Angus Calder

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Angus Calder
Born Angus Lindsay Ritchie Calder
(1942-02-05)5 February 1942
Died 5 June 2008(2008-06-05) (aged 66)
Alma mater King's College, Cambridge
University of Sussex
Occupation Academic
Parent(s) Peter Ritchie Calder
Mabel Jane Forbes McKail
Relatives Nigel Calder (brother)
Simon Calder (nephew)

Angus Lindsay Ritchie Calder (5 February 1942 – 5 June 2008) was a Scottish academic, writer, historian, educator and literary editor with a background in English literature, politics and cultural studies. He was a man of the Left, and in his highly influential book on the home front in the Second World War he complained bitterly that the postwar reforms of the Labour government, such as universal health care and nationalization of some industries, were an inadequate reward for the wartime sacrifices, and a cynical betrayal of the people's hope for a more just postwar society.[1]

Early life[edit]

Angus Calder was born on 5 February 1942. His father, Lord Ritchie Calder (1906–1982), was a noted science writer, humanist and pacifist. His siblings are Nigel Calder, mathematician Allan Calder and educationist Isla Calder (1946–2000). His nephew is travel writer and journalist Simon Calder.

Calder read English literature at King's College, Cambridge, and wrote a doctorate at the University of Sussex, on politics in the United Kingdom during World War II. His book, The People's War: Britain 1939–1945, was published in 1969.


Calder became a ubiquitous figure on the Scottish literary scene, writing essays and articles, books on Byron and Eliot, and working as editor of collections of poetry and prose. He also wrote introductions to new publications of such diverse works as Great Expectations, Walter Scott's Old Mortality, T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy and Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson.

In 1981 he published Revolutionary Empire (1981), a study of three centuries of imperial development by English speakers to the end of the 18th century. Revolving Culture: Notes from the Scottish Republic is a collection of essays on Scottish topics which expressed itself through the writings of such figures as Burns and Scott and in gestures of realpolitik such as the repression of "Jacobins" during the French Revolution. In 1984 Calder helped to set up the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh and served as its first convener. He also worked as an editor of Hugh MacDiarmid's prose.[2]

The Myth of The Blitz (1991) argued that received ideas of the civilian population's reaction to the bombing of London still reflected wartime propaganda. Calder examined how the German bombings generated ideas and images of plucky and stoical suffering and resistance that defined post-war Britain's sense of itself; but showed that the "chirpy Cockney", "all pull together" stereotypes were partly propaganda which hid the reality of an inequality of suffering due to deep social divisions, and concealed unheroic stories of opportunistic looting and rape.[3]

A nationalist and socialist, he moved from the Scottish National Party (SNP) to the Scottish Socialist Party, and though he cherished the Scottish republican spirit, he sought to challenge some of the popular myths surrounding the country's sense of national identity. In Revolving Culture: Notes from a Scottish republic (1992) he described the development, during the early stages of the Union with England, of an "intellectual republic" forged by a combination of insularity and lack of English interest in Scottish affairs.[2] In 1997 he edited Time to Kill — the Soldier's Experience of War in the West 1939–1945 with Paul Addison; Scotlands of the Mind (2002); Disasters and Heroes: On War, Memory and Representation (2004); and Gods, Mongrels and Demons: 101 Brief but Essential Lives (2004), a collection of potted biographies of "creatures who have extended my sense of the potentialities, both comic and tragic, of human nature". He had always published verse and won a Gregory Award for his poetry in 1967. Questions of Scottish national identity assumed growing importance in the 1980s, and Calder became active in the debate. A distinctive "Scottish social ethos" informed the activities of prominent Scots in the years of Empire, when they had invested heavily in the concept of Britishness, although he reportedly felt that the Scots had meddled much more overweeningly with the English sense of identity than the English ever did with the Scots. He was delighted to discover that the game of cricket had been introduced to Sri Lanka by a Scot.[4]

Calder spent much of his career in Edinburgh, where he became a conspicuous figure on the Scottish literary scene as a published poet and commentator on Scottish culture and politics. Calder taught all over the world, lecturing in literature at several African universities and serving from 1981 to 1987 as co-editor of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature.[3]

Calder won the Eric Gregory Award for his poetry and the 1970 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1967. In 1971, after the publication of The People's War, the Calders moved to Edinburgh, where he published Russia Discovered, a survey of 19th-century Russian fiction in 1976, and, three years later, became staff tutor in Arts with the Open University.

Personal life[edit]

His first wife was Jennifer Daiches, daughter of Scottish literary critic David Daiches, with whom Calder collaborated on a book about Sir Walter Scott in 1969.[5] The Calders had two daughters, Rachel and Gowan, and a son, Gideon. His first marriage ended in 1982; he married Kate Kyle in 1986, with whom he had a son, Douglas, born in 1989. He took early retirement from the Open University in 1995.


Calder died from lung cancer on 5 June 2008, aged 66.[5]

Selected bibliography[edit]

History and literary criticism[edit]

  • The People's War: Britain, 1939–45. London: Jonathan Cape, 1969.
  • Scott, with Jenni Calder. London: Evans, 1969.
  • Russia Discovered: Nineteenth Century Fiction from Pushkin to Chekhov. London: Heinemann, 1976.
  • Revolutionary Empire: The Rise of the English-Speaking Empires from the Fifteenth Century to the 1780s. London: Jonathan Cape, 1981.
  • T. S. Eliot. Brighton: Harvester, 1987.
  • Byron. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1987.
  • The Myth of the Blitz. London: Jonathan Cape, 1991.
  • Revolving Culture. London: I.B. Tauris, 1994.
  • Scotlands of the Mind. Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2002.
  • Disasters and Heroes: On War, Memory and Representation. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2004.
  • Gods, Mongrels and Demons: 101 Brief but Essential Lives. London: Bloomsbury, 2004.


  • Waking in Waikato. Edinburgh: diehard, 1997.
  • Horace in Tollcross: Eftir some odes of Q. H. Flaccus. Newtyle: Kettilonia, 2000.
  • Colours of Grief. Nottingham: Shoestring, 2002.
  • Dipa’s Bowl. London: Aark Arts, 2004.
  • Sun Behind the Castle: Edinburgh Poems. Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2004.

Edited collections: poetry and prose[edit]

  • Britain at War, 1942. London: Jonathan Cape, 1973.
  • (with Andrew Gurr) Writers in East Africa. Nairobi: East African Literature Bureau, 1974.
  • (with Jack Mapanje and Cosmo Pieterse). Summer Fires: New Poetry of Africa. London: Heinemann, 1983.
  • (with Gabriele Bok) Englische Lyrik 1900–1980. Leipzig: Reclam, 1983.
  • (with Dorothy Sheridan) Speak for Yourself: A Mass Observation Anthology. London: Jonathan Cape, 1984.
  • Byron and Scotland: Radical or Dandy?, London: Edinburgh University Press, 1989.
  • (with William Donnelly) Selected Poetry by Robert Burns. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991.
  • (with John M. Mackenzie and Jeanne Cannizzo) David Livingstone and the Victorian Encounter with Africa. London: National Portrait Gallery, 1996.
  • (with Paul Addison) Time to Kill: The Soldier’s Experience of War in the West, 1939–45. London: Pimlico, 1997.
  • (with Glen Murray and Alan Riach) The Rauchle Tongue: Selected Essays, Journalism and Interviews by Hugh MacDiarmid (3 vols). Manchester: Carcanet, 1997–98.
  • Wars. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999.
  • Selected Poems by Louis Stevenson. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999.
  • (with Beth Junor) The Souls of the Dead are Taking the Best Seats: 50 World Poets on War. Edinburgh: Luath Press, Edinburgh, 2005.


  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965.
  • Faces at the Crossroads ed. Chris Wanjala. Nairobi: East African Literature Bureau, 1971.
  • Old Mortality by Walter Scott. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975.
  • The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence. Ware: Wordsworth, 1999.
  • The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell. Ware: Wordsworth, 1999.
  • Sword of Honour by Evelyn Waugh. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2001.
  • The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.
  • The Thrie Estaitis by David Lindsay, ed. Alan Spence. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003.
  • Sugar-Coated Pill: Selected Poems by Mahmood Jamal. Edinburgh: Word Power, 2007.


Recorded readings and performances
  • (Collaboration) From Dungeons to the Sky – Commissioned by Amnesty International (Scotland) for performance of 12 poems with music for Commonwealth Head of States visit to Edinburgh, 1996, at the Queen's Hall, Edinburgh. Readings by Angus and Gowan Calder, piano compositions and performance by Dmytro Morykit.


  1. ^ Angus Calder, The Peoples War: Britain, 1939 – 1945 (1969).
  2. ^ a b "Angus Calder: Historian, author and poet". The Scotsman. 9 June 2008. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Ian Campbell (10 June 2008). "Angus Calder: Historian, critic and poet whose 'The People's War' challenged conventional wisdom on wartime Britain". The Independent. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  4. ^ "Obituaries: Angus Calder". The Telegraph. June 12, 2008. Retrieved April 15, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b "Angus Calder: Historian who challenged the popular conception of British national unity during the Second World War". The Telegraph. 12 June 2008. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 

External links[edit]