Obituary: William Brown Currie, angling author

Born: 27 December, 1930, in Bothwell, Lanarkshire. Died: 7 June, 2015, in Selkirk, aged 84

Wednesday, 17th June 2015, 1:00 am
William B Currie: Articulate polymath who was one of Britains best-known angling writers

William B Currie, one of Britain’s best-known angling writers, has died in a Borders care home after a long illness.

His output of books and articles during the final four decades of the last century was prodigious and some of his works are now considered to be classics of modern angling literature.

Bill was also well-known in international angling circles and, from Iceland, Orri Vigfusson, founder and chairman of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF), said: “Like many others, I enjoyed Bill’s eloquent writing. His support of our effort in NASF was profoundly appreciated and he will be sadly missed.”

Bill was brought up in Prestwick, the second of three children to William Currie and Elizabeth Brown, and was educated at Prestwick High School and Ayr Academy.

He began his career as a junior agricultural surveyor in Ayrshire before national service in the Radar Division of the RAF.

Although surveying introduced him to many aspects of country life and gave him opportunities to indulge his growing passion for angling, he became convinced during his RAF period that an academic life was beckoning and he entered university as a mature student.

He read English at Glasgow University in the same year as his younger brother John, who had already studied music and was working for joint honours in music and English. The two brothers set up house in Glasgow in a mews flat behind Sauchiehall Street, which became the centre for many parties and much music.

In 1957, while still a student, he married Jo Hood, an assistant in Glasgow University Library. The honeymoon was postponed for a year when the couple then toured Finland and Lapland after Bill was asked to write an introduction for an angling publication by the Finnish Tourist Board.

After his graduation and teacher training, the couple moved to a farmhouse near Perth in 1960. Bill’s first teaching post was at Perth Academy but less than two years later he was at George Heriot’s in Edinburgh before returning to Jordanhill College as a lecturer.

While at Heriot’s he organised a fishing club for keen schoolboy fishers. One of those was actor Paul Young, who went on to present his own much-acclaimed TV series about fishing.

Paul said: “Later, I got to know Bill well. He had been my English teacher and his writing showed the depth of his understanding and passion for the sport he loved. I tried to bring some of that passion into our various TV series and was proud when he once told me on the river bank that we had got it spot-on.”

From the late 1950s his exceptional energy was producing a career path with no apparent boundaries .While studying for his finals in English, he was writing for several periodicals, including the Scottish Field, completed Every Boy’s Game Fishing and, in 1962, started and edited a new magazine Rod & Line, originally aimed at the Scottish angling public.

During the 1960s, while a lecturer at Jordanhill, he began a doctorate in Applied Linguistics at Edinburgh University. Soon after gaining his PhD, the British Council sent the family, now with three children, to Greece where Bill had been appointed lecturer in Athens.

He fished some of the rivers in north-west Greece and on one became involved when military personnel appeared on separate banks of a boundary river between Greece and Albania as a result of political strife. No trouble though – the soldiers from both sides were intrigued by Bill’s fly-casting, a style of fishing they had not seen before.

With the Greek tour of duty over, Bill returned to the UK to become principal of a college in Colchester, specialising in teaching English as a foreign language to students who were themselves teachers.

He fished for trout in some of the famous English reservoirs but, forever on the move, the family decamped to Canada in 1973 when Bill was appointed Professor of English at Concordia University in Montreal.

Although Canada and its fishing had much to offer, the nature of the sport at that time seemed foreign to WBC – too much spinning and bait fishing and not enough fly-casting.

In addition, the French-Canadian government of the time was seeking to reduce English usage and university departments in Quebec might have been downgraded. Bill felt this was a threat to his tenure and arranged to leave.

He returned to Scotland and set up the Edinburgh Language Foundation, admittedly in Haddington, East Lothian. But it later moved to Edinburgh and, ironically, there was a large influx of French-Canadian students.

At last, this was WBC back home, although he also went off at times to fish in Russia, Norway and Iceland. By now, he had written ten books on fishing and a few earlier ones on linguistics and teaching English.

Sadly, the energies poured into his interests had taken a toll on his marriage and he and Jo agreed to an amicable split.

His Guinness Guide to Game Fishing was published around this time and in 1984 came Days and Nights of Game Fishing, deliberately invoking the spirit and life of Scrope’s classic Days and Night of Salmon Fishing in the Tweed, published in the mid 1800s.

In between, he bought a share of a stretch of the Dee at Aboyne where he enjoyed and recounted many splendid days. And in 1984 he started a syndicate of fellow anglers on the Tweed, at Scrogbank, near Walkerburn.

In 1986 Bill married Penny Wheatley, a talented sculptor and painter, while continuing to run the Edinburgh language school. For several years they lived at Lilliesleaf before moving to a new home at Drygrange, near Melrose, where he was also a prominent member of the Tweed Foundation.

He was still to produce The River Within, published in 1993, and considered by many to be his finest book

However, in 2000, fate took a hand in curbing the activities of this enthusiastic polymath. He suffered a severe stroke at Scrogbank. He made a remarkable recovery from a near-death situation but he was never to be “the old Bill” again.

Subsequent strokes between 2004 and 20015 rendered him increasingly powerless in the area which had been his particular expertise. He bore this affliction with exemplary good humour, sometimes producing, with a flurry of pleasure and mischief, unexpectedly extravagant words from his competent linguistic past.

Bill is survived by his widow Penny, three children, Nicholas, Mark and Emma from his first marriage to Jo, and three grandchildren.

A funeral for family and close friends was held at Melrose last Friday and a memorial service is planned for late July in the Borders.