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Malcolm Douglas



Malcolm Douglas, (died 2009 from cancer aged 54), had many talents, but two in particular brought him to national prominence. He had a compendious knowledge and understanding of traditional folk song (mainly, but not exclusively, English folk song), and he was a renowned illustrator and comic artist. He fell into these contrasting fields by accident, but he treated them with meticulous attention to detail and a professionalism that belied his lack of formal training.

He became an illustrator after volunteering to illustrate a student union newspaper at Sheffield University, and found that people were prepared to pay him to do what had hitherto been a hobby. His illustrations featured in a wide range of comics, of which the best known was Oink; he was also the illustrator of the footballing devilkin Fred the Red, for five years delighting both young and old readers of Manchester United match programmes.

For the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) he revised the evergreen song collection The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, originally edited by Ralph Vaughan Williams and AL Lloyd in 1959. In his new edition, published in 2003 as Classic English Folk Songs, he corrected previous errors and brought to the book a wealth of additional detail. He did the same well-researched and comprehensive review of another of the EFDSS's most successful publications, Marrow Bones (2007), a collection of folk songs from Dorset and Hampshire, originally edited by Frank Purslow. He was working on a third, The Wanton Seed, when he succumbed to illness. He was also well-known among folk-music enthusiasts for his contributions to the online forum The Mudcat Café, where he had posted almost 9,000 detailed answers to questions about the most obscure aspects of folk song and music.

Malcolm was born and brought up in south London, and after attending Trinity School of John Whitgift in Croydon, he went to Sheffield University to study French and English and decided to stay on in the city, which he regarded as his home town.

He was committed to the principle of the people's ownership of their cultural heritage and was involved in many grassroots initiatives, even expressing concern about what he saw as the over-professionalisation of the folk arts. He was co-host at the Red Deer folk club in Sheffield for a decade and was active in regional organisations such as the South Riding Folk Network (SRFN) and Yorkshire Folk Arts, maintaining websites for both organisations, editing the SRFN magazine and designing the South Yorkshire folk magazine Stirrings.

Malcolm was also a performer, playing the fiddle, mandolin and cittern with various concert and dance bands, and was a familiar figure at music sessions in and around Sheffield. He was survived by his mother, Sylph, and his brother, Ian.




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Last modified: Sunday, 20 January 2019