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Professor James (Jim) Shields

Professor James ShieldsIt is with great sadness that the School of Modern Languages & Cultures has received news of the death of Professor James Shields on 10 February 2023. Jim Shields spent much of his career as a Lecturer, Senior lecturer and Reader in the University of Warwick's Department of French Studies, before being appointed Professor of French Politics and Modern History, and Head of French, at Aston University in 2010. He renewed his association with the University of Warwick as an Honorary Professor in French Studies in 2018. Jim Shields was a specialist of twentieth- and twenty-first-century French politics, frequently asked by international media to comment on French elections and the rise of the Far Right in France. He is remembered as an energetic colleague, whose lively lecturing style (often waving a copy of a French newspaper to illustrate a point) assured him a devoted following among his students. Jim Shields was one of the very first winners of the Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence and looked after the welfare of countless Warwick students in his role over many years as warden of Tocil Residence.

2007 French Studies Results Party
2007 French Studies Results Party

Jim with students 2007
Jim with students 2007

Jim in photo taken by Linda Patterson
Jim in photo taken by Linda Patterson


Memories of Jim

I was deeply saddened to hear the news of Jim's passing. Without a doubt, he was one of the pivotal figures in my younger life. Without his encouragement and support, I would never have pursued my postgraduate and doctoral studies. Jim was a brilliant and gifted teacher who inspired so many students, myself included. I send my sincere condolences to his family and friends at this terribly difficult time.

Louise Knight 13/02/2023


I recall first meeting Jim as a colleague far senior to me when I arrived in Warwick in 2005/6, though he engaged with me without airs and graces and spoke to me directly as a peer. I reconnected with him in 2015 when working with colleagues at Aston on joint research initiatives. He seemed thrilled to see a Warwick-Aston synergy growing, as did I. At the time of hearing of Jim's passing I hadn't spoken to him in some time, and this is my one regret. He was engaging, energetic and very humane and will be missed for all these qualities and more.

James Hodkinson 13/02/2023


Though I was never personally taught by Jim, I read a lot of his work while completing my undergraduate degree and subsequently attended a round table where he was speaking. He was an engaging speaker and writer, sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm. Being able to attend one of these events was a pleasure and I’m deeply saddened to hear of his passing. My thoughts are with Jim’s family at this time.

Student 2015-2019 13/02/2023


I met Jim through colleagues at Aston University, and got to know him socially, as well as through hearing him give talks at conferences. As a newly appointed lecturer, with a (short-lived) interest in the FN, I naively once asked him if he would ever consider coming back to Aston, but he wasn’t ready at that time. It was many years later, when Pam Moores was Dean of LSS and I was her deputy, that we managed to persuade Jim to come back to Aston and bring his expertise, charisma and superb teaching skills to enhance our offering in French. I was sorry, in a way, to be taking early retirement not long after he came back to Aston. I always found him kind, supportive, sympathetic to colleagues and to students. I am sure many former Aston students will be so sad to hear of his passing. I remember his delight and pride at the birth of Alex and Lena, almost as though he was surprised to find himself a father at last. My thoughts and condolences go out to his family, especially to Britta and the children, who have lost someone so special. His family will be his legacy, and his legacy of publications will bear witness to his expert knowledge.

Beverly Adab 13/02/2023


I am so very sorry to hear this terrible news. Jim was a very special man indeed. I worked with him as Resident Tutor, then Subwarden and Deputy Warden, at Tocil Residence from 2002 to 2008. He was a warm and genuine personality, and he always had his sights set on using common sense to always follow what was in the best interests of others. He created a Tocil family and we all felt very lucky to be part of his team. Personal memories include Jim's competitiveness in driving the Tutor team to win the Tocil 5-a-side tournament, then giving the prize to the second place team, and me taking my shower radio to a Tutor social at The Varsity so that we could hear Jim be interviewed on Five Live Radio. We exchanged a few e-mails since we moved our separate ways. No matter how busy he and I were, you always knew that he was genuinely pleased to hear from you. I now have a French wife and I always wanted Jim to meet her. I am so incredibly sorry to hear this news. My heartfelt thoughts go out to his family. He was an incredible man who left a hugely positive impact on me. A true inspiration.

Tim Honeywill 13/02/2023


I first got to know Jim as an enthusiastic member of the Golden Oldies, Warwick’s staff football team that played in the Leamington and District Sunday league. Enthusiastic, but also appropriately rigorous and perceptive, are terms which spring to mind when considering Jim’s academic work on the far right in France. Jim was also warden of Tocil house for several years, and as such a valued member of the University’s residential life team. I shall remember Jim as an immensely positive and likeable character with an infectious smile, who had the ability to make you feel immediately at ease in his company.

Stephen Lamb 14/02/2023


I have had the great privilege to work closely with Jim on the module : Contemporary France for 10 years. He had so much energy, enthusiasm, a great sense of humour, and an immense dedication to his students and to the French department. His knowledge of the French Far Right was immense, and his passion for French politics was huge. I remember that when we were talking on the phone (usually to discuss a point about the coming exams/ choice of a text...) I used to find his Glaswegian accent even stronger to understand! Then he left for Aston, but I was always inviting him back to Warwick to participate in the tables rondes I was organising for the French elections. He was always telling me how happy he was to come back on campus, and to be with the team again, discussing, analysing French politics endlessly. Unfortunately, I had not been in touch with him since May 2017 , which I regret thoroughly. I would like to express my deepest sympathy and offer my heartfelt condolences to his family. May you rest in peace Jim.

Beatrice Jule-Keogan 14/02/2023


I met Jim at Aston University around 1990 and loved his humour and charm. He was such a serious academic too and his work on the French far right was peerless. What a shame. RIP Jim.

Helen Drake 14/02/2023


I was deeply saddened to hear of Jim’s untimely death. We were friends from the moment he first joined Aston, sharing common ground in the form of our respective PhDs on nineteenth century French realist writers, then subsequently moving on to contemporary French studies more typical of Aston. We also shared the experience of teaching in turn at Warwick and Aston. Jim was such a good listener, a brilliant lecturer, and a rigorous, ground-breaking researcher. He inspired students and colleagues alike with his bubbling enthusiasm and high expectations. I valued his friendship over many years, and particularly his great sense of fun! Jim will be sorely missed by so many of us.

Pam Moores 15/02/2023


I worked closely with Jim for much of his time at Warwick, especially on the former core first-year module Modern and Contemporary France. He was extremely popular and well respected among students, and combined his infectious enthusiasm for his subject-matter with the highest of intellectual standards. The students I received in term 2 of the module could not have been better prepared. Jim was among the very first winners of the Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence. It fell to me to compile the student testimonial dossier for that, and it was ridiculously easy to gather statements full of admiration and superlative statements not just from current students, but from students whom he had taught 10 or 15 years previously. Of course, everyone knew about Jim’s prowess as a teacher. One less visible feature of his work at Warwick was his capacity to engage directly and tactfully with students in situations of extreme difficulty such as serious illness or psychological distress. I think he acquired his sureness and deftness of touch in such situations from his years as Tocil Warden and as our own Senior Tutor in the French department.

Jeremy Ahearne 15/02/2023


Jim was a wonderful teacher - energetic, passionate and with a wonderful skill of making complex ideas easy to understand. I was in his Extreme Right in France class back in about 2006 and still remember it very fondly. He will be sadly missed

Hayley Mace 15/02/2023


I will always remember Jim’s lectures and seminars with affection. From addressing us students as “mes chers amis” to showing us the parallels between the early days of the rise of the far right in France and our own experiences of living through a French election year in rural France in those turbulent months post 9/11, Jim made French language, culture and politics come alive. Jim also supported me as a student in Tocil and welcomed me - one of just a few women - to play in the 5 a side tournaments. My thoughts and prayers are with Jim’s family and colleagues at Warwick and beyond.

Linda Cole (nee Goulden) 15/02/2023


Dr. Shields was instrumental to my university career. He gave me confidence in myself and my ability and greatly inspired my interest in French Politics. We all looked forward to his lectures and his cry of “alors, mes amis, c’est parti!”. We all referred to him as “Warwick legend Jim Shields” and so he was. At my graduation he took the time to talk to my parents and discussed how I was the first student in his classes to show up with a laptop to take notes! My parents really appreciated it and it meant a lot to me. Dr. Jim, un légende pour toujours. May you rest in peace.

Jess Jones 15/02/2023


Jim was a very special individual -- a wonderfully warm, insightful and committed colleague, and a fantastic teacher by all accounts.

Liz Barry 15/02/2023


I had the great pleasure of supporting Jim with research grant applications whilst we were both at Warwick. Jim was such a pleasure to work with - fascinating, funny, irreverent and kind. He was so enthusiastic about his research and it was a privilege to learn from him whenever we worked together on a grant application. My deepest condolences to Jim’s family.

Liese Perrin 15/02/2023


I worked with Jim in the French Department at Warwick University for many years. I was the departmental secretary and have fond memories of him, always a true gentleman with a sense of humour. He was an inspiring lecturer and loved by his students. I’m devastated to hear the news.

Carol Hetherton 15/02/2023


Jim was the reason I decided to study at Warwick, where I ended up studying for seven years. I still remember the talk he gave at the open day that convinced me to come to Warwick - an open day now 15 years ago - where he waved a newspaper and spoke so enthusiastically about how the French use the conditional when talking about allegations. I was then lucky enough to be taught by Jim and live in Tocil in my first year. He was a brilliant speaker and teacher, truly one of a kind. My thoughts go to his family and friends at this difficult time.

Clare Siviter-Groschwald 15/02/2023


So sorry to hear about Jim's passing. I met him in the late 1990s, when we were both at Tocil Residencies, and remember him as a jovial yet firm warden, whose support and guidance I could always rely on as a tutor and subwarden. 'Drum lin spre lumina, dear Jim!'

Jozefina Komporaly 16/02/2023


I met Jim when I arrived at Warwick as a mature student and a single parent. He became my personal tutor and a great friend. His lectures were always inspirational and we shared an interest in the French far right movements. His support to me was invaluable. After I finished my degree we used to meet for lunch regularly as I worked at Warwick and became good friends. I stayed in touch with when he left to go to Aston and more recently when he was in Bristol and then became honorary professor Bank at Warwick.. Last heard from him less than a year ago! We exchanged stories about our families and he always asked about other alumni from my time as a student. He had a great passion for France and great empathy with his students and a typical Scottish sense of humour. His blue shirts and chinos were legendary! I believe there was even a Facebook fan page for him at one point. Totally devastated to hear this . He will be missed by many. My thoughts go out to his family and friends x"

Claudie Combelas 16/02/2023


Ok. So I wasn’t a bright young Warwick thing but came along as a 2+2 student in 1998. The course was for returners to learning and Warwick was hugely important for many people like.
After a couple of years honing my French I had to find a French course to validate my degree and phoned Jim. I was warmly welcomed to join his class with Beatrice for language practice.
I stayed on for 10 years as a postgraduate student and part of the residential staff team.
I am now a 66, live in Shropshire, still speak French and have re trained as a vicar.
What did Jim teach me? Never stop learning. God Bless you Jim.

Ruth Leigh 16/02/2023


Jim was my personal tutor, as well resident tutor for my final year in Tocil residence. He was an enthusiastic individual who touched the lives of those around him. Without Jim, I'm not sure I would have prospered at University and I found him deeply motivating. On a couple of occasions, he advocated for me personally and I will never forget how he shaked my hand at the graduation ceremony. Our stories bind us together and I am thankful to him for who he was, how he saw people and how he inspired us all.

Chris Barbaric 18/02/2023


Very sad to hear the news of Jim's passing. I studied French at Warwick from 1999. Jim was such an inspirational teacher. We all looked up to him enormously yet he was utterly approachable. It is thanks to his dedicated teaching that I understood and loved the Modern French Politics and French Thinkers courses I studied with Jim. I still use the knowledge he taught me with my own students and I regularly steal one of his favourite phrases; ""les absents ont toujours tort"". Always remembered.

Karen Robert née Hayes 18/02/2023


I was lucky enough to have Jim as my personal tutor throughout my time at Warwick and as well as being an inspiring, enthusiastic teacher, he always made me feel like I could go to him with any problem and he would thoughtfully help me to get through it. He was a truly lovely, kind man and I was so very sorry to hear the sad news of his passing.

Caroline (1999-2003) 18/02/2023


I met Jim in 2011, when I joined Languages and Translation Studies at Aston University in my first permanent academic job. I remember the first time I saw him in action, during an Open Day. He was full of charisma and energy, an amazing communicator. He was a very supportive and inspiring colleague too, always available to offer guidance to early careers like me, at the time, as director of Research in LTS. What impressed me most was his Inaugural Lecture at Aston in 2013, when I met his family - he was so passionate and engaging! The last time I corresponded with Jim was to wish him the best after his retirement. Shortly afterwards I joined the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Warwick and found he was Honorary Professor here. I thought I should get in touch but I never did - something I now regret. I was deeply saddened to hear the news of Jim's passing and my thoughts are with his family.

Olga Castro 19/02/2023


I met Jim 24 years ago when I studied French at the university of Warwick and he was always such an energetic and inspiring teacher. My Mum passed away during my finals after a period of illness and he was so kind, supportive and encouraging to help me to get through the exams and get my grades. I will never forget this kindness and encouragement and wanted to send my thoughts to his family at this sad time.

Nichola Peach 19/02/2023


Jim was one of the most constant presences in my Warwick years. We arrived more or less at the same time and for two decadesa we shared a corridor on the 4th floor of the Humanities building. He was always welcoming, friendly, smiling -- even at the end of the most boring meeting. Students loved him for his energy, for the way he engaged with them in his teaching and for his contributions to campus life. He was missed when he left Warwick for Aston, and he will be much missed now by everyone who knew him.

Loredana Polezzi 20/02/2023


Jim was on the interview panel that recruited me to this university in November 2005. I was immediately struck by his warmth and affability. When I started working at Warwick in April 2006, this first impression was more than confirmed on several occasions. Jim was a great colleague and an incredibly talented lecturer. Like many people in this department, I will never forget his performances at open days and his formidable ability to go off piste but also, and in the most exhilarating and passionate manner, to get back on track... just in time, and with impeccable tempo. I last saw Jim in 2017 at the event we organized for the presidential election, and, on that occasion, I had the honour of introducing him to a well-attended amphitheatre. We were then briefly in touch when he was made Honorary professor at this university. Jim’s death came as a big shock. My thoughts and sympathy are with his family.

Pierre-Philippe Fraiture 20/02/2023


Jim Shields was my very first lecturer, Day 1 at Warwick University in early October 2003, and he was also the last person I said farewell to in Summer 2007 as I left for pastures new with a degree (somehow a 2:1 I will never know how!) in my back pocket. Over those almost 4 years, the whole French Department was in awe of someone so passionate about his studies but mainly full of anecdotes about his energy and the way he managed to get others so excited about Mitterrand's Grand Projets, VGE's launching of the TGV and many many others. You never missed a Jim Shields lecture that was for certain, it could be Tuesday morning after Top B and it would be packed to the rafters. He was my reference on my first ever CV from 16 years ago to get a proper job which goes to show the impact he had on me and countless students at Warwick, Aston and beyond. He was also a very useful footballer with a turn of pace akin to the energy he displayed in his lectures. What a guy. He will be sorely missed but this page is testament to what a legend he was - 20 years ago this summer was when I first met him and I remember it like it was yesterday. RIP

Matt West 20/02/2023


I was fortunate to work with Jim during my time as a Departmental Secretary in the French Department and what was a privilege it was to have known him. Jim was a complete all-rounder - he had humour, empathy and intellect and knew exactly when and how best to use those skills. Although I was never taught by him I remember sitting in one of his open day talks feeling so inspired that I wanted to start the course myself. Jim has left us too soon but how lucky we were to have known him. Condolences to his family.

Alison Cressey 20/02/2023


I am very sad to hear of Jim's passing. He was a very special, inspirational teacher; a one of a kind. His enthusiasm and passion for his subject matter shone through which really brought it to life. He was also a lovely man, who really cared for his students and made a lasting impression on us. I had the pleasure of taking two classes with Jim: Modern and Contemporary France in the first year (2003-4) and Modern French Thinkers in the second year (2004-5), and I have very fond memories of both. I, like many others, also played in Jim's football team for a brief spell, where his passion was further evident (and combined with no little skill!) Jim played an important role in my development at Warwick and beyond. Many condolences to Jim's family and loved ones.

Desmond Wilkins 21/02/2023


So saddened to hear this news. I met Jim whilst studying for my UG degree at Warwick, I think on a student-staff committee as I wasn’t fortunate enough to get onto one of his modules. After moving to Birmingham a few years after graduating, it was a great surprise to bump into Jim and discover that we were now living doors away from one another. A good neighbour to have. Jim had a way of talking to you which made you feel like you were the only person in the room, his friendliness and enthusiasm were infectious. Deepest condolences to his family. A very special character who won’t be forgotten.

Cleo Longworth Bowen 21/02/2023


My abiding memories of Jim are of crossing paths with him in the French department office at the end of the working day and snatching time then to catch up and put the world to rights. Even at that time of day he fizzed with energy and there were always lively discussions to be had about how the students were doing, whether we should change X to Y to make things work better, why was it taking so long to sort out something that would clearly improve things! For me, Jim was above all someone who delighted in making – and facilitating making – connections. With his passion for his subject, and the wonderful cadences and timbre of his Glaswegian accent, he enthused massed banks of students about French politics in lectures. He showed real concern for his students and for his colleagues – he was my mentor when I first came to Warwick and I benefited from his astute ability to pick up when I was finding things tricky. Years after he’d left Warwick, when I sent a question out to the French academic community through ‘Francofil’, he got in touch, not to answer the question, but simply to find out how I was doing, and we shared emails about our families. Jim had a big heart and great pastoral and teaching skills, and these left a lasting impression.

Cathy Hampton 23/02/2023


I was shocked to hear this news. Jim was such a lovely man, someone who combined great knowledge with great kindness and a terrific sense of humour. Rest in peace, dear Jim, you will always be remembered by those of us who benefitted from knowing you.

Susan Bassnett 26/02/2023


Jim was the person who, with his wide, welcoming smile and beautiful blue eyes, welcomed me to my Residential Life experience. His acceptance of everyone and belief in their capabilities was what enabled him to create great teams. I will be forever grateful to Jim for my experience as a Resident Tutor at Tocil. Thank you for having crossed my path, for your warm smile and for contributing to my wonderful life-experience through Warwick. Rest in Peace dear Jim.

Jane Spinola 01/03/2023


Jim was an extremely friendly and warm colleague, often smiling and almost as often laughing. He was a very popular teacher indeed and I remember a very inspiring talk he gave at an open day for prospective undergraduates which was idiosyncratic in the best possible way, using various props including a range of French newspapers. It went down very well. After Jim left Warwick University to go to work at Aston, we used to invite him back to take part in 'election nights', where a panel of us would discuss recent elections; Jim was, as ever, very cheerful and very entertaining - as well as impressively knowledgeable of course - both at the public event and at the meal afterwards. Jim was a leading authority on French politics and produced the best book in the English language on the extreme right, a book which is an enduring legacy.

Nick Hewlett 12/03/2023


My wife and I, Mary Lou, met Jim as undergraduates (1980-84) while studying at the University of Glasgow and living on campus at Maclay Hall, one of the many halls of residences around Kelvingrove park, in Glasgow. Jim was one of the wardens in Maclay Hall. He was always very helpful, very approachable and had great empathy with the younger students and had a fantastic sense of humour, with the most infectious warm, laughter. He oozed decency and kindness. Judging by all the previous memories here , his obvious qualities just got stronger as he got older. We were both very saddened when we heard he had passed. Requiescat in pace.

Tony Doherty 13/03/2023


Jim was the first doctoral student I met in Glasgow in 1980, he was in French (Stendhal in those days) and I was in Classics. He was a great person to meet first up, because he was passionate, thoughtful and generous, and I was homesick. What a fantastic person he was. I am very sad to hear of his passing.

Christopher Mackie 20/03/2023


I vividly remember seeing Jim in action for the first time, during a first-year lecture in the Warwick Social Sciences Building in the 1994-1995 session, when he lit up the lecture theatre and compounded that wondrous feeling of being a new Undergraduate getting to know University life. I remember Jim on Poujadism, Helvétius (if ever a phrase was made to be uttered by Jim it was ‘L’homme machine’), Stendhal (did all those novels about temperaments and the politics of language somehow prepare Jim’s later interests?), and of course his huge expertise on French elections and the far right. But in Jim I inevitably recall not only the substance of his teaching but also his inimitable, captivating style and his example. Jim’s energy was remarkable for its famous infectiousness and also for its openness and generosity, extending not only to students but to the subject matter itself, in Jim’s enthusiasm for knowledge and debate. Not long after that first-year lecture, ‘French at Warwick’ was the caption under a photograph of a newspaper obituary for Donald Charlton proudly shown to me by my grandparents while I was still a student. That moment crystallized for me that ‘French at Warwick’ was and is a real, reified, and special thing. Along with a host of other tutors and staff (how can one not also think of Carole and Gill!), Jim was a quintessential part of the ‘French at Warwick’ experience for me and the cohorts of students fortunate enough to be taught by him. Nearly 30 years later, friends and I still recall Jim with huge affection – his lectures, his bonhomie (another word you can hear him say), his Saabs (what joy when a second one appeared on the Tocil driveway behind the first), his love of football (Jim was an ace striker and won many a dual with me in goal up at the Westwood football pitches) – and it hard to think he is gone. Writing this from Glasgow, Jim’s alma mater, it is also hard to convey my admiration for Jim, one of many staff at Warwick who were role models and mentors, and without whom I can’t imagine having been able to find my own way into academia. I send all sympathy and good wishes to Jim’s family, and to all those who worked with Jim and feel his loss.

Stephen Forcer 21/03/2023


I was both very shocked and saddened to learn of Jim's passing. I first met him around 20 years, but hadn't been in contact for some time. One of the last times we met was when he came to De Montfort University to present a paper at our history seminar. He had just published his monograph of a history of the French far right and he spoke with typical great eloquence and knowledge about a group of French soldiers who fought for the Nazis. I was aware of his leading academic reputation in this area and he told me how he often went to France to cover the elections. However, my main connection with Jim was through his main passion - before his family - football. We played together for several years in the team he ran in the intra-Warwick league, Inter, which we won on a number of occasions. Jim usually came on as a substitute where he would inevitably bag a goal. A natural goal scorer, he had a deceptive change of pace, who with a drop of his shoulder would leave defenders in his wake. He also took a mean penalty, always cool under pressure. In penalty shootouts, he insisted on taking the final one; perhaps he wanted the glory. It actually backfired on one occasion when a miss by a team mate meant he was unable to take his penalty! At this time, his football meant a great deal to him. He had a photo album of the Inter teams he played for, which he was very proud of. Like others, I was totally unaware of his long-term illness at the time, but it didn’t interfere with his football. During training, games and when standing on the sidelines, Jim was always very positive, and when his team mates started losing their head, he kept his, often calming them in that smooth Scottish brogue. Many condolences to Jim’s family.

Neil Carter 22/03/2023


I was fortunate to be able to take Jim’s French Politics class in my final year at Warwick (02-03). He was hands down my favourite lecturer at Warwick and his was the only class where I didn’t feel like the stupidest person in the room. He was an engaging, interesting and inspiring teacher. My condolences to his friends and family.

Jenny R 26/03/2023


I was saddened to hear of Jim’s demise. We went to school together where Jim and other members of his Family excelled. My memories of him where of his determination to go from an average football player to an excellent outside left:What sticks in my mind was his continual determination to improve and at the same time he’ll others. My thoughts go out to his Family and may he rest in peace.

Tony O’Neill 15/04/2023

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