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Robin Lenman: In memoriam

Robin joined the History department in 1969 and retired in 2003 as emeritus Reader. He taught the History of Germany module which is still running as well as an MA class on photography. His books included The Oxford Companion to the Photograph, Artists and Society in Germany, 1850-1914 and History and the Artificial Image. He is remembered as an excellent teacher, researcher and colleague.

Emiritus Professor - Robin Lenman
Memories of Robin Lenman from members of the Warwick History Department:

Mark Levene

I was privileged to know Robin both as Warwick student and many years later as colleague. He always came across as wonderfully courteous, always seemingly, with a broad smile on his face . That said, I remember our first ignominious interaction - for me, that is, not him - when I was disastrously late for a lecture. ‘Are you a historian’ he demanded, as I rather too insouciantly wandered into the lecture hall. ‘Fraid so', I responded, which didn’t raise a smile on that occasion. Not a great start seemingly but with no after shock whatsoever. Dr Lenman was clearly one of the nice tutors who we all affectionately knew as Christopher Robin, the very youthful looking one with his golden locks. Robin was also known - astoundingly amongst his colleagues - for offering photographic slide shows to accompany his lectures. These made them ‘must sees’ in their own right. Lectures could be enlivened for other reasons too. There was the occasion for instance when a lecture on late 19th and early 20th century German social democrats was presented with stunning vintage pictures of leading leftist politicians and trade unionists looking very much at ease with themselves. They had effectively become self-satisfied and distinctly unrevolutionary, suggested Robin, which drew the ire of one young woman who dared, rather verbally I remember, to challenge his opinion! Robin, always the gentleman, was gracious, smiled and carried on!

In a sense those memories of him as teacher carried through to my time, almost two decades later when I joined Warwick, as a colleague. Robin, being gently conservative, was very much a minority position in a strongly Marxist orientated department, still in the shadow of its heady days with E.P Thompson as one of its critical number. But there was never any rancour or ill feeling. And Robin’s status as a popular, hard-working, compassionate tutor remained unblemished with staff and students alike. He also remained unusual, even then, as someone who wasn’t afraid of technology. I well remember a talk he gave to colleagues entitled 'Powerpoint for Neanderthals', not an aspersion on our fellow late hominids of course, more a gentle chiding of the technophobia of some of us, myself included. We came out of that particular talk much the wiser and even better, ready to engage with the latest wonders of up to the minute presentation!


Chris Read

Robin Lenman: Warwick Memories by Chris Read

For me, the first characteristic that comes to mind when I think of Robin is enthusiasm. He appeared to have the most enviable, inexhaustible reservoir of positive energy. Even when he was unhappy with something he would attack it with a smile. He was a very encouraging colleague to have in a department, at least its later modern component, which was, by and large, out of synch with Robin’s opinions and values. In a left-leaning world he was a traditional, pure liberal of the old school. In the best liberal tradition he based his world on individual freedom and was somewhat sceptical of portmanteau phrases like social justice, within which, it seemed to me, he discerned the beguiling but deceptive call of socialism. He seemed to enjoy tweaking the noses of those of who did not share this perception but always in a good-humoured and amicable way, never with even a scintilla of malice. He was a great colleague, always prepared to take on his share of the great departmental offices of state, whether that be the dreaded role of exam secretary or admissions tutor. Whatever his role he was totally honest, straightforward and straight-dealing and tidily efficient. For these qualities, plus his infectious enthusiasm, he was loved by generation after generation of students whom he was able to guide through the intricacies of German unification, the First World War, Weimar, Nazism. Cold War and the collapse of communism. He didn’t always get it right. There is a memorable moment in his wonderful Warwick History Video where he stands in front of the Berlin Wall in the mid-eighties and assures us that the wall would not come down in his lifetime. (I should admit I made a very similar faux pas in my WHV on the Soviet Union!).

In the best sense, Robin was an old-school don. He was, first and foremost, a passionate scholar wrapped up in ideas and arguments and had wide interests which took him in many directions. He preferred culture and the arts to the grime of politics and social history from below and made significant contributions in those areas, notably his fine Artists and Society in Germany, 1850-1914. It is perhaps fair to say he was not one to descend into the archives for long periods of time, rather he loved to engage with ideas and artistic movements. He was in his element in pioneering the use of film in the study and teaching of history and I for one was very indebted to him for bringing this exciting source into the field. His farsightedness is borne out by the fact that today film is deeply rooted as a matter of course in history research agendas and in undergraduate and graduate teaching. As the university evolved in the direction of more and more micromanagement he found his brand of free scholarship increasingly encroached on by the dreaded bean counters. He turned more and more to his love of photography, as a scholar and as an accomplished exponent of the art, increasingly combining it with academic interest to produce the splendid Oxford Companion to Photography. Later, taking advantage of early retirement he and Anita moved to Penzance, presumably because it was as close as practically possible to his beloved Scilly Isles. In Cornwall, among other things, he became a pillar of the local photographic community. Sadly for those of us left in Warwick, Penzance was far away and we saw less and less of him, though enough news filtered back for us to know that, not least thanks to Anita, he had found a very happy haven. He was a sad loss to the department when he left some twenty years ago and he is a sad loss to the community now.

Additional Comments

Bernard Capp

I think one factor in his taking early retirement was frustration that student demand always centred on the Third Reich, far removed from the cultural and intellectual worlds he loved. It’s certainly the case that students loved him. I remember walking along the corridor one day and overhearing two students just in front, one remarking to the other, ‘Robin Lenman is a lovely man!’.

James Hinton

The only thing I could add to these lovely memories of Robin is the sound of waves on a beach which sometimes emanated from his office. He had a tape he would play, he told me, to calm him down. Good antidote to the Third Reich perhaps.

Robin Okey

I always had such warm feelings towards Robin it was a shock to realise how private a person he remained to me. My continuing impression was of a smiling, indeed beaming face and unflagging good nature and unflappability. I knew these features were reflected in his excellence as a lecturer and found him constantly a loyal and cheerful colleague. Departmental life is greatly enhanced by people with such qualities and in Robin the Warwick History Department found a rare spirit who contributed greatly to the admirable conviviality which animated it over long years and remains vivid in the memory. I shall cherish his good humour and the almost puckish sense of fun he displayed do often.

Jean Noonan - Departmental Secretary
I was saddened to hear of what seemed to me the untimely death of our dear Robin L, one of our three Robins. I have very fond memories of Robin as a model colleague to work alongside. As others have commented he was ever-youthful, energetic and also extremely courteous and sensitive.
I remember Robin calling to see me in my office, always accompanied by his trusty Filofax to help keep him on the straight and narrow. Not that he really needed any such assistance though, as he seemed to have a great fear of ever putting a foot out of place within the department or university as a whole. I clearly remember him confiding in me one day, whilst maintaining his constant beaming smile, that he had encountered a horrific nightmare the previous night and was frightened of going back to sleep again. He had apparently committed some atrocious crime and had been sacked from his post by the VC! He mentioned this a few times over the next few weeks so it had clearly really shaken him and made him even more determined not to ever dare put a foot wrong. He will be very fondly missed by many.
Read the Merton College Magazine, Oxford, obituary put together by David Page, a fellow student with Robin and a friend over many years.