Obituary: Sir Jack Longland

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The Independent Online
John Laurence Longland, mountaineer, educationalist, broadcaster: born 26 June 1905; Lecturer in English, Durham University 1930-36; Director, Community Service Council, Durham County 1937-40; Director of Education, Derbyshire 1949-70; Vice-chairman, Sports Council 1966-74; Chairman, Mountain Leadership Training Board 1964-80; Chairman, Council of Environmental Education 1968-75; Kt 1970; President, Alpine Club 1973-76; married 1934 Margaret Lowrey (died 1992; one son, two daughters, and one son deceased); died 29 November 1993.

JACK LONGLAND was a distinguished county education officer and an elder statesman of mountaineering in Britain.

I first met Jack on the committee of the Climbers' Club in 1950. He had recently been president and I was the undergraduate representative from Oxford. Although he was no longer in the chair, he was the mainspring of that committee and I remember him cutting through the verbiage of others with incisive comment. His enthusiasm for younger climbers and what they were doing was infectious. That meeting was characteristic of him. He had high intelligence, a rather short way with the prolix and the pompous, and a continuing love of mountaineering, of which he was one of the most notable exponents in Britain between the wars.

The son of a clergyman, Longland was one of the Establishment, but was often critical of its ways. He attained a double First at Cambridge and did postgraduate work there and in Germany. He then lectured in English at Durham for six years. He left that post to work for the Community Service Council for Durham, demonstrating his abiding concern for the less privileged, which he developed during the Depression years. He then returned to education, becoming County Education Officer for Dorset in 1942 and for Derbyshire in 1949-70. In the latter post he set up the first local authority Outdoor Pursuits Centre (White Hall); today there are many of them. His widespread contacts with climbers ensured a supply of enthusiastic and skilled leaders for parties of youngsters, none more enthusiastic and dedicated than himself.

In his youth he was an athlete, gaining his blue for pole-vaulting. There is a classic photograph of Longland in the air on his pole, flying over a makeshift bar held aloft by his companions on Mount Everest in 1933, to the amazement of the watching Tibetans.

As a rock-climber, he was brilliant. He will always be remembered for 'Longland's Climb', on Clogwyn du'r Arddu, in Snowdonia, the first route right up that formidable crag. It gave him enormous pleasure to climb that route again with his son over 40 years later. In the Alps, he led an ascent of the East Face of the Aiguille de Grepon, a climb first done before the First World War by Geoffrey Winthrop Young, who had inspired Longland at Cambridge and was an early advocate of mountain pursuits as an adjunct to education. This ascent was notable for a gymnastic manoeuvre, in which Longland jammed an ice-axe above his head, in the difficult final crack, and then stood on it.

His most celebrated mountaineering achievement was, however, a retreat: in 1933, he and eight sherpas established a camp at 27,500ft, (only 1,500 ft from the summit of Everest), for Percy Wyn-Harris and Lawrence Wager. They had come up sloping slabs, often covered with scree, dangerous in descent, particularly for exhausted men. Longland decided to take his party down the crest of a ridge, which had not been previously reconnoitred. They were hit by a sudden storm, with high wind, driving snow and severely limited visibility. They came across the remains of the tent used by Mallory and Irvine in 1924, which was not in the expected place. Some of the sherpas had lost heart and were reluctant to get to their feet. Longland cajoled them and shepherded them through the storm to the relative safety of Camp V. It is one of the great epics of the Everest story.

He was in Greenland with Gino Watkins in 1935 and was invited to go to Everest again in 1938, but declined, having been appointed director of the Community Service Council for Durham - the beginning of a long career of devoted public service.

To all this, he added broadcasting, for which he was best known to the general public. He was a frequent panellist on Any Questions, in its early days. His quickness, wit and wide interests, coupled with a sense of humour, made him eminently suitable for a 20-year stint as question-master of My Word.

Above all, he was fun to be with. I rember an uproarious afternoon sitting with Jack and his family on a sheltered ledge, half-way up a Derbyshire crag, watching the rain pour down, a few inches away. And for many years he and his wife, Peggy, opened their house to members of the Climbers' Club, for a most enjoyable party.

(Photograph omitted)