Travel writer Bill Bryson was today appointed as the Chancellor of Durham University.

The world-renowned author succeeds the late Sir Peter Ustinov as head of the top-rated university.

The US-born journalist and author, who has lived most of his adult life in England, is best known for his series of books observing life in North America, Britain, Europe and Australia.

Ironically he sang the praises of the Durham City in his account of touring around Britain, Notes from a Small Island.

He has written about the English language and about poverty in Africa, and won the 2004 Royal Society Aventis Prize for science writing with his encyclopaedic work A Short History of Nearly Everything.

On his appointment, he said today: ''I could ask for no great honour.

''I hope it goes without saying that I will do my utmost to serve the university with credit.''

The university Vice-Chancellor, Sir Kenneth Calman, added: ''This is a wonderful cause for celebration.

''We are absolutely delighted that Bill Bryson has accepted our invitation to be Chancellor.

''He is a man whose values and vision have so much in common with our own students, staff and graduates.

''We welcomed him to the family of the university by conferring on him an honorary degree, and now we look to him as head of our family. ''We are confident he will be an inspiring and supportive Chancellor.''

Bryson becomes the 11th Chancellor of the university, which celebrates its 175th anniversary in two years. ends