Benjamin Fisher (1963-2009)

October 8, 2009

Benjamin Fisher, a leading expert on both avant-garde French literature and Welsh railways, has died.

He was born in Birmingham on 3 September 1963 but grew up in Newcastle-under-Lyme close to Keele University, where his father Roy, a poet and jazz pianist, taught American Studies.

He was educated at the former Wolstanton Grammar School. He went on to read modern and medieval languages at Selwyn College, Cambridge, then moved to Bangor University in 1986 to study for a PhD on the absurdist author, Alfred Jarry.

He was appointed lecturer in French at Bangor in 1990 and remained at the university until his death, serving as admissions tutor and eventually as head of French.

An acknowledged authority in his field, Dr Fisher published Alfred Jarry and his Literary Context (1989) and then a broader study of symbolism and decadence in the French writers of the 1890s, The Pataphysician's Library (2000).

A keen interest in new technology led him to become co-developer and eventual director of the School of Modern Languages' multimedia centre, and he was closely involved in a project that brought multilingual satellite television into schools across Wales.

Outside work, Dr Fisher devoted much of his time to the rebuilding of the Welsh Highland Railway through the heart of Snowdonia, which had closed in 1936.

He recorded every step forward in powerfully evocative photographs on a popular website, where he described the project as "one of the biggest and most exciting tasks that the railway preservation movement has ever tackled".

Although he did not live to see the project's completion, his ashes will be carried on the first through train from Caernarfon to Porthmadog early next year.

A commemorative book being planned on the railway's rebirth will draw heavily on the photographs and other material from his website.

Carol Tully, head of the School of Modern Languages at Bangor, remembers Dr Fisher as "a very private man whose passion for absurdist literature was reflected in his quirkiness and offbeat sense of humour - it was always the slightly unexpected which got Ben enthused".

"Beyond his scholarship, his lasting legacy lay in his service to his students," she said.

"He was a rock for any who were struggling and he made great efforts to ensure they kept going. Many wrote in after his death to say they wouldn't have got where they were without him."

Dr Fisher died at his home over the summer and is survived by his father and a brother.

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