JAMES T Boulton ,who has died aged 89, was the first member of his family to go to university, becoming a prolific author and literary scholar with an international reputation.
His father Harry was a joiner and undertaker in Pickering, singing tenor with the Pickering Operatic Society where he met his wife, Annie, who was an accompanist.
From 1975 until his retirement in 1989, the eldest of their four sons was professor of English Studies and head of the Department of English at Birmingham University.
He was also the institution’s Dean of Arts, the university’s Public Orator and founder-director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities.
Highly regarded as a lecturer and academic administrator, Professor Boulton’s reputation outside the university was earned by the quality of his literary research and criticism.
He was responsible, as either editor or author, for more than 60 books, as well as 50 articles and occasional papers. Much of his research – including his last book which was published at the end of 2012 when he was 88 – focused on the literature and political writings of the 18th century, notably the work of Daniel Defoe, Samuel Johnson, James Boswell and Edmund Burke.
As a child, Prof Boulton sang in the choir of Pickering parish church, along with his father and grandfather.
The phenomenon of three generations of one family being in the same church choir was considered sufficiently newsworthy by The Times to warrant a story and photograph, which it published in the early 1930s.
At Lady Lumley’s Grammar School, Pickering, the choirboy joined the Air Training Corps, and after his first year at University College, Durham, he joined the RAF. He qualified as a pilot, eventually flying the heavy single-seat Thunderbolt planes in Southern Rhodesia, Egypt, India and Malaya.
In 1946 he resumed his studies at, Durham and graduated with a first class honours degree in English Literature in 1948.
It was a proud event for his family, and prouder when he went on to Lincoln College, Oxford, the following year to undertake graduate research.
That same year he married Margaret Helen Leary from Stockton-on-Tees, a teacher and musician whom he had met when they were both students in Durham.
In 1951, Prof Boulton was appointed to a lectureship at Nottingham University, after which he was promoted to senior lecturer, reader and, in 1964, professor of English Literature; in 1971 he also became Dean of the Faculty of Arts.
Then came his move to Birmingham. However, through the accident of working in Nottingham he began to edit the letters of that city’s controversial son,
DH Lawrence, and he ultimately became most widely known in the world of literature as the editor of the eight substantial volumes of the Cambridge University Press edition of Lawrence’s letters and the general editor of the parallel series of Lawrence’s works.
Together these projects lasted from 1973 to 2013 and ran to over 40 volumes, the last of which was published only this spring.
The whole undertaking has been described as a model of modern editorial and critical scholarship.
In his retirement, Prof Boulton was awarded honorary doctorates by the universities of Durham and Nottingham, and in 1994 he was elected a senior fellow of the Royal Academy – a rare accolade.
He lectured in numerous countries, including the USA, the Netherlands, France, India, Zimbabwe, China and Japan, and he held a visiting professorship in New York.
He and his wife having moved to Bangor, North Wales, to be near their daughter, in 2007 he was made an honorary professor of Bangor University.
In retirement he continued to write and edit literary texts, and played a lively part in his adopted community in Snowdonia, contributing to church life and giving public lectures.
He had characteristics often associated with a Yorkshireman – steadfast loyalty, forthright expression, unwavering determination and mischievous wit.
Prof Boulton was a keen follower of the county cricket team, he made trips to Whitby with his wife, enjoyed returning to the sites of his boyhood holidays in Scarborough, and took pride in taking foreign visitors to see York Minster and Rievaulx Abbey.
Above all he loved going to Pickering, to see his widowed mother (who lived there until she died in 1974), to catch up with old friends and to call on his brother John, a Pickering resident until his death in 1997.
Prof Boulton is survived by his wife Margaret, his brother Robin, his children Andrew and Helen, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.