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/ Does Don Whillans deserve a new biography?

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Minneconjou Sioux on 08 Mar 2015

I must have been living in a cave (which is quite possible) but I had no clue about the recent speculation on Jim Perrin's own private life or on his own vindictive nature. I don't know the man and have never met him so I am perfectly open to be corrected but does this bring into question his biography (The Villain) of Don Whillans?

For my own part, I found the book to be utterly distasteful, written by someone who clearly had feelings for Audrey Whillans and who set out on a character assassination of someone who could not defend himself. I do not condone domestic violence and do not defend Don Whillans' actions but I am now left with some doubt as to the accuracy of the accusations.

Before the Mods of the forum pull this thread for fear of a libel case I would strongly urge them to consider this:

Don Whillans' contribution to the climbing history of the UK (and world) was and is significant. If the only definitive biography of the man was written by someone whose own character is now in question, and importantly, shows evidence of vindictive and inaccurate writing should we at least have a clear and open peer review of the work?
DaveHK - on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:

I don't know anything about these accusations directed at Perrin so I'm just commenting on the book.

I must have read a different book from you. There's lots of evidence out there that Whillans was an unpleasant character in some ways. My feeling was that Perrin presented that whilst retaining an affection for him.

Given how well Perrin knew Whillans its hard to see someone doing better unless its some sort of hagiography you want.
Bob on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:

First up, I do know Jim Perrin but not well and not to the extent that if I walked in to a pub he'd go "Hi Bob".

A modern way of describing him might be having OCD. As co-author of the Eifionydd guide I got a lot of help from him regarding the 1960s and 70s. Could he be devious? Yes! But in my experience not a vindictive way: in the previous guide he applied a bird ban to Craig Cwm Trwsgl for instance so that he could develop the crag while his competitors were kept away! Perrin is certainly a complex character and I doubt that any one person has seen every aspect of him.

Regarding Don Whillans' biography - there are enough people still around, Brown, Bonington, even more when the book was eventually printed, who were personal friends and acquaintances of him (DW) that if there had been any hint of false accusations then things would have been said even if just part of "pub talk". Whether the work is "character assassination" or even revisionist, it will have Perrin's personal peccadillos imprinted upon it, it's not a dry impersonal reference work.

I've not read the allegations/speculation about Perrin so am not condoning or condemning him but am reminded of something my father would say about gossip: Believe nowt of what you hear and half of what you see and will be somewhere near the truth.
Gordon Stainforth - on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to DaveHK:

> I must have read a different book from you. There's lots of evidence out there that Whillans was an unpleasant character in some ways. My feeling was that Perrin presented that whilst retaining an affection for him.

> Given how well Perrin knew Whillans its hard to see someone doing better unless its some sort of hagiography you want.

Agreed. I saw Don Whillans on many occasions from about 1968 onwards. In public, often very funny indeed; in more private situations frequently silent, moody and thoroughly unpleasant. I was in the Padarn Lake quite often in the Dec/Jan before he died. He was in such a bad mood that no one was talking to him or even daring to go near him - propping up one end of the bar. Even sadder, his old climbing partner Joe was happily darts with his mates the other side of the room and ignoring him completely.

I heard many accounts of his aggression from people who experienced it first hand. e.g a very bad scene in the Alps when he literally ordered a girl to make him a cup of tea and she refused and he hit her. Richard McHardy then stood up to him. They started to fight and Whillans backed off.

On another occasion he was lecturer at a club, and he turned up drunk, had nothing prepared. Spoke for about 5 minutes and that was it.

Of course, he threw his MBE away by drink driving and then having a punch up with the police.

jsmcfarland - on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:

I haven't actually read any books and I was curious about the topic (having heard a bit about whillans' climbing), is this blog written about the same J Perrin?

https://jacssisters.wordpress.com/
Gordon Stainforth - on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Bob:

I wrote a review of Perrin's Whillans biography here on UKC in 2005:

http://www.ukclimbing.com/gear/review.php?id=105
Trangia on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to jsmcfarland:

I know nothing about Jim Perrin, but I have read, or at least tried to read, some of his books and I find his style awful. Not one of my favourite climbing authors, to the extent that I would not now rush out to by a book written by him.
1
Pedro50 on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:

I have read and admired most of Jim Perrin's books. However prompted by the above comment on his private life and reputation I spent a rather uncomfortable half hour looking at the jacssisters blog set up by his former partner's sisters. Interesting to say the least.
Rob Parsons on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:

> "Does Don Whillans deserve a new biography?"
> "... should we at least have a clear and open peer review of the work?"

Who do you think does (or would do) such things? Books don't write themselves, and there are (thank god ...) no officially appointed 'state biographers' or 'state reviewers'. There is nothing in principle to stop you (or anybody else) writing a biography of Whillans - or indeed one of Perrin. I guess the problem in both cases might be access to good source material.

Note that Whillans himself wrote an autobiography - so there already is another version.
Robert Durran - on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:

I found Perrin's biography beautifully written, though sometimes not easy reading (in fact typical of his writing which), a sympathetic and balanced portrayal of a flawed character - we are all flawed characters; Whillans, Perrin, me, you. It was neither character assassination nor whitewash. Both Whillans and Perrin seem to attract polarised opinons; I would rather not cast the first stone at either.

Goucho on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:

I've met Jim on a few occasions, and also thoroughly enjoyed much of his writing. Like a great many of us, he is quite complex, and not fault free.

However, to try and infer that someones behavior in their personal life, has a direct correlation to the credibility of their body of work is ridiculous - especially a writer. History is littered with great people who produced great work, yet were arseholes in their private lives.

Many years ago, I spent a few hours in a pub with Whillans, just me and him. He was charming, friendly and generous. However, I'm well aware that many (possibly most) other people would disagree. Yet talking to other folk who knew Whillans, Perrin's book seems to be a fair representation of the man - and a good counter balance to the previous Alex Omerod biography.

I have also read the jacssisters blog, and like 99.9% of people, I do not know whether it is factual or not? However, if life has taught me one thing, it's that more often than not, there are often two sides to a story?

Phil West - on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to jsmcfarland:

Wow that's some serious writing there. On one hand the author says they would never go through such a libellous case again but then they dedicate a whole blog to defame Jim Perrin. Unreal. It's obviously a very personal dispute so why go public with it? Who cares? And why doesn't the author move on with their life?

I'll never get those10 minutes back...
DaveHK - on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Phil West:

I've just read some of it too and was left thinking it cast more light on the writers failings than Perrin's.
Simon4 - on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:
> I don't know the man and have never met him so I am perfectly open to be corrected but does this bring into question his biography (The Villain) of Don Whillans?

No it doesn't.

His biography is either fact based and consistent with the memory of people who knew DW or it isn't, the character of the biographer does not affect the validity of the biography, that is the ad-hominem fallacy. Not myself knowing the truth of the matter, I am more inclined to note the absence of denials from people like Bonnington and Joe Brown, though I don't think they have publicly agreed with Perrin's thesis.

> I am now left with some doubt as to the accuracy of the accusations.

Well anyone, who, unlike some of the contributors here, did not know DW must have some doubt about their accuracy, that is the natural effect of second hand opinion.

> Don Whillans' contribution to the climbing history of the UK (and world) was and is significant.

More than significant. I believe the Times obituary of him described him as the finest all-round mountaineer this country has ever produced (at that time of course). Does nothing to make him a nice person though.
Post edited at 12:28
Mick Ward - on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:

> ... should we at least have a clear and open peer review of the work?

I'd argue that we've pretty much had this with Gordon's review. In my experience, many literary reviews are pretty slapdash, opinionated, favours rendered etc (sorry to sound cynical). The few that have been agonisingly laboured over shine through like gems. And this is one.

Naturally it doesn't preclude other views - and I guess we're having 'em now. My own two pennyworth is that, if I (or Ken Wilson or Maggie Boddy?) had been Jim's editor, there would have been a severe clamp-down on the footnotes (not that they're not interesting).

As Bob said above:

> ... it will have Perrin's personal peccadillos imprinted upon it, it's not a dry impersonal reference work.

Even autobiography is selective; biography is necessarily an interaction between author and subject. With Whillans and Perrin, you could scarcely have more complex subjects!

(Footnotes aside) he did his best. Some will like it; some will not. But he did his best.

Mick
Goucho on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> I wrote a review of Perrin's Whillans biography here on UKC in 2005:


Only just read this Gordon - great review, and an accurate description of both the book and the author.

It's a book about a person who polarises opinion, written by an author who polarsises opinion, yet I still think Perrin is the only person who could have written it.
Minneconjou Sioux on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:

A lot of the replies seem to suggest that Perrin's private life doesn't affect his ability to write an accurate biography. I'd agree that this is the case.

But Curran's libel case against Perrin suggests that Perrin is capable of writing inaccurate and vindictive reports and this is why I ask the question.

I'm not after a witch hunt here but I would like to be sure that Whillans had an accurate biography. Its just a little due diligence in light of recent revelations.
Goucho on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:

> But Curran's libel case against Perrin suggests that Perrin is capable of writing inaccurate and vindictive reports and this is why I ask the question.

The source of these criticisms of Perrin, are hardly 'unbiased'? And even if true, is Perrin the first climbing writer to 'bend' the truth to suit his own agenda?

I am not leaping to Perrin's defence, as I know nothing of the facts, but all of these damming criticisms and character assassination seem to be coming from one single source, which obviously has a very big axe to grind, and is hardly impartial?


seankenny - on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:

> I would like to be sure that Whillans had an accurate biography.

Time for you to watch Rashomon.

pneame - on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:

I bought Perrin's book on the strength of Gordon's review (which I just revisited - good review and fantastic commentary below it) and thought it seemed reasonably balanced. I can understand people not liking it and I didn't enjoy it as such (not a big fan of Perrin's style - never been able to put a finger on why), but I thought it was an interesting view of history. Historical books are almost always biased in one way or another. Nothing new there.
It certainly emphasized the contrast between Whillans the mountaineer (highly likely to get you off the mountain safely) and Whillans the legend ("so then I 'it 'im").
I never spoke to Whillans but from seeing him in social scenes, I doubt that I would have liked him.
Brown, on the other hand - he gave 2 hitchhikers a lift down the pass when I was about 17. Just a pleasant person.
jon on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Madrid:

> Being an arsehole may be acceptable, but being an arsehole that has an adverse effect on the lives of others is deplorable.

Indeed, but that works both ways.
glaramara - on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to DaveHK:

Weird isn't it? Same book, completely different experience. The Villain was the most enjoyable (but not best), book I ever read. Maybe it's the history and lawlessness of the golden age of climbing, but I thought it was awesome. Maybe the up and coming Brown biography will help to 'calibrate' the Perrin book?
Goucho on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Madrid:

If you took the time to read all of my posts, you will see I am neither a flag bearer or a pitchfork bearer for Perrin, so I struggle to see which of my comments you are disagreeing with?

I simply pointed out, that the majority of people are not in a position to comment on his personal life - either way!
nathan79 - on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:
Personally I enjoyed 'The Villain", even though it did leave me with a tainted view of the man behind the mountaineer. He certainly doesn't seem like the kind of guy I'd have sat down and had a pint with.
I thought it painted him pretty well as a bit of an arsehole of a man away from the rock, but a highly valuable and capable one on it. Suggests a nicely balanced biography to me, I may read it again now.

I've only read 'The Villain' and Perrin's 'Climbing Essays' collection but I've enjoyed it on the whole.
I did have a sift through that jacssisters blog and there is clearly a lot of bitterness and hurt there. How much of it is true- all? None? Somewhere inbetween? I don't know and frankly I don't care, not the avenue for venting that sort of thing imho.
Post edited at 17:10
jon on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Madrid:

> ... adverse effect on the lives of others is deplorable.

This bit. Do you think the band of three aren't having an adverse effect on 'their' victim? Revenge, eh?
Mick Ward - on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:

> I'm not after a witch hunt here but I would like to be sure that Whillans had an accurate biography.

That's an entirely relevant question. I suppose there are two criteria for judgement - is it factually accurate and is it a fair and rounded portrait? My understanding is that it is factually accurate. Jim goes back a long way with both Bonington and Brown; in particular, he's been a friend of Brown's since the 60s. I can't imagine that both would not have been concerned with factual accuracy at the very least - though obviously the responsibility is Jim's, not theirs'.

Is it a fair and rounded portrait? I didn't know Whillans so my opinion is worthless. Again and again you hear that his persona/behaviour varied from outstanding to being a real pillock. But just one example of the former...

Apparently when Bonington and Whillans went up for Brian Nally on the Eiger, the stonefall was absolutely horrific. Wilson reckoned they should have been awarded the George Cross. When Nally asked to join them to go on to the top, you can understand how, in terrible distress, he could think that topping out would somehow be a testament to Barry Brewster. And you can imagine Bonington and Whillans' horror. What did Whillans say, something like, "Might be time to go back down to the valley for a cup of tea." It doesn't get more compassionate than that.

Undoubtedly the biography was a monkey on Jim's back. He had a big poster of Whillans in later years, fag in gob, looking really mean, pinned up by his writing desk. At one point, I begged him to take it down; he wouldn't. It was a constant reminder to get on with the job.

Goucho's right - Jim was the only person to do this. It was a monkey on his back, it was a penance, it was his fate. Ultimately it was his duty. And however difficult life was for him at the end, he did it.

So was The Villain a cynical hatchet job, a grinding of axes, a settling of scores? I would think almost certainly not.

Mick




Goucho on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Madrid:

> I apologize – this is my first foray into the world of online forums. I was trying to leave a general message/post. It was in no way meant as a personal criticism.

No, you left a post which contained a personal viewpoint which could be either subjective, or objective? It could also be based on your own personal experience, or not?

Only you know which one it is?
jon on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Madrid:

> Interesting interpretation.

Why?
1) They ARE having an effect on someone elses life.
2) If it isn't revenge then what is it?
Goucho on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Madrid:

> I do know that my usual practice of keeping my own counsel for all these years was wisest!

Regarding someone who, to paraphrase your own words - is an arsehole that has an adverse effect on the lives of others - was keeping your own counsel driven by moral, or legal considerations?
Bob on 08 Mar 2015
In reply to Goucho:
I think he(?) means that he meant to reply to the thread rather than your particular post.

However having only registered today, hmm ....
Post edited at 18:33

I am going to stop replies to this post. It is way beyond the scope of what we can cope with on this forum and is already giving us lots of problems. Please don't start any new threads on this topic.

Alan

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