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St Clement Dane’s, 23rd October 1998

A class with Michael Kitson always began a little late. Michael would enter the room, smiling, in a state of apparent exhaustion, but with just a tinge of frenzy. After a certain initial bustling around, redeploying, but never, I suspect, re-organising, the many papers on the table, he would settle down in his chair, invite you to start reading your essay, light a cigarette and fall sound asleep.

The minutes that ensued were ones of mounting tension, as the unsmoked cigarette burned slowly down towards the slumbering fingers, and all wondered if Michael was hearing a word you were saying. But always - and when preparing for this morning I discovered it was the abiding mystery about Michael for all of us who were taught by him - always, just as you finished, just before the flesh began to singe, the eyes would open, and the comments and the questions made it clear that Michael had if not heard, then perfectly intuited, your observations. Then - for he was a great teacher - he contrived to do two things: to make you feel you had begun to understand something very important, and to make you gently aware that you had only begun and you should go and think about it much more closely. The encouragement would be sustained over the following months and years, as the Professor turned into the colleague, and Michael the teacher became Michael the friend. This was also a universal experience, and one that could be attested by former students in museums and universities all round the world.