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By Bill Quinlan

I can't remember just when I first met Jack Hilton, though is was certainly over 30 years ago. Our paths used to cross from time to time, as we both tended to walk in the tracks of Richard d Walker. Jack and I also had friends in common people like Frank Guttfeild, Peter Frost, Alan Brown, etc - all fanatical anglers. So Isuppose, it was inevitable that we would eventully team up.Roger Smith (Smudger as I called him), and Jack used to work together at this time: carp fishing a Brooklands Lake near Datford in Kent. I bumped into them there one weekend. Jack gave me a spud I floped it out and caught a 13 pounder. That was the start of our close association really.
I went to work for them but weekends were reserved for fishing rivers and lakes all over the country. Anywhere at all, so long as we thought there was a chance of catching big fis. Jack on a mission, had an intensity of purpose that could be quite frightening to lesser mortals - such as me and Smudger. I should imagine for about ten years, from the late 1960's, until he gave up angling, that he had been more influence on the big - fish scene than anyone since Walker.
Jack's angling exploits have been well chronicled so I won't dwell on them but rather on the complex characteristics which went onto the make up of his sometimes frustrating, but always an interesting personality. He was basically a very kind - hearted man, and very affectionate. Yet could be quite ruthless when crossed (as Smudger and I well know). We went to serious lengths so as not to offend him - for he could throw some serious sulks, especially when hurt. I rember his young son, keith, whom Jack idolised and thought could do no wrong - though Smudger and I knew different! God, how we hated the spoilt brat, But, because Jack was so tetchy, we used to smile and play with the little wretch, while secretly dreaming of getting our hands round his grotty little windpipe! I can write of this know as we have all laughed at it since and smoked the pipe of peace. In fact Keith has my admiretion for the way he has run himself ragged since learning of his dad's illness.
Jake was very difficult to figure out, even for me who knew him as well as anyone. He had immense self - belief, yet, conversely, was very shy. In all the years I knew him, I never utter a swear word . I've seen that man flatten his thumb with a 4lb hammer (and that mart) and endure the pain with a stoicism of an Indian Fakir. Me? I'd be leaping around the block and telling the world what I thought of it in very basic Englinsh.
Jack was extremely competitive. If he and a hundred other blokes wanted a swim - no contest! He could and would out run a jeep!. Paradoxically, once he'd got it, he would offer to share it with you, for he loved company. He used to take on impossible tasks, and I would say to Roger, " he's taken on more than he can chew this time!". Smudger with his dog - like faith in Jack's ability , would reply, "Don't worry,"The master knows what he is doing". And nine out of ten, so it proved.
Do you know, impossible as it sounds, Jack could recall everthing that happened to him in photographic detail since he was three years old? In fact, he'd started to write about it but had to stop because it upset him too much. he'd had a very difficult upbringing, much of it spent in an orphanage.
He was imaginative artistic yet, at the same time, very practical. Inever met anyone else who could keep so many balls in the air at the same time". When Jack gave up fishing in the late - seventies I'm afraid we lost contact. Only the late Tom Mintram of his angling friends kept in touch with him. With hindsight I bitterly regret my lapse. Around three years ago right out of the blue I received a letter from Jack, and then a little later, Keith brought him over for the day how the years rolled away, and it was just like old times: it was as if we hadn't seen each other for only a week or two thereafter, we corresponded on a somewhat spasmodic basis, until a few week ago when Keith phoned with the heartbreaking news of Jack's terminal illness leukaemia. This affected me, and I know Len, more deeply than we could have supposed. I wept frequently on and off, and started writing him long and weird letters in the middle of the night. Guilt I suppose - trying to make up for two decades of neglect. they heartfelt letters semi - comical, semi - sad letters, of past memories. Reminding him of how hard we had worked (believe me!), how hard we fished and a few of the million laughs we had along the way.
As leukaemia rapidly took its dredful toll, we wanted to meet for one last time. So, Len picked up myself, smudger and Keith, a week or two ago, and we spent most of the day with the old lad.
He was amazing. He looked exactly the same, even his "pop-eye" forearms looked as powerful as ever but his voice was very weak and he would "drop-off" from time to time. However, his zest for life was still very much apparent. Visitors came and went all day, and I was reminded of his unique ability to give 100% concentration to the subject in hand. Each visitor talked about diferent issues of course, and it was like he was changing channels on the TV. Especially for a man in his predicament, how could he do this? It made me feel humble and inferior and I susspect the other as well.
We all craved another meeting. Unfortunately , however the sands of time run out for us, and it was not to be. Fishing has lost a legend. We, who had the privilege to know him, have lost an irreplaceable friend. Our condolences go out to his lovely family. Jack will be sorely missed by all.
Goodbye Jack.

Bill Quinlan


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