish Literature resource at the Andersonian (Strathclyde) library. He also pioneered the study of the Glasgow novel during his Strathclyde years, exemplified by an excellent essay Dear Green Place: The Novel in the West of Scotland published by the Third Eye Centre in 1985.
During his time at Strathclyde down to 1987, and thereafter at the University of Glasgow where he joined as Senior Lecturer, was made Reader and then Professor, Douglas enthralled (no exaggeration) many generations of students with his habitual tour de force eloquence and – most especially in his scholarly specialism – an encyclopaedic turn of mind. In 1987 Douglas was enticed to the University of Glasgow by Rod Lyall, becoming a third member of staff in the Department of Scottish Literature, whose first head had been Douglas’s PhD supervisor, the poet Alexander Scott, after...