Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Jeff Arnold: The Man in the White Hat

 

A remembrance from a member of Jeff’s family

 

To all the e-pards and westernistas out there, a very warm “Hello”.

My name is James
and I am Jeff’s nephew. He kindly mentioned me a few times in these pages when reviewing films or books I had bought him for a birthday or Christmas.

On behalf of Jeff’s family, I would like to say a few words here to both thank the readers of the blog for their kind comments and so these same readers can get to know the man behind the cowboy hat, a bit anyway. My dear uncle was always quite a private man but I know many of you are interested in his life and I will share as much as I think he would have preferred.

 

Before I begin, please accept an apology. I should have posted here when he died and I am grateful to his neighbour and friend Bernard who did this. The honest truth is I was not in the best shape to do it. I was, and remain, heartbroken that he is gone. However, I should have put something up sooner.

Please allow me to try and make amends.

 

So, who was Jeff…

He was intelligent, scholarly, funny, supportive, generous, fluent in three languages (and proficient in God knows how many more), a classic car and motorbike enthusiast, a cricket lover, an art appreciator, a well-travelled man (especially to Arizona and New Mexico), the maker of a mean Gin and French, and he could be a real piece of work in a debate.

Jeff genuinely loved nothing more than a glass or three of something and a massive chat. He could chew the fat with the best of them on a whole host of topics. He was a quiet man but with some fierce opinions, always backed up by a whole host of facts and context that he seemed to have on all subjects under the sun as far as I could tell.

Jeff was about to turn 76 and was the fifth of six children. The family were based in Sussex in the UK, a part of the world he held in high affection and regard. He studied history at Bristol University and memorably said, though he did get his degree, he didn’t do as well as perhaps he could have done academically because his pub snooker improved dramatically in his time there. His love for the cinema and music really developed in these years. Westerns were, of course, by some distance his favourite but he would watch anything, really. Music wise, he was a VERY big fan of Bob Dylan but also loved Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello, blues, and classical music. When I visited him once in my late teens, I genuinely thought he had the coolest and most eclectic record collection on the face of the earth and I have spent my life thus far trying to emulate it.

Jeff married and worked in the UK for many years before he split from his wife and then went to work in Florence. He was there for some time and lived a stone’s throw away from the Uffizi gallery, which he would often visit. He ended his working life in Paris and I have very fond memories of trips to see him there and sitting in blues clubs by the river late into the night as he out-thought me in three different languages simultaneously.

 

One amusing story I will share is that whilst living in Paris he emailed me one night to say the following (regrettably I must paraphrase as I no longer have the emails). Something along these lines…

Remembered the chat we had about scifi. Saw that all three Star Wars movies were on in Paris in one day. Different cinemas all over town. Spent the whole day watching them and just about got to them all in time by zipping through traffic on the Triumph. Not bad at all but I’m sticking to the westerns.

He remained in France and retired to a beautiful small French village. Here he made many friends and the hospitality and kindness of these friends over the last few painful months has been greatly appreciated by Jeff’s family.

He spent his retirement reading, watching films, listening to music, going to classic car events, following the cricket on the radio, and walking his beloved dog, named Wyatt. In a beautifully poignant, though heart-breaking, twist of fate, Wyatt passed a matter of days before Jeff.

 

He also wrote.

My small service to this community is that he kept telling me he had stories and novels in various stages of completion. One night I told him he had to frankly shut up, finish the damn things, and get them published.

With some haste, a self-published collection of western-themed short stories, The Cabin in the West, dropped through my letterbox. This was, of course, followed by the more recently published Stay and Die, the first of a planned trilogy of novels.  I am pleased to say that, shortly before he died, Jeff gave me the finished manuscript for the second novel, Fight Back. I will endeavour to get this published on his behalf and of course more news on that front as and when.

Then there was also the blog. Jeff read A LOT and widely but if you were a gambling type the safe bet was on finding him with about six novels or history books about the west on the go at once. Page corners turned down to highlight important bits that he wanted to put into a blog post and postcards and strips of paper for book marks on which he scribbled something blog related. It truly was one of his life’s biggest passions and I for one was always astounded by the breadth of his knowledge pertaining to all things Wild West. He was like a walking western Wikipedia. This is so clearly evident in the thousands of posts he made over the years and, as Bud and RR have eloquently said in their own recent posts, it is a staggering volume of work and the quality is I think, objectively, very high.

 

This feels like the right place to offer all you dear readers the sincerest thank you on behalf of my family. The many moving, supportive, and heartfelt comments that have been left on the blog since the sad news has been a great comfort.

Please allow me to offer my sympathies to you as well. Though you did not know Jeff the man, it is clear from many of these comments and messages that there was much affection for the person behind the blog. A Jeff-shaped hole will be left for many of you, as it is for us. Hang in there, e-pards.

A final thank you must go to Bud and RR who have climbed into the saddle and are keeping this blog alive and vibrant. They do so with both Jeff and my family’s blessing and gratitude. They are fine men and I am certain the blog is in the safest of hands. I look forward to reading future posts and any contributions sent in from readers.

 

In many ways, this blog is my uncle’s legacy. The fact that it continues its journey out west means that, even after facing the ultimate showdown, Jeff rides ever on into his own western myth.

I cannot begin to express how much this means to me.

What I can say with total certainty is that Jeff would have been thrilled, humbled, and immensely proud to know that the blog is continuing and that the community will remain together.

I tip my hat to all of you.

 

I will leave you with something I hope you may find a little special, and in so doing this post will sign off with words from Jeff himself.

Printed below in its entirety is a little exchange between Jeff and I literally hours before his death, trademark wisdom and humour fully in place right until the end.

Godspeed and happy trails,

James

 

Howdy Unc

Now this IS important. The time for fence sitting is over. Mr. Earp does have a gun to your head. I need the definitive top ten westerns list.

Much love,

J

 

Hi James

Never did a top ten on the blog, partly because I think its impossible to leave out so many great ones, but I think Western fans would definitely include:

HIGH NOON

THE SEARCHERS

THE GUNFIGHTER

SHANE

THE WILD BUNCH

RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY

THE TALL T

UNFORGIVEN

THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

I can watch all these again and again and always enjoy them.

There are no spaghettis, no singing cowboys, no revisionist ones.

Just great Westerns but, as I say, that is leaving out so many true greats.

In fact, I also have to mention

RED RIVER

FORT APACHE

GO WEST

SILVERADO

CANYON PASSAGE

DAWN AT SOCORRO

HONDO

So thats a top ten and seven as a bonus.

More as and when,

J

6 Responses

  1. James,
    What a beautiful and thrilling eulogy…!
    I was sure, even not knowing him but just reading him and exchanging with him, that your uncle was a gentleman and humanist, matching exactly the Renaissance term. When he passed, I was wishing him to meet the likes of Cooper, Stewart, Fonda but also William Boney, Crazy Horse, Custer and of course Wyatt Earp.
    I should have added Leonard Cohen but I had ended with his Cohen’s quote as his blog frontispice
    “Each man has a song and this is my song”.
    I truly hope that we can hear his song played for ever.
    And of course no apologies needed, many of his readers would have loved to participate in some way to his funerals, by listening the songs he loved.
    Is he buried in the village where he lived ? And/or where ?
    Many thanks again to you, Bernard and the duo Bud and RR to perpetuate his legacy wether his books and his blog.
    It is funny and surprising to read his ideal list of Top westerns as I am sure he would have added at least some Mann, Daves and Wellman to reach the 20…
    About his books, we had talked of a possible french edition suggesting him a few editors but I guess he did not have time enough to work on it.
    If I can be of any help, let me know.
    My deepest sympathy to you and your family. And thank you very much again for your moving post.

  2. Thanks Jean-Marie for the characteristically thoughtful reply. Humanist in the Renaissance sense is such a good way of putting it!

    So glad that you liked James’ wonderful piece. Among the things I learned from it is that – surprising to me – Jeff was a rosbif (for the benefit of readers outside Britain and France, this is a French term – it may best be described as an affectionate insult – for we Brits (well, specifically the English more than the Scots and Welsh), albeit one deeply connected to several other countries’ cultures. I’d always assumed, mainly I suppose because of his intricate knowledge of the history of the American West, that Jeff was himself from the USA.

    Regarding Jeff’s list – indeed one wonders what else he might have added if he had had more time. I was not surprised to see The Magnificent Seven on the list, he intimated on more than one occasion that this was pretty much his favourite film. But I particularly enjoyed his quirkier second list of seven additional titles, which not only includes two of my personal favourites, Fort Apache and Canyon Passage, but also the only one of these films I’ve never yet seen – Dawn at Socorro. I must seek this one out! And then, of course, I will read Jeff’s review of it.

    1. I thought Jeff was from the old USA as well! He knew our history far more than most natives. His list contains some of my all time favorite Westerns.

  3. Thank you for this piece. So well written and interesting. Truly appreciated and worthy of this fascinating personality.

  4. Well done James you’ve done him proud!
    A great read, the pleasure to have met your Uncle at your wedding x

  5. James,
    Greatly appreciate your moving post — you share your Uncle’s grace with the written word. Upon learning of his loss i ordered STAY and DIE, finishing it a few days ago. What a great read, throughly enjoyable! I recommend it to all, and mightily hope you are able to publish that second novel. All good wishes to you and your family.

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