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geoffrey arnott

Colin A Johnson, MA

We are very sorry to let members know that Mr Colin Johnson, former Senior Lecturer in the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies, died on 30 May 2012.

Colin Johnson was born in 1936 and attended Wolstanton County Grammar School, Newcastle-under-Lyme.  In 1954, he was awarded a State Scholarship in French, German and Latin but his entry to University was delayed by two years’ National Service with the Royal Artillery, the Royal Signals and the Intelligence Corps.  He was introduced to Russian during this period, learning the language at the Joint Services School for Linguists (JSSL) in Bodmin and going on to serve in West Germany and Berlin.  In 1956, he went up to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he read French and Russian. 

Colin came to Leeds in 1961, when he was appointed to a temporary assistant lectureship in what was then the Department of Russian Language and Literature.  His appointment was made permanent in the following year and he was subsequently promoted to Lecturer in 1964 and to Senior Lecturer in 1979.  An excellent teacher, he had particular interests in Russian literature from the eighteenth century onwards.  He much enjoyed, and invested considerable effort in, the supervision of postgraduate students, several of whom went on to forge successful academic careers themselves.  He took the reins of the department on several occasions as acting Head and also served as examinations officer and postgraduate research tutor.   More generally, his amiable and sociable disposition contributed much to the department’s friendly atmosphere.  It spoke volumes for Colin's approach tohis subject and tho students that, when appointed external examiner at the University of Durham in 1989, he should later have described much of the associated work as sheer bliss, since it had allowed him to talk in Russian to intelligent and well-travelled young people about their lives, adventures, interests and beliefs.

A lively and active member of the University community as a whole, Colin Johnson was elected to the Senate and the Court, and also served on a variety of committees, including Senior Lectureships and Research Degrees, as well as the Library Executive Committee and the Workshop Theatre Management Committee.  In 1982, he was a founding committee member of the Leeds Russian Archive, part of the University Library’s Special Collections.  (During the course of his career, he was to make a number of generous gifts of books, papers and other materials to the Archive.)  A regular frequenter of the Senior Common Room, he delighted colleagues there with his reminiscences of the jazz era, for which he had a passionate enthusiasm.  For some thirty years, he also taught a highly successful evening class in Russian language, literature and culture for the Department of Adult Education and Extra-Mural Studies.  He was most gratified when, in 1976, his work within the department led to his being nominated to membership of the Joint Committee of the Board of Extra-Mural Studies.  He led groups of extra-mural students on trips to the Soviet Union on several occasions; these were just a few of the very large number of visits he made to that country.

Frequently in demand as a reviewer of Russian literature and language and Soviet current affairs, Colin Johnson wrote regularly for a number of national newspapers and periodicals and was a contributor to the BBC Russian Service.  He was responsible from 1963 to 1977 for the annual chapter on Russian eighteenth-century literature in The Year’s Work in Modern Language Studies; and from 1968 to 1977 was contributing editor for the entries for the Soviet Union in The Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature.  One of his proudest achievements was the translation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s play Crimson Island, which was performed by students on the MA Drama course at the Workshop Theatre in December 1989.  In 1992, he produced a new reprint of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya for the Bristol Classical Press.

As the long-time Secretary of the Yorkshire Region of the Great Britain/USSR Association (later the Great Britain/Russia Centre), Colin had occasion to entertain many distinguished Russian visitors to Leeds.  He also had a lengthy association with the British Universities’ Association of Slavists, and was appointed to the Association’s national committee in 1978.  His involvement with Russian affairs took many different forms.  Thus, he and his wife, Tatiana, were responsible on a number of occasions for the Russian section of the brochure for the Leeds International Piano Competition, with Colin also acting as interpreter for Russian members of the Competition’s jury.  His skills as translator and interpreter were similarly put to good use by companies in and around Leeds having commercial contact with the Soviet Union.  In 1980, he was appointed as the Joint Matriculation Board’s senior examiner for ‘O’ Level Russian and later as the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board’s chief examiner for Russian ‘A’ Level. 

Colin retired from his University post in 1997.

Colin Johnson is survived by his wife Tatiana, his son, Colin, a professor at the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine and two children from his first marriage to Margaret.

The funeral has taken place. Donations in memory of Colin may be given to Kidney Research UK.