(Part 1) Former ‘Observer’ Editor Roger Alton replied to Jac’s Sisters about Jim Perrin

Within an opportunistically short time after our sister died in 2005, Jim Perrin wrote an article about her for the Observer and, we believe, plagiarised the title ‘Touching the Void’; Joe Simpson already had a book published — to much acclaim — and a film had been made of his book, using that title.

Readers might have thought that the feelings expressed in the article were ‘sensitive’, the author was ‘devastated’, his loss was ‘profound’. But wait… There Was a Book In It.

The truth is that Jim Perrin lied — we will not use the euphemism ‘economical with the truth’, and we knew that what we read in The  Observer was an adulterated blend of slight fact and flagrant fiction which the author had written as ‘autobiography’.

We contacted the editor, who then was Roger Alton, to ask that he would print our rebuttal; after all, as close sisters (and intimate friends) we knew the truth: our sister was not Jim Perrin’s ‘Lover, wife and friend of forty years’, and many of his other claims were wholly false or vile implication. 

Roger Alton’s reply, on August 26th, 2005 — and which we have not forgotten — was ‘I know Jim well’, and he refused point-blank to allow us to respond to Jim Perrin’s deceitful account. In the same letter he wrote that: ‘The article was about, among other things, your sister’ — our italics.  This was not only extremely hurtful (she had died less than three months before… ) but dismissive to a degree and completely untrue: it was her death which had prompted the article — as a foretaste, although we had no knowledge of it, of the book to come — and actually Jac was mentioned, at length, and in each of the twelve paragraphs…

After the article, came the book… and whereas Roger Alton had favoured his friend Jim Perrin, The Times Literary Supplement, may we acknowledge with gratitude, had no such reverence; and when one of their team, in his review, misguidedly repeated the lies he had read in West, they printed in full our letter disclaiming Jim Perrin’s ‘story’.

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We have said in earlier posts that we believe Jim Perrin Has Friends in High Places (and surely the editor of a leading newspaper is one of these?) We have also queried the influence he seems to have acquired: possibly he is A Large Fish in a Little Pool, but for some time it has been our opinion that this author is capable of grave professional discourtesy, ref. our post Jim Perrin’s Modus Operandi and the literary Put-Down being, from our observation, one of his ‘specialities’ — (one has only to read the on-going ‘Melangell ’(JP?) thread on The Guardian site) — we think this extract from the introduction he wrote for The Guardian’s: ‘On the Roof of the World’, published in 2009, is a classic example:

‘I remember Roger Alton at the end of my rope on a fierce little climb in Snowdonia roaring and pleading for pity and strength and knowledge as he hesitated to launch into a crucial move… ‘

Yes, he was writing of Roger Alton who ‘know[s] Jim well’, and although he cloaked those carefully chosen words in a claim that the description was analogous yet the indelible picture which remains of the hapless dangler at the end of Jim Perrin’s rope — the implication of cowardice even? — is surely gratuitous and need never to have been written (and of a friend!).  ‘With friends like Jim Perrin who needs enemies?’

In the same book he tells the unflattering tale of an esteemed climber — one who is miles above him in stature and significance — again gratuitously, and deviously presents it as humour, and although we do understand that those in the climbing community are probably ‘hard’ enough to appreciate such humour among themselves, yet to make and to take the opportunity to print it, as did Jim Perrin, was little more than gamesmanship.

In his word-perfect ‘put-down’ of Roger Alton Jim Perrin was revealing as much of himself as of his subject, and it was calculated to leave in the reader’s mind the image of a man in his power — both physically and psychologically: ‘gamesmanship’ indeed, and of a very high order.

Jac’s sisters.