A tribute from friend Graeme Rigby, who with his wife Ros was instrumental in promoting William's work via the Gateshead commissions.... 





Today, before sitting down to write this, Ros and I went blackberrying on the bit of land by our house, where the colliery used to stand along with a chapel, a brickworks and the old mineral line. Even if Bill hadn't died, he would probably have been one of the people I thought of as we picked. We can't be with you at the funeral, because we'll be in Istanbul. I was already planning to go back to the Chora Church, a place which, I gather, Bill and Wynne also visited. The first time I saw its its extraordinary  mosaics, the stories drawn from the New Testament Apocrypha, I thought of Bill. It's not just that I cannot help thinking of him in two such different contexts, it's that through him they are part of the same landscape.



      Byzantium, the early Celtic church, Caedmon, gnostic gospels, the ancient feminine... Bill drew them into the same map with street games, the Maiden Paps, William Jobling on his gibbet, the brass bands on their way to the Big Meeting, the old railway lines like the arteries of the county. There was no hierarchy in Bill's vision. Cuthbert and Tommy Hepburn stand together. As much is revealed in a street song as in the Gospel of St Thomas. In 1985 Ros commissioned Bill to write Battledore for a children's choir piece by the composer John Woolrich. The giggles and the sensitivities over whether Stephen Arkley's dad was 'a puff' or 'plum duff' vanished as it was sung by the primary school children, to the singing of whose forebears it paid such rich tribute.



      When I started writing poetry seriously, it was in part because I was trying to get to grips with the Durham landscape, which after six years was still alien to me. It always felt as if Bill was welcoming me into its possibilities; that it was common ground, upon which whoever chose to walk had as much right as anybody else. So much of his landscape became part of the way I now look at things, it's easy to forget where the ideas have their roots.



      I was brought up C of E and I think I owe him most for a way of talking about The Kingdom, the sense of which we are sometimes so close to, we can almost touch it. I can't remember you getting that sort of talk in the C of E: it had came to him from his Methodist upbringing. Inappropriate for an atheist and a socialist, it is, nevertheless, as he said, 'the only word we've got.' When he let me publish Anna Navis and his translation of Caedmon's Hymn in The Page, he talked about the time in India, after the war, when he himself had felt closest to The Kingdom. The commanding officer was  reimposing military ritual on unwilling National Servicemen and there was a kind of mutiny. It wasn't so much then that he felt its presence, or in the kind of half victory, but at the Christmas which followed, when the officers took off their epaulettes and joined the men in the mess.  The fragments of Bill's poetry mark out something which cannot be seen, something which is always snatched away, but something which sustains us nevertheless: a collective, spiritual, egalitarian kingdom which transcends time and doesn't need a god. Although he would, of course, be welcome without the epaulettes.



      I remember Bill smiling as he told the story of how he'd been up at the cathedral on the day of the Big Meeting and David Jenkins was greeting the congregation after the service. 'Next year in Jerusalem,' Bill had said as he shook hands with the bishop. 'Oh, I do hope so,' Jenkins had replied. Bill's infectious amusement at the moment held, even as his laugh became a cough and he reached into his pocket for his inhaler. Next year in Jerusalem, Bill.


Graeme Rigby