TAC 42 Index
Ed. - Jack Wills died at the start of May. Anyone who has only read TAC in recent years might not have come across Jack's name, but he was a huge influence on the magazine during the period 1993-95, perhaps more than he knew. Jack was a man with a big past in newspapers, something we never really discussed in correspondence or in the long phonecalls that enlivened dull mornings at TAC Towers. But he had time for TAC because he saw that TAC itself had time for the concerns of grassroots hillgoers. This was central to TAC's original ethic, and Jack's encouragement helped to ensure that it remained so.
Insofar as I knew him, Jack was gruff old guard, feisty and rather fierce, but with a great and immediate kindness that made me warm to him instantly. His name appears in TAC mainly at the foot of beautifully written and strongly opinionated letters - see the typically forthright one in TAC23 ("these pet dogs are useless buggers - just bags of shit"). But he was also the author of two "Milo Minderbinder Jnr" pieces in TAC16 and the inspiration behind one of Chris Tyler's best drawings, the full-page landscape-trashing picture in TAC14. Jack wore his irritation on one sleeve and his enthusiasm on the other, and made sure to wave his arms enough to get noticed. The many ways in which landscape is abused was a constant theme, be it corporate desecrations like superquarries (Glensanda near his home on Seil was a constant focus of his anger), or small-scale concerns like disturbance to moorland nesting sites by walkers. This has certainly worked its way into my own on-hill thinking, and shortly before hearing of Jack's death I found myself wondering what he would have made of one mass participation event's recent yomp over the lower Loch Tulla hills where I had recently come across a low-level ptarmigan quietly nesting. Jack would surely have raged against wholesale intrusion into such places - not in an elitist way, heavens no, but because of the massively broad base of his egalitarianism. Once, speaking about seeing some young birds abandoned on a nest because of disturbance, he almost cried down the phone about it, a moment that returns to me each time my route causes grouse chicks to scatter in panic. Gentle concern with a hard edge is a good way to be, and Jack was one of this magazine's finest exponents.
We met only once, in Glasgow's Scotia Bar - precisely the place I would have expected to meet Jack. He, like the pub, was warm and welcoming, and I felt encouraged and uplifted (and, to be honest, downright chuffed) to hear this experienced news- man say that TAC must at all costs stay more relevant, more in touch, than the commercially-driven glossy magazines. He was, I now see, a bit of a mentor, and I respected him hugely.
To some extent Mick Furey has taken over Jack's role of TAC's turbulent and coherent priest, rattling out vital, volatile copy when there seems to be a gap or weakness in the magazine. Both men had the knack of sensing when to submit relevant and heartfelt material without being prompted, and both have made my editorial job enormously easier and more enjoyable. Mick is still very much around of course, but he and Jack didn't overlap, something that can now never happen. This magazine is the weaker for no longer being able to count on Jack Wills as a writer, reader, or indeed critic - and I, for one, am sadder as a consequence.
Here's a story that would have pleased Jack, from an anonymous but "connected" source in the land debate who in turn heard it from two independent sources within government. It is 1998 and two men quietly walk a remote Scottish hillside. A Land Rover pulls up.
What are you doing?
Not on my land you're not. This is private.
But all we're doing is walking.
Fuck off. Get off my land.
And so Lord Sewel complies and goes home. But at work next day he orders 20 Scottish Office officials to draft changes to the access law. After decades of lobbying to push access up the political agenda it could be that one small, stupid piece of bone-headed landownership will cause the law to be altered for ever. Good-o.
TAC 42 Index