Alan Hughes R.I.P.


With regret we announce the passing of member Alan Hughes, on 23 October 2017, who will perhaps best be remembered for his outstanding work on the research for and compilation of our 125th Anniversary souvenir handbook.

Alan had a long career with the Oxford English Dictionary and it particularly resonated with him that the first Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, Dr Sir James Murray, had also been the first President of the re-named Oxford Philatelic Society from 1892.

Through his research, Alan was instrumental in highlighting the career of Frank Bellamy, a notable citizen of Oxford for whom a Blue Plaque is to be shortly erected. Bellamy was OPS founding Honorary Secretary and Treasurer from 1890 to 1936 and also a key member of the Oxford Photographic Society, an active member of the Ashmolean Natural History Society and a significant observational astronomer at the Radcliffe Observatory. It was Alan who spoke to set the scene at the 125th anniversary event in 2016 bringing together the Oxford Philatelic Society, the Ashmolean, the Museum of the History of Science, and the friends of St Sepulchre’s graveyard where Bellamy rests.

Our thoughts and sympathy go out to his widow Freda and his family.

Michael Proffitt, the Editor of the Oxford English dictionary, offers this tribute to Alan:

On behalf of Alan’s former colleagues at Oxford University Press, I want to express our condolences to Freda and the family. Shocked and saddened as we all are, I’d like to pay tribute to Alan’s long and distinguished career, to his achievements and his character.

Alan’s 47 years as a lexicographer make him the longest-serving editor in the modern history of the Oxford English Dictionary (and, short of one year, the longest-serving ever). The sheer length of service suggests some of the qualities we might all associate with him: conviction, tenacity, and devotion.

Alan joined the small editorial team working on the OED Supplement in 1968 as its first full-time science editor. One of the most significant innovations of the dictionary in this period was its much expanded coverage of scientific and technical terminology, and Alan was its pioneer. Working under Robert Burchfield, he was instrumental in developing OED’s style and policy for the treatment of scientific vocabulary, but also in establishing a team of specialist science editors as a permanent feature of Oxford’s dictionary staff.

On completion of the fourth and final Supplement volume in the mid-1980s, Alan took on a wider remit as General Editor of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (deputy to the Editor-in-Chief, Lesley Brown). In that role, he trained, mentored, and managed numerous new editors. The fact that so many of them are here today – some travelling hundreds of miles – is a measure of the respect and affection we share for Alan.

After he helped steer the Shorter project to his highly successful publication in 1993, Alan rejoined the OED just as we started to plan its completely revised Third Edition. As Chief Science Editor, he laid the groundwork for a rigorous and much-needed updating of OED’s science content, most of which had been written in the late 19th and early 20th century.

This was the period in which Alan and I worked most closely. When I was running the OED’s New Words team, we worked together to recruit and train a new generation of science editors. Together we ran the dictionary’s reading programmes, collecting quotation evidence for new or previously unnoticed usage. When I edited the third volume of the OED Additions Series, it was hugely reassuring to have him by my side editing its science entries. In each of these areas, our working relationship was congenial and productive. I always knew where I stood with Alan. When he didn’t agree, he’d say so, clearly, but with a reasonableness that tested my own convictions. As well as being a model of hard-working professionalism, Alan was an unfailingly encouraging and supportive presence in my working life.

His own enjoyment of the work was always apparent. Although he was dedicated to achieving the highest standards, as a colleague he was good-humoured and appreciative – generous with his time and a thoughtful, good-natured debater. That combination – seriousness of purpose and a readiness to laugh – seemed ideal in such intellectually demanding work. In fact, his ready and explosive laugh was a reassuringly human feature of our sometimes unnaturally quiet workplace. When I first joined the department in 1989, working in 37a St Giles, tea breaks were rather formal affairs, taken at set times in a room full of gunmetal grey filing cabinets, filled with the legendary quotation slips of countless venerable contributors. There wasn’t much small talk. For a shy person, it was daunting. But Alan was easy to talk to, took a genuine interest in how I was getting along, and communicated his enthusiasm about the work. He broke the ice.

Dictionaries are inventories of human experience in all its complex variety, and lexicography requires one to engage with every sphere of activity. It helps if your interests are not narrow, and Alan’s were not. His reading was varied, but three publications were constants: the New Scientist, the Daily Telegraph, and the Church Times. From these, he extracted thousands of quotations for potential use in the OED. I’m sure each features disproportionately in the dictionary’s quoted evidence, simply because of Alan’s unerring eye for an interesting word and a good example. For decades to come, editors will continue to find and use those quotations written in his distinctive, beautifully clear handwriting, knowing they’re 100% reliable.

For his family and his colleagues, Alan leaves behind many happy memories. For Oxford dictionaries and their readers, his most enduring legacy is to have made understandable to a wide general readership countless major scientific terms and concepts that have come to define his lifetime and ours.


2nd Botley Brownies


New book re-opens an old controversy.

19MayOPS Prof Catling

Oxford Philatelic Society’s meeting on Monday 19 May 2014 saw the launch of a book* which re-opens an old controversy. In 1885 the Postmaster General required that Oxford and Cambridge Colleges cease issuing stamps which they had introduced to pay for what they considered internal mail. It was a hotly debated issue at the time and the ‘College Messenger Stamps’ have been keenly sought by philatelists down the years.
The text of the book, together with a rare collection of the Cambridge stamps, has lain in an attic ever since 1939 and has only recently been discovered. It strongly refutes the PMG’s decision that the stamps infringed his monopoly, stating that the Colleges’ right to conduct their mail had been entrenched in the Act establishing the post office under Charles II in 1660. The book was written by the grandfather of a retired Oxford Brookes University professor. Together with Chris Harman, a former President of the Royal Philatelic Society of London, who is a world authority on these stamps, Professor Simon Catling launched the book at the meeting and both men displayed outstanding collections of the Messenger stamps of the two universities.
Keble was the first of the Oxford colleges to issue them, in 1871, and over some years Merton College followed suit, then Lincoln, Hertford, Exeter, St John’s and All Souls – as did Selwyn, Queen’s and St John’s in Cambridge. The noted philatelist King George V publicly declined to accept the offer of some for his collection, since ‘he did not consider himself justified in accepting what had been suppressed by one of His Departments of State’. Yet the Queen’s collection today is known to have specimens of them. Further controversy came in the 1930s when Oxford University declined the offer of an entire collection of them offered by an Oxford resident, Mr. F. A. Bellamy.
*The book is: The Story of the Cambridge College Messenger Stamps, 1882-5, by H. D. Catling, published by The Cinderella Stamp Club, ISBN 0-9546087-2-0, £12.


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