William Oliphant was born in Glasgow in 1920. He left school at 14, and worked in a variety of jobs servicing radio and television and, in his long-held job with Biggars Music in Glasgow, electronic keyboards and church organs. He served as a radio engineer with Bomber Command during the Second World War.
In the early 1950s he was a member of Edward Scoullar’s writers’ group ‘The Wolves of Buchanan Street’. He had some success with short fiction but gave up writing for a number of years, then turned to writing poetry in 1983, after what he used to describe as the longest writer’s block in literary history. His poems featured often in anthologies and magazines, including Chapman and West Coast Magazine, as well as in his own self-published books. His work was also regularly broadcast on Radio Scotland and Radio Clyde.
Mario Relich, in Lines Review 123 (December 1992) hails Oliphant as a ‘most accomplished, quirky poet refreshingly unbeholden to any current fashions’. Relich picks out ‘I’d Welcome Death’ as one of the most striking poems, in which the poet is ‘bracingly mordant’ about the future.
Oliphant’s poems are about the acceptance of reality, though not without resentment of years spent ‘waging work’, not without pointing out that the meek don’t really inherit the earth. Humour surfaces, and wry acceptance of the horrors of approaching old age. He shows an innate sympathy with his fellow man when he writes of wee men in bunnets and people who ‘fritter’ their money away on rent and food and shoes for the kids; and perhaps a belief in the goodness of creation on a more universal scale when, in ‘The Mating of Dinosaurs’ he suggests that ‘gentleness emerges here, / And some will come to call it love.’