Computer Science News

Tribute to Professor John Campbell

The Department of Computer Science is saddened by the passing of John Campbell, who retired from UCL as a Professor of Computer Science some years ago. Members of the department past and present reflect on his contribution to the Department, and to Computer Science, in the below:


 "Professor Campbell was my advisor during what should be one year "sandwich" period in 1996 during my 3rd year of UFRGS Doctoral program in Brazil. During my stay in London, my advisor in Brazil found out he had cancer and could not continue with my supervision. John helped me to redirect my thesis and kept my supervision through long, patient, diary messages (this was before Skype or WhatsApp) until I had completed the work. I went back to London for one month at the end of the doctoral period, moved to his office and got his full attention to finalise my thesis volume that was carefully PORTUGUESE! The extensive exchange of messages became a large and warm discussion about politics, culture, family, life and ethics.. I have kept and cherished each of the messages. Each supervision that I lead today has the flavor of his advice and behaviour; I listen to myself rephrasing his words. I hope to one day deserve his legacy!" - Professor Mara Abel, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil)

 "Prof. John Campbell was my PhD supervisor at UCL back in the '90s. There were so many striking aspects of his personality, foremost the fact that he had amusing stories to tell on absolutely any subject whatsoever. He seemed to have visited every single country on the planet, read every book ever published, and able to speak all languages. And of course he knew everything about AI and computer science (and the other sciences), as well as sports, politics, and all the rest of it. His reading speed was definitely super-human, still nothing short of infinite kindness and perfectionism could explain the patience with which he corrected my writing at the time. I learnt so much with him, both technically and as a person, that the news of his passing has saddened me profoundly. He will be much missed by everyone who had the pleasure and the privilege of having known him." - Rafael Bordini, PUCRS (Brazil)

 "Back in the days when moving money around the world was difficult and costly I needed to pay a smallish sum to someone in, I think, Yugoslavia. John offered to help as he had an account there. I asked whether this was a service he could provide world-wide. The answer seemed to be pretty much "yes". A truly international citizen!

Second it was John who introduced me, and I suspect several others in the Department, to a new search engine - called Google." - Graham Knight, UCL Computer Science

 "John was an intensely erudite man, who wore his learning and experience lightly - without a trace of the arrogance that often accompanies it. A kind, thoughtful and thought-provoking man." - Professor Steve Hailes, UCL Computer Science

"I have hugely fond memories of climbing over a mountain of books to find John typing away with his 2 index fingers. Once we’d got through talking about our shared love of comedy (from the Goons to the Goodies to Michael Frayne and Monty Python - and even a play I wrote for the Bloomsbury Theatre!)  he’d always give quite brilliant and insightful about so many things in life. And it was fun! I remember that he was especially brilliant in shaping the final version of my PhD  - could easily have been a professional copy writer amongst so many other possible careers.  If John hadn’t invited me to join him at UCL to take up a funded PhD I'm quite sure I wouldn’t be enjoying the life I enjoy today. A truly interdisciplinary man a long time before it became the commonplace everyday description of all research today." - Mark d'Inverno, Goldsmiths  

I came across Prof. John Campbell in late 1991 to pursue my research in artificial intelligence. We used to have regular research briefing meetings. In one of those meetings, I went inside John’s office (Pearson Building, Ground Floor Office), for a discussion about a conference paper; and I found another gentleman in that room. John introduced me to the gentleman named John Harris who has written a book called - Combinatorics and Graph Theory. In another occasion, John and I were discussing about two conference papers (one in Berlin and the other one in London Derry) both were in the same week, and I was facing a dilemma: how to manage the situation? John came up with a plan for presenting our papers in the same week. John went to Berlin’s conference, and I headed to London Derry. The London Derry conference was truly international as many prominent scientists were present. I had a long discussion with John McCarthy, who developed the LISP programming language family, and significantly influenced the design of the ALGOL programming language. Prof. John Campbell was a warm human being with an enormous sense of humour who will be sorely missed by his students. - Kamalendu Pal, City, University of London

"Prof. John Campbell became my supervisor in the early 90’s. The technical support that he provided, his reassuring demeanour and his faith in my aspirations and the work that I was carrying were all fundamental and left an indelible impression on me. His vast knowledge was mirrored by his incredible collection of books spread around his office which, together with the diversity of topics covered, I found quite comforting.

 I often look back at my PhD years to our discussions which covered a diverse range of topics such as the game of Go and its challenges to AI,  Distributed AI, the design of agents and automated language translation. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of my PhD which was imbued with a sense of excitement of how much could be accomplished in so many different areas of research. This experience continues to inspire me to this day. Most importantly, I found his warmth of character, his sense of humour, empathy and willingness to help, both during and after my PhD years, transformative. He had a profound influence on my career and life.

 I was deeply saddened with the news of his passing but with the benefit of time and further reflection, the sadness was superseded by a sense of gratitude of having the privilege to know Prof. Campbell, and to have had the opportunity to enjoy his friendship and be inspired by his experience and advice. May his memory be always for a blessing to all who have been fortunate to know him and enjoy his presence, intellect, and friendship." - Mauro Manela


If you have a message or a memory of John to communicate to his family, please send this by email to and to Professor Steve Hailes via 

Posted 30 May 18 10:17