George Weidenfeld recalls a masterful historian of ancient Rome, and much else besides.
The label ‘brigadier don’, authorship of which has been variously ascribed to Winston Churchill and Maurice Bowra, denotes a brilliant academic who brought initiative, inventiveness and a tutored mind to wartime political warfare and intelligence, a sense of adventure and readiness for dangerous missions. Some of them transferred those qualities to pioneering work in the rebuilding of Britain’s post-war universities. Names such as William (Bill) Deakin, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Noel Annan and Alan Bullock come to mind.
Michael Grant was one of them. The Cambridge-bred ancient historian, numismatist and singularly gifted writer, mastering what the French call the art of ‘haute vulgarisation’, belongs to this category. His wartime work in the British Council in Ankara and roving commission in the Near East gave him ample opportunity to make his mark in political warfare. After the war he combined fellowships in Cambridge with a professorship at the University of Khartoum and for seven years, from 1959 to 1966, he was Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast. While there he wrote and translated from the Latin.