Dr Sue Sherman, Keele University
Our much loved Treasurer and friend Dr Allan McNeill died peacefully, after a long illness, on 17th September 2016, aged 57. He was a regular at the BPS Cognitive Section’s Annual Conference for many years, presenting fascinating research on face recognition during the academic sessions and providing much life and soul at the social events. Who can forget the sight of a kilted Allan whirling round the dance floor at the ceilidh he hosted in Glasgow in 2012! Allan was never one of those academics who cared about rank, he would make sure the nervous first time postgraduate attendee was fully included and made them feel as important and welcome as the most esteemed professors. He had led a rich and varied life, having a career in the music industry as both a performer (in punk band Johnny and the Self Abusers, which later evolved into Simple Minds) and manager (notably of Hue and Cry) before turning to psychology. Following a PhD with ProfessorMike Burton at Glasgow University he became a respected face researcher and appeared in court as an expert witness. In December 2015 he married the love of his life, Monika and their marriage was much like his life – too short but packed full of wonderful memories. I felt very fortunate to be able to call him my friend.
To try and give readers a flavour of the very special person that Allan was we have invited some of his closest friends and colleagues to share their memories of him.
Professor Mike Burton, University of York
I have so many memories of Allan, who was my PhD student and became a friend. For years he represented academic face research in the courts, and a great many colleagues directed forensic enquiries his way. He was brilliant in this role - a safe pair of hands when describing the most relevant research findings. Most of the time he delivered unwelcome news (‘no - you can’t reliably make an identification from that evidence’) but his authority and affability made him a very popular expert witness. My second memory is more personal. A couple of times we went to see bands in the Barrowlands, a legendary Glasgow venue. He seemed to know everyone there, and he cut through the crowds - that friendly authority again. Allan achieved something not often managed by 57 year old academics. He was cool.
Dr Jim Handley, University of South Wales
Allan was a very fine human being. I first met him many years ago, on his first week tutoring at an Open University residential school. He took to it like a fish to water. His natural ability to include people and put them at ease, together with an inability to hide his enthusiasm for ‘our thing’ of cognitive psychology made him a great tutor. He had enormous patience and grace in the way he guided students through the challenge of designing, conducting and analyzing a research project in five days. For many subsequent residential schools, we’d meet up on the same weeks, often picking up conversations where we’d left them a year before. He always worked hard, played hard and understood the importance of savouring simple pleasures. After a long day’s work we’d sit in the bar sharing the sophisticated pursuit he called ‘drinking beer and talking bollocks.’ Topics would range across the events of the day, tacit assumptions of cognitive psychology, 1970s music, the woeful deterioration of academic life under the imposition of command and control management and some robust debate about whose round it was. Mostly we laughed a lot. I treasure those memories, his self-deprecating humour, sincere concern for others, irreverence, and great sense of fun. I’m grateful to have had him as a friend. He is and will continue to be sorely missed.
Dr Lesley Calderwood, University of the West of Scotland
I first met Allan around the summer of 2000 when I joined Mike Burton’s ‘face group’ at Glasgow University. Allan was finishing off his PhD at this time and then stayed on to do a post-doc. I remember feeling part of a very supportive research group of which Allan was one of the more experienced members who would always make time to help us with a query about Psychscope or the design of an experiment. Even when he was really busy with his PhD write-up, he always found the time to help us. He would sometimes bring the kids to the office and was happy for them to help me pilot my face recognition experiments. When he took up his lectureship at Glasgow Caledonian, Allan still valued the support and influence of the face research group and continued to come to our weekly lab meetings. This was a relaxed forum where we could share research ideas and get feedback and discuss future projects and Allan always made a useful contribution to the discussions. Allan continued to attend these meetings over the years and brought his own PhD students from Caledonian so that they too could benefit from this environment – this was always supportive and beneficial for those attending.
From 2007-2012, I worked closely with Allan at Caledonian. We had an ESRC grant looking at developmental differences in face identification and I collected so much data from a lot of children on several face and object processing tasks. We spent a good while writing this data up, trying to put a spin on the fact that it really just showed that children get better on these tasks as they get older. I remember one day we had made some changes to the manuscript and Allan asked me what version of the manuscript we were on now. It was probably the 5th or 6th version, but I said it must be about 50 and so it was saved as version 50! We took so long to perfect our manuscript that Megreya and Bindemann carried out and published a similar study with Egyptian children in 2015 – nightmare! I also remember going with Allan to the Police Scotland Training College at Tulliallan where we were both quite shocked when the trainees referred to us as sir and madam and saluted us as we walked past – quite a different reception from our students at Caledonian!
I have very fond memories of Allan. He was always very supportive and good fun to work with. He will be sorely missed in the face research group and at the Cognitive annual conference. I will miss him a lot and will keep working on version 51.
Professor Linden J Ball, University of Central Lancashire and former Chair of the BPS Cognitive Section
Allan was a wonderful friend and colleague during the time that I knew him over the past decade. We only ever met at BPS Cognitive Section conferences and committee meetings, but it was always a highlight to catch up with him again and enjoy his cheery disposition, sharp wit and good natured approach to life and work. I was always struck by how warm he was to friends and strangers alike, taking great pleasure from everyday conversations and being excited by interesting research findings and ideas. I missed him greatly at the recent Cognitive Section conference in Barcelona in early September, when he was already far too unwell to attend. I will continue to miss him at future Cognitive Section conferences too, which won’t be the same without him. I’ll never forget his cheery grin and his love of life, people and, of course, cognitive psychology.
Professor Catriona Morrison, University of Bradford and former Chair of the BPS Cognitive Section
My reminiscences would be the most amazing ceilidh dancing with Allan in Glasgow 2012 at the BPS Cognitive - he was a star turn on the dance floor! Also the talk he gave at BPS Annual in Nottingham May 2016, which was the outstanding talk of the symposium (with all respect to the other great participants). And first meeting him in Aberdeen at the BPS Cognitive in 2006 (? or thereabouts) - his enthusiasm for psychology and for working to support the development of the discipline was infectious, and he proved it with ten years' of work with the Section.
Dr Lauren Knott, City University and Honorary Secretary of the BPS Cognitive Section
I first met Allan at Nottingham for our 2014 BPS Cognitive Conference. I connected with him instantly. I loved his Scottish charm and as a new member to the committee, he made me feel instantly part of the family. I will remember our merry social sessions and friendly, humorous debates. I feel very honoured to have known Allan, and saddened that it was for only a brief period of my life.
Dr Harriet Smith, Nottingham Trent University, former Cognitive Section Committee PSYPaG representative
At Kent 2015 I gave a presentation as part of a symposium Allan was chairing. He was so supportive, and realised how nervous I was to present in front of some of the biggest names in face processing (of whom he was one!). I’ll always remember him bounding up to me afterwards in the coffee break and giving me a big hug.
Dr Duncan Guest, Nottingham Trent University, Cognitive Section Committee Member and Editor of the Bulletin
I met Allan upon joining the BPS committee a few years ago. He was always so welcoming, and ready to laugh, smile and look upon the funny side of life, regardless of how intractable the BPS financial statements were.
Dr Chris O’Donnell, University of the West of Scotland
Allan and I met as undergraduates at Glasgow University and both engaged in PhDs in the Bruce and Burton FaceLab. Despite the overlap in Psychological field we seldom collaborated on any projects, except one I’d like to share with you, as it gives us a measure of the man.
After one too many Belgian beers in Ashton lane, we came up with the earth shattering idea that learning new faces was “hard” and “that less information was probably more”. The result of our musings was a not inconsiderable amount of time running spatial filtering on the Glasgow Face set and then training people to learn the filtered images. To our delight we found that the poorest quality training images produced the best recognition in subsequent tasks. Excited by our breakthrough off we went to the FaceLab meetings, with our impressive data. At the end of our peer review the bold McNeill was delighted as he said “Mike and Vicki had only a handful of confounds, a win indeed ya fud” (one of his pet name for me). We then presented our findings at the EPS and BPS Cognitive conferences, again to very positive receptions. Esteemed colleagues encouraged us to publish before we got beaten to the punch.
Hang on you may be thinking, I haven’t seen that publication, I would remember golden data like that. Allan insisted that we try to replicate before submitting the golden data for publication. All in all, we ran 14 replications and if memory serves me correctly, only 2 of the replications found a p less than 0.05. During that time, we had many a passionate “set to” (a Glaswegian discussion) but ultimately Allan called time on our golden data, rightly declaring it fool’s gold.
In the decade or so that followed we discussed and questioned our decision. On reflection as Psychology is asked some uncomfortable questions about replicability, I am grateful and indebted to Allan’s commitment to “proper science” and his academic integrity.
Dr Markus Bindemann, University of Kent
I first met Allan McNeill when I began to study for a PhD at the University of Glasgow in 2001. We were both working in Mike Burton’s lab and shared an office, but Allan was a couple of years ahead of me. Allan helped to get my PhD research under way. He showed me how to use experiment presentation software, essential stimulus preparation (and other cool stuff) with graphics software, and new ways of data analysis. Many of the things that I learned from him, I still use today and pass on to my own students. Allan was a tremendous help, but he was also easy to get along with and we quickly became friends.
When I think of Allan now, I think about football. Away from academia, Allan was a Scottish Football Association approved coach and skilful and composed on the ball. I once found myself playing against his veteran league team in a friendly. We were fit and strong, and our average team age must have been a good 20 years less than Allan’s band of full-bellied geriatrics. They had a left-back that was 63 and a striker that looked like an Egyptian mummy, because he had so many bandages. We were confident it was a non-contest – and it was. They beat us 3:0. Walking off the pitch, Allan came over to me and said with a chuckle: “I’ve got a game for yous in the showers. Try touching bellies, without touching wi***es”! It was the cheeky wit of one of Glasgow’s finest sons. It was also enduringly endearing, like the man.
Dr Ailsa Strathie, Open University
When I was asked to write about Allan, my first thought was to recount a funny story, and there are a lot to choose from! However, while Allan’s sense of humour was certainly part of the reason he was such fun to work with, as my supervisor, I keep coming back to how kind he was, and how very generous with his time. The best example I can offer of this is that on the occasion of my first conference presentation I was exceptionally nervous, and Allan exhibited the patience of a saint by watching me give the same presentation over, and over, and over again. He listened to the talk before we left Glasgow, when he arrived at the conference, and again on the evening of the conference dinner! He even arranged the use of a room at the venue so I could practise on the day of the talk. After all that, I’m sorry to say that the actual performance was not really worthy of his efforts! However, that I was able to give the presentation at all is a testament to his patience and support. I remember him as a funny, kind, and generous mentor and friend.
Dr Alan Pechey, Open University
When I heard that Allan has passed away it was if I’ve just lost a very old friend. But strangely bar one lovely weekend with Allan and Monika in Lochwinnoch I only ever knew Allan at Residential School. It’s amazing how strong the bonds one forms there.
Such a pity that they will be no more. But Nottingham would never be the same without Allan. I have so many memories of Allan at Nottingham. Going out for pub dinners and nice Italian dinners; boating on the lake and jogging around the lake; and trips to explore the Peak district. He was known as ‘Double L’ at Nottingham to distinguish himself from myself [‘Single L’]
Allan always gave his all to the students. Not only as a tutor but as an entertainer. He was the central figure around which the key evening entertainments such as the Pirate Party ran. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go to a fancy dress party again without thinking about Allan dressed as a pirate. And Monika would put on our pirate make-up in preparation for the party.
Monika is there in all these memories. Allan was clearly in love with Monika from their first meeting. It is so very sad that their marriage was cut so short.
Dr Scott Cole, York St John University
My experiences with Allan have all been related to working at Summer Schools for the OU. As an inexperienced PhD student, I was taken aback when I was first introduced to the unique character of Allan McNeill. The irreverence, confidence and humour with which he addressed his colleagues (and often superiors!), and soon-to-be friends at Summer School really made me feel like I wasn’t working, but staying with a family.
I soon felt like one of the family, and Allan was a huge part of that. Working more with him I was struck by his energy and quick-wittedness. I have one particularly vivid memory of staying up late in the Senior Common Room – typically where only staff were allowed. Allan confidently invited a student in a wheelchair inside with a few other students and stayed up late for some lively discussions. Although many Tutors couldn’t keep up with Allan’s pace, he rose to the occasion of teaching the full throng of students early the next morning, confidently striding up and down the class, getting the students involved in whatever task he had planned for them that day. There will be countless OU students who owe much of their enjoyment of Summer School to the atmosphere created by Allan.
The great thing about memories is that once they are ingrained, the good ones never go. His passing is a loss to Psychology, and his many colleagues and friends, and of course Monika. But I will always take with me the inspiration and humour with which we can all teach, and to bring joy and humour to the often amazing ‘job’ of being an academic.
Dr Monika McNeill, Glasgow Caledonian University and Allan’s wife
Allan and I were partners both in our personal and professional lives. When we met, we both instantly sensed that we had connected. Very quickly we had many things to talk about and we became each other’s best friends. Over a few years that we lived apart, we must have fed many families of the employees of the telephone and Internet providers.
Allan was the most robust person I have ever met. He was able to go over and over again the same presentation slide or a sentence in the paper, until he was happy with it. On the other hand, he was the same person that led a group of research methods students singing ‘I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden’, while clapping rhythmically. That was simply to help his struggling students understand a concept of a normal distribution.
Our life together was strongly inspired by Allan’s creative spirit, his openness and curiosity. Many memories come to mind when I think about these qualities so I will mention but a few. Allan introduced me to the world of music I never knew existed. He bravely moved from the city to the country for the first time in his life just to create our home together. In his truly ‘Allan style’ he also arranged our first date in Dans Le Noir, a restaurant where dinner is consumed in darkness, so that we could have unforgettable memories. Experience, as he kept saying, was the key. Getting married to Allan was unquestionably the most natural, happiest and relaxing of experiences. It felt like coming back home after a very long and tiresome journey and it solidified our foundations.
It goes without saying that there is currently a big ‘Allan-shaped’ hole in my life but I am also well aware that I couldn't have asked for a more colourful, interesting and inspiring life shared with the most caring, creative, fun-loving, reliable and committed person that I can call my best friend, my husband and the love of my life.