I wondered if anyone like me, was eagerly awaiting a biography about the most outstanding climber of the postwar years. There are a number of obvious contenders for the job. But does anyone know a likely publication date?
His daughter Zoe has been working on one, and has been for a fair few years, although I’m unsure of it’s status. Let me have an ask around and see if anyone has an idea of an ETA.
Much like you, I’d love to read it…
Always his autobiography from 2001
> Always his autobiography from 2001
It was published in 1967! An early inspiration
Thanks Rob...not much response so far.......I guess Joe Brown was a far less controversial figure than Whillans.... much more private and had an almost mythical status amongst climbers in the 1960's...lets hope something will appear in the next few years
Jim Perrin may attract negative comments from some quarters but he is without doubt the best candidate and would produce a superb biography.
God forbid. The subtitle would be 'The World According to Jim Perrin with a few anecdotes about Brown Thrown In.'
His Whillans biography is one of the most superficial climbing biographies ever, competing with his own biography of Menlove Edwards.
> Thanks Rob...not much response so far.......I guess Joe Brown was a far less controversial figure than Whillans.... much more private and had an almost mythical status amongst climbers in the 1960's...lets hope something will appear in the next few years
No further update I'm afraid, so I suspect it'll be a case of 'watch this space'. Don't envy anyone writing a book within their spare time, as it's a huge undertaking in between family, life and everything else in between. It is in the pipeline though and significantly amounts of it have already been written.
> His Whillans biography is one of the most superficial climbing biographies ever ...
What are your detailed criticisms of it? If it's 'superficial', what are you suggesting it omitted?
I really enjoyed the Whillans biography, but leaving other aspects aside, I think Perrin himself said that he was too close to Brown and too much in awe of him to write a properly reflective book.
I'd love Ed Douglas to take a crack. Fabulous, thoughtful writer and someone who's distant enough to see the big picture. He might want a bigger story to tell though, tie it into the social history of the time. Which might also be unpopular with the people who wanted a Whillans biography that stuck closer to the facts and a man's life.
OK, Whillans seems to have followed an unlikely trajectory from happy childhood -- standing up to bullies, protecting animals, defending his sister - to someone who could definitely be an unpleasant adult. What was that about.? Although there are hints in Whillans' own autobiography - realising too late he might have become a PE teacher, for instance - Perrin doesn't address that at all, doesn't even recognise that it was a thing... but what else is a biography for, other than to try and make sense of the journey? Perrin throughout seems to have little sympathy for a man who, let's face it, suffered a series of real setbacks in his chosen activity - missing out on Kanchenjunga, the Eiger, early outside broadcasts... the contrast with Brown's career must have been hard to deal with. And clearly Perrin didn’t like Whillans at all, (which some would say should have precluded from being a biographer in the first place); and yet even in the book it is striking that Whillans made and retained many friends, some of whom I know objected to Perrin's portrayal of their friend. To read Perrin you wouldn't have thought Whillans would have had any friends at all.
Similarly with Sansom - Perrin kept on alluding to Edwards' psychiatric theories and other aspects, so I was waiting to learn what they were ... but Perrin never gives any details!
Those are very partial views I think. In both books he at least attempted to understand his subjects and move away from shallow hagiography.
Don't we always knock our hero's. We want them perfect, but who ever is?
After his character assignation of Whillans I wouldn’t trust him to write my dogs biography without inserting his own agenda.
It’d not necessarily superficial but it gives prominence to and lays on with spades Whillans negative points for no justifiable reason other than to create a Perrinesque slant, that in my opinion has now wrongly become the de facto position regarding Whillans. Those who knew him accept that he could be very awkward, in fact I nearly ended up in a punch up over something and nothing when Tim Lewis first introduced us, but we got over that and you have to respect his climbing palmares. One thing for certain, somehow had Whillans still been alive on publication Perrin would have faced severe and instant retribution.
Awkward?! Thought there was a bit more to it than that?
I read somewhere, can’t remember where now, that Whillans wasn’t shy around women, and could be rather forceful with his affections.
Didn’t matter if it was a friend of climbing partner’s wife, or that he himself was married and that’s the reason Joe Brown quit climbing with him…
Would be interested to hear if that’s true, or just more of the rubbish that’s been written about him?
'I read somewhere, can’t remember where now,'
Could that possibly have been The Villain?
With regard to Whillans & Perrin; "let he who is without sin cast the first stone"
Yes, it could be as I have read it. But then I’ve read a number of books which tell the tales of Whillans and for some reason, I don’t think I read that in The Villian.
Its difficult to separate fact from fiction with Whillans, that’s why I was interested to hear the views of someone who knew him…
There’s a lot of nonsense written of him in a wide variety of books. Most recount the “Who do you think you are?” “Whillans” tales. Very few actually point out that it never actually happened.
> clearly Perrin didn’t like Whillans at all, (which some would say should have precluded from being a biographer in the first place); and yet even in the book it is striking that Whillans made and retained many friends, some of whom I know objected to Perrin's portrayal of their friend.
My reading of the book is that Perrin recognised many qualities of Whillans' character, such as those you mention, among some serious flaws. And the view he presents would seem one shared by Whillans' close climbing partners. I don't know if Perrin didn't like Whillans' but he does note a personal respect for Whillans based on his own dealings with him.
> One thing for certain, somehow had Whillans still been alive on publication Perrin would have faced severe and instant retribution.
That’s certainly true, but I think the time for finding that kind of behaviour laudable is long gone. Perrin’s book wasn’t particularly readable for me, but it’s interesting when an author delves into why people behave like they do.
I read it in the Villain.
I didn’t have any other point of reference and it certainly influenced my view of him.
Thanks Rob. Whatever happens I'm sure it won't attract the criticism The Villian seems to be attracting.
I personally think Mick Ward would have made a great job of it.
Mick appears to be a lovely guy and always seems to see the best in people. However biographies need to be warts and all (unlike obituaries) or they turn into hagiography. Perrin whatever his faults (and they appear to be considerable) probably did a balanced job on Whillans. As for JME, well he was gay, can you really "out" a deceased person?
Catherine Moorhead is on with writing Doug Scott’s and Tut Braithwaite is presently writing his own but not enjoying the process! Joe will be mentioned in them of course.
Zoe has been searching for photos that were lent out by Joe but has been unable to locate them. She is considering or is actually writing something.
Whillans' behaviour towards women, or specifically a woman.
As I recall the gist, there was a mixed party of climbers and plus ones at a hotel. Climbers wife retired to bed, sometime later DW (presumably drunk) gets into her bed. Her screams alerted the husband (and everyone else). Husband and DW then have an altercation, to be separated by Tom Patey.
It could be argued that DW was pissed and got into the wrong room by mistake, but the wrong bed is a bit of a stretch...
The one I read was something along the lines of Whillans was staying at someone's house, the person whose house it was went to bed, Whillans' wife feel asleep on the sofa, Whillans starts chasing the wife of the homeowner around the room, homeowner comes downstairs to find out what all the commotion was about and breaks it up. Whillans' wife asleep throughout.
May be a retelling of the same story you mention, but with details changed due to the passage of time, but it does seem to lend weight to the view that his behaviour around women was less than exemplary.
I think we call them sexual predators these days?
Whillans himself said the reason Joe Brown stopped climbing with him was something to do with Brown's wife. Wonder what that was all about then?
The incident in the book takes place at Temple Cottage, Balmore, the home of folk musician Mary Stewart. It's on p.389 of my edition of One Man's Legacy. Audrey Whillans isn't mentioned as staying so I think it might be a different occasion
Thanks Linda. Hope Tut remembers his Tuesday nights in the Coach and Horses in Rochdale in the late sixties with Hog Horan, Snig, Tony Nichols and the Solve lads. Happy days.
So definitely different books, I’ve not read One Man’s Legacy.
Of course it could be that the authors of each have retold the same story with details changed, but I think I know what I think,
I was a bit disappointed in the Hard Years. Listed just about every climb but told me little or nothing about the man. The present tome on Tom Patey also goes deeply into the climbs but told me a lot about the man, the myths & the reality.
> I was a bit disappointed in the Hard Years.
I find it almost embarrassing to say here, but I found The Hard Years dull, and I gave up about 2/3rds of the way through.
> I find it almost embarrassing to say here, but I found The Hard Years dull, and I gave up about 2/3rds of the way through.
Ditto, except I finished it. A remarkable achievement considering his life was anything but dull.
> Perrin throughout seems to have little sympathy for a man who, let's face it, suffered a series of real setbacks in his chosen activity - missing out on Kanchenjunga, the Eiger, early outside broadcasts... the contrast with Brown's career must have been hard to deal with. And clearly Perrin didn’t like Whillans at all,
I detected lots of sympathy and deep respect for Whillans all through the book. Oddly one part that jumped out at me was the description of, "...the little Lancastrian," when outlining the circumstances of Whillans' exclusion from the Kanchenjunga trip. I thought describing him as such was a little manipulative towards the reader and at odds with the take-no-prisoners hardman character which Whillans is mostly presented as in the book. However he very much expresses a sympathetic view to Whillans here and elsewhere, and the way he was treated or regarded by some because of his not being of the gentlemanly classes.
I didn't know DW (before my time and above my pay grade) so I'll defer to Phil B's view on this, though a lot of the Whillans stories, mostly told by those who were there, have an "it was OK in the 1970s" ring to them. I do know Jim a bit though and have a favourable view though I've never discussed Whillans with him. I get that he isn't everyone's cup of tea but you've spat bile about him on here before, do you and he have history?
'Spat bile' is a bit strong I think; and it was probably the same topic. No, I don't know the man at all, I just find a lot of his writing (not all) a bit pretentious and self-consciously pleased with himself. I also didn't really like the hatchet job he tried to do on Harold Drasdo, many many years ago!
> I find it almost embarrassing to say here, but I found The Hard Years dull, and I gave up about 2/3rds of the way through.
It was a product of its time (1967 as we have now confirmed) As a school kid in 1970 I was enthralled by it. Similar superficial books include Whillans Portrait of a Mountaineer 1971 and Haston In High Places 1972 which conveniently omits the fact that he killed someone in a drink/drive incident. Later biographies of the latter two give somewhat more rounded pictures.
The interesting thing about this thread is all of the things left unsaid.
So was I. But I've always found Jim Perrin a very good writer. No one will ever write a biography that will please everyone. And I've no doubt in a few years time another Whillans biography would be of some interest. My only other comment re Joe's biography is that i'm not sure one written by a family member will necessarily give us a full picture.
> I detected lots of sympathy and deep respect for Whillans all through the book.
Yeah, I agree. It makes him into something of a tragic and troubled hero, and you might disagree with that and think that he was just a regular bloke who climbed hard and had a bit of a temper but I'd hardly say it was unsympathetic or a "character assassination".
I don't know much about Perrin as a human being, but I've never had a problem with his writing.
> ....My only other comment re Joe's biography is that i'm not sure one written by a family member will necessarily give us a full picture.
I know what you mean. But a family member could interview and / or read up on Joe's partners and others who knew him. To me the overwhelming consideration is good research and good writing, not whether the writer is a family member or not. Should preferably be a climber though
> Should preferably be a climber though
In a biography about a climber which concentrates purely on their climbing I'd agree, but I think there is room for a biography written by multiple authors (Crazy Sorrow comes to mind) who knew the subject in different ways and at different times of life and not all need to be climbers. In Joe Brown's case, if we want to read about the man rather than his climbs (which are well documented anyway) it would be nice to have some contribution from someone who knew him through fly fishing with him for example. There is a danger that climbers will all write in a state of awestruck reverence when dealing with someone like JB.
I met a biker years ago in the Clachaig who asked me if I'd heard of Don Whillans. When I said yes he asked me what I knew about DW as he'd known him personally through a shared love of motorbikes. Although he knew that DW had been a climber he'd no idea that he was any good let alone a legend in the climbing world. He'd have been able to share some small but relevant and meaningful info with JP for The Villain and his view would have been unclouded by Whillans' stature in mountaineering lore.