TRIBUTES have been paid to a Russian expert who helped establish a university department devoted to the subject.

William Harrison, known as Bill, was the first head of Durham University’s newly founded Russian Department after it became independent of the German Department.

Professor Harrison died in the University Hospital of North Durham, in Durham City, on Sunday, November 18, following a short illness. He was 78.

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Former colleagues described him as a warm and caring mentor and inspiring teacher.

He was also a devoted family man and leaves his wife Joyce, son Richard and two grandchildren. His daughter, Jane, predeceased him.

The future professor was born in Sherburn Village, near Durham, in 1934 and attended Durham Johnston School.

He learned Russian on an intensive interpreters’ course during his National Service.

After a spell in the RAF, he studied Russian at Cambridge University – graduating with a Starred First.

He was invited to establish Russian studies under Durham University’s German Department in 1960 and began teaching the following year.

The arrival of colleagues over following years allowed a Russian Department to be founded, with Prof Harrison as its first head.

An early project of his was ‘Say it in Russian’, which was broadcast on Tyne Tees in the late 1960s.

In the 1980s, he was president of the British Universities Association of Slavists.

In 1986, he became the first chairman of the University’s School of Modern European Languages.

He published widely on Russian language and history, before retiring in 1990 due to ill health. He continued to live in Belmont, Durham.

Prof Harrison’s funeral will be held at Durham Crematorium on Friday at 1pm. Donations in lieu of flowers should be made to the British Heart Foundation.