Entity Type:
Whillans, Donald Desbrow (1933-1985)
In popular imagination, Don Whillans is always wearing a flat hat and punching someone, usually an Italian or a Frenchman, whilst clutching a pint and riding a motorbike. The caricature has assumed the dimensions of a kind of Mancunian Popeye, except with more wit and a beer belly. Whillans started on this road to comic deification with his cutting-edge partnership with ‘Human Fly’ Joe Brown in the 50s, although in Whillans case ‘fly’ always seemed a bit too insubstantial. The climbing ‘brick’ might have been more appropriate, especially in his honed days. The combination was awesome, Brown with his eye for a classic line and rock nous, and Whillans with his mighty strength and toughness. Whillans' climbing reputation was forged on Peak grit, tempered on volcanic mountain rock, and polished to a sheen by Alpine and Himalayan exploits. Together, they put up some of the finest rock climbs in the British Isles, and their influence was felt from Wales to the Scottish Highlands. In the Alps, they led the post-war British charge back into the continent, achieving hard routes in very fast times. Later, after their partnership had split up, Whillans became more interested in expeditioning, pursuing successful ascents in Patagonia and, most memorably, on Annapurna’s huge South Face in 1970 with Dougal Haston. The man from Salford also brought to bear a strength of character to match his physical prowess and his encounters with officialdom and other climbers, in which he rarely came off worse. As a result his enviable working class macho reputation preceded him (along with his stomach in later years), wherever he went, making him perhaps the most popular climbers’ icon of the twentieth century, his wit and predilection for a pint making him a popular hero.

Biographical information is kindly supplied by Colin Wells.
2006-08-06 00:00:00
Maxine Willett
Access Points:
Whillans, Donald Desbrow (1933-1985)
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229a : Harness
B008 : Lakeland Rock Classic climbs with Chris Bonington
P033 : The Whillans Sit Harness
Related Entities:
North West Sound Archive