Martin Regal: A tribute

Dr Martin Regal, my supervisor during my master’s thesis died 22. August 2017. Growing up in Barnet, north London, he did an M.A. in English from the University of California, in Davis (UCD) in 1983. He finished his PhD. in British and American dramatic literature from the same institution in 1991, where he researched the playwright, screenwriter, director and actor, Harold Pinter (1930-2008). He had been teaching at the University of Iceland since 1976, but had previous teaching experience from Wolfson College in Cambridge, The University of Stockholm and the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. He specialised in drama, film studies, translated numerous Icelandic literature (old and new) and poetry and wrote theatre critiques for Morgunblaðið newspaper, RÚV (The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service). He was the narrator and translator of many films and performances.

In the first year of my master’s in comparative literature I was an Erasmus exchange student at the University College London. During my stay there, I was first introduced to the bawdy poet, John Wilmot, 2nd earl of Rochester, a 17th century court poet during King Charles II’s reign. I was immediately smitten with this poet that caused so much stir from his time to the present. When seeking out an appropriate supervisor at the University of Iceland, I was directed to Martin Regal. Slightly intimidated, I got an interview with him and told him about my chosen, mildly inappropriate choice of research material. Martin looked at me silently for a while, before finally asking if my choice had been influenced by the film The Libertine (2004), starring Johnny Depp as a Hollywood version of Lord Rochester. Only when I promised my interest preceded the film did he take my project on. I knew from that moment on that I was in good hands. Analysing the libertine’s poetry using the theories of thinkers such as Marquis de Sade, Edmund Burke and Mikhail Bakhtin, it was important to have the support of an academic who was unafraid of somewhat unorthodox ways of thinking. I had certainly found that in Martin Regal. When I handed in my thesis and had my last meeting with him as my mentor he gave me a 17th century UK coin and told me that this might have been in the hands of my beloved Lord Rochester.

I have carried that coin in my purse ever since as a reminder of all the things I learned during that time. Hard work, perseverance and continuing despite your fears pays off. Also, that exploring some of the more frightening aspects of your academic interests can lead you to some interesting places, such as lewd 17th century poetry, frightening wax figures and horrific fashion. The last two refer to some of my research since beginning my own academic career, the direction of my expertise certainly being traceable to the work I did with Martin Regal and Guðni Elísson before him.
Martin showed me support from our first meeting to the present, he wrote a letter of support for my PhD application and was enthusiastic about my co-edited book Fashioning Horror: Dressing to Kill on Screen and in Literature (2017). I promised to let him know when work on the sequel would begin, so that he could contribute a chapter to it. While I will not have a chance to keep my promise, he will certainly be an important influence for that work.
I would like to express my deepest sympathy to his family and friends. Martin Regal was a helpful and understanding mentor and a great academic. He will be missed.

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2 thoughts on “Martin Regal: A tribute

  1. The news of Martin’s passing saddened me a great deal. He was my supervisor for my BA English Lit at Stockholm University and I was one of his students on his Film and Fiction course. He had a great sense of humour and his classes were always unconventional and fun. I recognise what you say about the coin. He passed one around in one of the F&F seminars for us to take a look at. He was very supportive of my BA project and was certainly in my corner when it came to my defence (although he thought it was strange that students were defending their BA theses in the first place). He will be missed.

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