Historian, critic and poet whose 'The People's War' challenged conventional wisdom on wartime Britain
Angus Calder was for many years a conspicuous figure in the Edinburgh literary scene, but those who knew his prodigious output and his teaching career realised that there was much more to him than that genial presence in poetry readings, theatre, pubs and literary events all over Scotland.
His birth in 1942 into a writing family (his father Ritchie Calder was a well-known writer on scientific subjects), and his first marriage, to Jenni Daiches (daughter of the prodigiously gifted scholar David Daiches), ensured a life spent among books, authors, strenuous discussion and high standards. Ritchie Calder (later Lord Ritchie-Calder) had worked in London - giving young Angus a knowledge of the city and its social structures - before taking the Chair of International Relations at Edinburgh University; David Daiches was to end his long career as director of the same university's Institute of Advanced Studies. Angus studied English at King's College, Cambridge, and wrote his doctorate at Sussex University, its subject (Second World War politics in the UK) a good indication of where his interests lay, and would lie.
The two thrusts of Angus Calder's research and publishing interests were therefore established: well-researched and soundly based histories, and close studies of literary figures from 20th- century Scotland. Among his histories, the magisterial The People's War: Britain 1939-1945 (1969) was the first substantial work to question conventional wisdom on wartime Britain, and won him the Mail on Sunday/John Llewllyn Rhys Prize the year following publication. The revisionist theme continued with Revolutionary Empire (1981) and The Myth of the Blitz (1991).
His literary studies included Revolving Culture: notes from the Scottish Republic (1994), and an edited collection of Hugh MacDiarmid's prose, The Raucle Tongue: selected essays, journalism and interviews (in three volumes, 1997-98) - the latter, like many of his works, collaboratively edited.
These are merely high points: the very extensive bibliography of teaching books, introductions and collections, overlooking his own creative writing and five volumes of poetry, points to the other main thrust of his life, his long involvement with the Open University in Scotland where he inspired and nurtured the careers of a generation.
One other title, Russia Discovered: nineteenth-century fiction from Pushkin to Chekhov (1976) is (as I can testify from using it in university teaching for many years) exemplary of Calder's strong qualities: lucidity of organisation, the ability to connect across barriers of language and background to illuminate text, and a strength in overall construction which is particularly visible in his substantial historical writing. The Myth of the Blitz in particular is able to give a vivid picture of a complex society under stress to a generation born too late to have experienced it.
A particular strength of Calder's writing was his involvement with oral history, recording the experiences of those who had lived through such events as the Blitz and seen it at more uncomfortably close quarters than historians had done. Like all his historical writing, his depiction of London life at this extreme moment was characterised by lucidity: he did not obtrude on events so much as make them vividly alive to the reader.
Working in the Open University (from 1979 until 1993) gave Calder an unusual …