Victor came to Warwick in the autumn of 1979, but that wasn't the start of film at the University. For the previous six years, two courses - Hollywood and World Cinema, as I recall - had been offered as options, primarily to students in the Faculties of Arts and Social Studies (although the occasional scientist managed to wiggle in). Robin Wood was the first holder of the lectureship, which had been funded by the British Film Institute for its first two years. Robin's presence, and the popularity of his courses, inevitably led to a lot of talk, primarily amongst younger members of the faculty, about the possibility of a degree course in film studies. It seemed to us - people like Keith Bullivant (German), Chris Thompson and Nick Hewitt (French), John Davis and Ed Countryman (History) - that the time was right but there was, inevitably, considerable pushback from some of our more senior colleagues. Additionally, money was tight (as ever) - the University Grants Committee (as the funding body was then known) was not noted for its generosity, especially when it came to introducing new degree programs, and internal competition for scarce resources was - how to put it politely? - keen. Additionally, there was an academic argument (pretty much spurious, in my opinion). Film was not academically respectable, in some eyes - how could any serious scholar be interested in Westerns? - and opponents claimed that there was not a sufficiently robust body of scholarship to support a degree course. I remember particularly the endlessly-repeated question, Where are your texts? Apparently films themselves (including those eight thousand-odd Westerns) did not count for much.
In the midst of all this, Robin Wood resigned to take up a post at York University in Toronto in the fall of 1978. This could have been the end of Film at Warwick, but fortunately saner heads (and louder mouths) prevailed to the extent that it was agreed that the two options would be continued for a further year (1978-79) with the appointment of a temporary lecturer (Andrew Britton, Warwick's first PhD candidate in Film and who knew Robin's courses well), and during that year, the University would attempt to produce a statement of just what it wanted in the way of further film courses (if any), how they should be organized, and who should be in charge of possible new developments. And so it came to pass, after endless meetings and a certain amount of politicking, that a senior lectureship in Film Studies was advertised in the spring on 1979. The appointee's responsibilities included developing a degree in Film Studies.
Unsurprisingly, there was great interest in the post and a large number of applicants which, after some difficulty, we whittled down to five, any one of whom would have been a real asset to the University. What set one applicant apart from the rest, though, was his background and continuing interest in film education (in addition to impeccable scholarship), and that applicant was, of course, Victor.
Over the next couple of years, Victor, in his quiet way, reconciled the various factions (I almost wrote 'warring factions') in the Faculty of Arts, and guided the proposed new degree, now called Film and Literature (Where are your texts?) through the various committees and boards and, finally, the Senate. It's hard for me to imagine anyone else who could have done so at Warwick at that time.
But administration and politicking have a price, and the price Victor paid was the scholarly aspect of his academic career. As he cheerfully admitted, he was not the world's fastest writer (one reason why his published work is so good), and he was swamped by the requirements of building the department, overseeing much of the expansion of the Film Studies program, and simply keeping up, not to mention the demands of a young family. Thus his professorship did not come until his retirement, although never once did I hear him express any regret for the way things worked out. He was modest, but he had much to be proud of, and I hope Warwick understands what it owes him.
I left Warwick in 1983, so we lost touch for some time, although I did see Victor a few times when I was back in England, so contact was not entirely lost. Then, one summer, he and Liz and their various offspring visited us here in Crete, we picked up again and a real friendship developed over the next few years - the sort that seems so much easier when two (or more) people are seriously into film. By that time, I was teaching a couple of film courses for an American university: Victor had supported me unconditionally in my battle, in the absence of any formal qualifications in film, to be recognized as sufficiently competent to do so, and subsequently was very helpful in all sorts of ways, particularly in keeping me up to date about new releases that I should be checking out. Anyone reading this who knows me knows I am no film scholar - more than a buff, I hope, but finally just an enthusiast, albeit a reasonably serious one (I hope). Victor was certainly aware of this, but he always treated me as a colleague who was on his level (don't I wish!). With the coming of the Internet, communication became that much easier (although his carefully-wrought emails were, predictably, not as frequent as I would have wished). With the coming of DVDs, he was able to send us movies, and he never visited us without coming laden with films, old and new, that he thought I needed to see (and I did). He even paid me the compliment of sending drafts of much of his later writing for my comments, although I cannot imagine how anything I had to say could have been helpful; maybe he felt the need for input from the Common Man. Whatever, I was flattered and touched.
An anecdote: An old friend of Victor's - a contemporary at Exeter College in the 50s, David Blewitt, and his wife Aileen Ireland - retired to our neighbourhood some years ago, and Victor put us in touch with each other. David had been very active in film - ten years at the BBFC, Mr Movies for Sky TV - and when Victor visited Crete, we spent a considerable amount of time with Aileen and David. One night over dinner, Victor, David and I were babbling on about topics cinematic, when Aileen spoke up: 'I feel like I'm trapped in a film encyclopedia.' Which is as good a description of a conversation with Victor as I've heard.
Latterly, given his leg problems, Victor's visits to us became sporadic, but he was here for a couple of weeks last autumn, and one of the more memorable moments was an afternoon when we sat down to watch a film I know well, having taught it many times: 'Dark Victory' - which, amazingly, he had never seen. He was not, as it transpired, Bette's biggest fan, but we had a great discussion about it. Jerry and I were looking forward to more of the same this autumn, and Victor and I were chatting about movies he might bring with him to fill more gaps in our collection, although invariably I left decisions about what we needed in his hands.
So much left unseen, so much left unsaid. My world is smaller without Victor in it, and visits to an England without him won't be the same. Teaching film was one of the great joys of my life, something that never would have happened except for Victor, and I owe him so much.