Dr Brian Dicks: an appreciation

ONE of the more annoying things about growing old is the discovery that, to your considerable surprise, your friends do, too. Then, if and when they play their trump card … well, you become a very sore loser.

Such an apparently irreverent start to a heartfelt tribute to Dr Brian Dicks would not have seemed out of place to its subject, whose gift of self-deprecating banter endured, almost literally, to the end.

Brian, a graduate of the University of Aberystwyth, came to Glasgow from Sheffield University in 1964 as a lecturer in Geography at Strathclyde University.

Over the following years he built up a solid following among both undergraduate and postgraduate students. Known for his accessibility to all who studied with him, he was particularly interested in helping overseas students.

Many of these students (not confined to his own department) were loud in their praises for his advice on, inter alia, editorial requirements when it came time to submit their theses. His subsequent promotion to senior lecturer was thoroughly deserved.

In his nearly 20 years at Strathclyde University he published an impressive number of books on Greece: among them, The Greeks: How They Live And Work; Rhodes; Corfu; The Greek Islands; Portrait Of Southern Greece; Greece: A Traveller’s Guide To History And Mythology.

These are not slight books or lightweight travel guides. The books in David and Charles’ Islands Series have, as the publishers rightly claim, “a stronger reference value than previously published books on islands”.

Certain things stand out in them: for instance, if we take Corfu as an example, they are extremely well researched, they are well written – as befits a highly articulate Welshman – and they show a masterful command over such pleasingly diverse material as literature, archaeology, maritime history, iconography and myth. The list, which goes on and on, includes the zoological – who knew, for example, that Corfu is one of the few places in Europe where you might find a jackal?

To control and bring order into this diversity and organise it into a compelling narrative is an enormous challenge which Brian Dicks brilliantly rises to, again and again, throughout his writings.

As the celebrated BBC broadcaster and philhellene, John Ebden writes in his foreword to Brian’s The Greek Islands: “Brian Dicks states that his prime object is to ‘whet readers’ appetites for the Greek Islands’.

“I am sure”, Ebden continued, “that he will succeed, for within the pages of this splendidly researched book with its attractive little vignettes, sound advice and potted history of the country they intend to visit, they will find the ethos of Greece”.

Dr Brian Dicks concluded his teaching career as senior lecturer at King Alfred’s College, Winchester (as it then was).

He had, however, a very wide circle of friends in Glasgow, quite a number of whom shared many a jovial evening with him in that famous hostelry, The Curlers, on Byres Road.

He died on August 29, 2022, in Bournemouth, aged 83, looked after until the end by his devoted friend, the illustrator Lothar Wuttke.


Professor of English at Strathclyde University, 1974-1982.