The School of History is sad to record the death of Roger Mettam, on 12 February this year, at the age of 82. One of its most flamboyant and distinguished former members of staff, Roger was born in Dartford, Kent, in May 1939 and was evacuated to Belfast during the Second World War, an unlikely place of safety given the ferocious bombing of 1941. Returning to south London after the war, Roger eventually went up to Cambridge, to Christ’s College as an undergraduate and then to Peterhouse, where Professor Alfred Cobban supervised his thesis on Absolutism in Louis XIV’s France. It justifiably rebelled against the idea that the high aristocracy was marginalised under Louis XIV, locked up in the great gilded cage of Versailles and allowed out only on carefully controlled excursions to lead the armies. This made Roger’s name as one the outstanding historians of seventeenth-century France, a role he occupied until his retirement from Queen Mary in 2004. His first teaching post was at the new University of York where he was appointed as a Lecturer in 1964 and quickly earned the reputation as a first-class teacher and researcher. In 1970 he applied for and was appointed to, a post at what was then Queen Mary College, University of London, where he was to spend the next 34 years, eventually becoming a Reader.
Roger was always larger than life, exasperating, infuriating, wickedly funny, the source of more unreliable gossip than I care to think about, a very good friend, an inspiring undergraduate teacher and research degree supervisor. Many of his pupils were to become university teachers and heads of school. He was also a fierce upholder of what he saw as ‘proper standards’. Woe betide anyone who put a comma or semi-colon in the wrong place. In addition, he was an excellent administrator who maintained essential links with Senate House when Queen Mary and successively Queen Mary and Westfield College were still part of the federal University of London.
After he retired he was able to devote himself to his great passion, travel, to France of course, but also to other parts of Europe and the United Kingdom. His knowledge of European culture was vast, as was his enjoyment of the food and wine of any region he visited, often with friends. Yet his greatest achievement was to enjoy life to the full and to cheer up others along the way. Many will miss his splendid greeting when you met him walking along the Mile End Road: ‘Pip, pip, old bean’.
Words by Jim Bolton.