William Christopher Atkinson was born on 09 August 1902 in Belfast, son of Robert Joseph Atkinson. He married Evelyn Lucy Wakefield of Hampstead and had one son and three daughters. He was educated at the University of Belfast and the University of Madrid. His first academic post was as Lecturer in Spanish at Armstrong College, Newcastle upon Tyne from 1926-1932 , leaving to become the Stevenson Professor of Hispanic Studies at the University of Glasgow . He remained in this post until his retirement in 1972 .
Professor Atkinson was Honorary Secretary of the Modern Humanities Research Association from 1929-1936 ; Head of the Spanish and Portuguese sections of the Foreign Research and Press Service of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1939-1943; Visiting British Council Lecturer to Latin America 1946, 1960, 1971; Honorary Professor National University of Columbia 1946; Chairman of the first Scottish cultural delegation to USSR 1954; Carnegie Research Fellow visiting US Universities 1955; Member of Hispanic Society of America 1955; Rockefeller Fellow visiting Latin-American Universities 1957; Visiting Professor of Portuguese Studies, University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland 1963. Atkinson was made Commander of the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator, Portugal in 1972. Within the University of Glasgow he also held the post of Senate's Assessor from 1952-1960 and Director of the Institute of Latin-American Studies, 1966-1972 .
His publications include: Spain, A Brief History, (1934); The Lusiads of Camoens, (1952); The Remarkable Life of Don Diego, (1958); A History of Spain and Portugal, (1960); The Conquest of New Granada, (1961); and The Happy Captive, (1977).