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Richard Else delivered a fascinating and thought-provoking lecture to a near sell-out audience at the Rheged Centre on the evening of 16 October. Richard worked with Wainwright for nearly ten years, making a series of films shown on the BBC during the 1980s which brought Alfred Wainwright to a national audience for the first time.

Richard Else Richard Else delivers the Wainwright Memorial Lecture
Photograph: Peter Linney

His lecture had two main themes: his collaboration with Wainwright on the films they made together and, secondly, an assessment of the psyche of Wainwright which, he maintained, was crucial to understanding the body of work that he produced. The lecture was illustrated with photographs and clips from the programmes, many of which had not been seen before.

He described his first contact with Wainwright, writing to ask whether he might quote from his works in a film series he was making. AW readily gave permission, but then changed his mind and said he was worried that people might think it was an obituary and he therefore wanted to appear in the film and speak! Richard played a short clip from the first programme in which AW described the various devices he employed to avoid other people whilst out on the fells.

Richard thought the success of their relationship was not only just a shared love of wild places but a shared common heritage: Wainwright came from an industrial background and Richard’s family were miners and he was brought up in a mining community. They understood each other. Richard said that he enjoyed the company of Wainwright who was warm and friendly especially to his family, and that he greatly enjoyed working with him.

In discussing the way that AW produced his books − the desire for order in design and layout, his obsession in working every evening and weekend, the need to have complete control over the process even when working with others, together with his difficulty in forming relationships with people – Richard suggested to the audience that these may have been behaviours associated with Asperger syndrome. Certainly Wainwright shared some of the character traits that have been identified with this condition but it was a bold assertion to make and one that some of the audience may well have found challenging.

Wainwright admitted that he was a loner and that he was content and fulfilled in his own company. In another clip played by Richard he said: ‘I think I am solitary by nature … I’ve always been … I’ve always enjoyed my own company immensely … I never get bored with myself … Make myself smile quite a lot.’

Richard said he thought that AW’s escape was being able to immerse himself in landscape and that he developed a love of it which compensated for his difficulty in forming warm human relationships. Did he recognise that nature and landscape had the power to heal and make whole; what Shakespeare called the power of ‘great creating nature’?

He concluded his lecture by saying that it was this connection with landscape and nature that made him such a major literary figure, one of the truly great nature writers.

Richard was thanked for giving the audience much food for thought in his absorbing lecture and presented him with Honorary Membership of the Society.

Derek Cockell