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Richard Else, producer/director of the award winning BBC Wainwright films and author of Wainwright Revealed, remembers the extraordinary story of A Pennine Journey.

By any standards A Pennine Journey is an astonishing work - not least because it lay unseen, if not entirely forgotten by its author, for over forty years. It is important for many reasons. The work gives an insight into England in 1938 when the distant of rumble of an impending war was becoming increasingly louder. In many memorable phrases we can again see an England that has not only changed significantly but in many places vanished entirely. But the book tells us much about the man who would later become one of Britain’s best known - if not the best - guidebook writer. Within its pages we see a solitary, troubled individual who is seeking solace in the natural world. As a younger man writing short pieces and drawing cartoons to amuse office colleagues, AW was trying to find his own distinctive voice. In A Pennine Journey he has found that. All that now remained was to marry his skill as an illustrator with his evocative prose to create the unique works that make up his magnum opus A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. But that’s to get ahead of the story.

In the 1980’s I was a regular visitor to Wainwright and his second wife Betty at their Kendal home. Our conversations were wide ranging and covered far more than the films we were making together. We spent family days together and for a man who is usually portrayed as a notorious curmudgeon, I have a photo of a beaming AW with my young children. We shared a love of wild places and I gradually realised that our relationship was developing at a deeper level. AW always held firm views and opinions, so I was surprised when he pulled out a package and said, ‘Why don’t you take this home, read it and tell me what you think. I’ve been thinking about publishing it but I’m not sure. It doesn’t need any explanation’.

‘Once upon a time’ are not the most original opening words but I was soon engrossed in the manuscript. Whilst intrigued by the route AW had chosen and his comments on the places he passed through, I became more interested in what it said about him as a young man. Here was someone who, at the age of just 31, had already distanced himself from contemporary society. Recently I have explored Wainwright’s personality and character at some length in Wainwright Revealed and suggest he might be viewed as having Asperger syndrome. Certainly there are passages in A Pennine Journey that, I would argue, support that view.

‘So what do you think?’, Wainwright asked when I returned his work a few weeks later. ‘Excellent I said. You should publish.’ ‘Do you think so?’, was the reply. ‘But you’ve got Weardale wrong. You simply didn’t see it at its best’. A big smile now as AW knew my passion for this underrated dale where I lived in an old farmhouse precariously perched near its highest point. ‘You may be right but I’m not changing anything. It was disappointing then.’

However you chose to read A Pennine Journey I believe it’s a hugely important book. My one regret is that we didn’t film it earlier. An extended version of the route, starting in AW’s home town of Blackburn, was our final and uncompleted project. In spite of looking well, he took ill shortly after filming started and never fully recovered. Whilst I hope our television programmes are a fitting testimony to an exceptional man, there is so much more that we never captured on film. Re-reading A Pennine Journey gives a further insight into AW and the forces that motivated him. Forces, I believe, even he did not fully understand.

Richard Else 31 Aug 2018

Wainwright Revealed by Richard ElseWainwright Revealed

Written by Richard Else, the award winning television producer/director who succeeded in tempting AW out of his front room and onto the nation's television screens.

It was the most improbable of relationships - the highly reclusive Wainwright and and a young inexperienced television producer less than half his age - but Richard succeeded where many others had failed and AW became the most unlikely celebrity with his BBC films drawing in an audience of millions.

Over almost 10 years Richard and Wainwright travelled around 5000 miles throughout northern England and Scotland and, in doing so, established a working relationship that was different from those AW had with any other person. This book sheds new light about their time together but is much more than simply a memoir. Wainwright Revealed contains a re-appraisal of his position within the guidebook genre and it investigates, for the first time, the forces that motivated AW and shaped his life - forces he may not fully have understood himself. The book is lavishly illustrated with over 70 photographs - many previously unpublished.

For more information on this book click here

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