Don Whillans has an iconic significance for generations of climbers. His epochmaking first ascent of Annapurna's South Face, achieved with Dougal Haston in 1970, remains one of the most impressive climbs ever made, a standard to which all modern Himalayan climbers aspire - but behind this and all his other formidable achievements lies a tough, recalcitrant reality: the character of the man himself. At twenty, Whillans was 5 foot 4 inches tall, a working-class lad with the build of a miniature Atlas. W nithin a year of entering the climbing world in 1950 he had acquired parallel reputations of great skill and daring on the one hand, and as a hell-raiser, a scrapper and a savage-tongued wit on the other - the Villain of the title, who was turned down for a Queen's Birthday Honour because of a violent fracas with several policemen. His world was miles away from the conventional public-school environment of the upper-class climbers who had for so long dominated the sport, and this itself led to tensions throughout his life. Whillans carried within himself a sense of personal invincibility, forceful, direct and uncompromising. It gave him sporting superstar status - the flawed heroism of a Best, a McEnroe, an Ali. In his own circle, his image was the working class hero on the rock-face, laconic and bellicose, ready to go to war with the elements or with any human who crossed his path on a bad day.
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