Falkus - A Life on the Edge by  Chris Newton

Review by Nick Fallowfield-Cooper

For Fallon's Angler Magazine

One overcast day in April 1996 a flock of migrating greylags appeared from the Esk estuary and momentarily circled high above a congregation before returning back down the valley with a familiar ‘hink, honk’ cry as the geese faded into the mist. The group below gathered around a freshly laid sandstone slab which read ‘Hugh Falkus 30/3/96,’ engraved with a penknife by his life-long friend Bill Arnold. They drank champagne (requested by Falkus in his will) and retold the wild stories that Falkus had become celebrated for. 

 

Newton tells the extraordinary story about a man, whose life is a true epic, growing up along the Essex marshes between the wars. As the war broke Falkus trained as a pilot resulting in a short lived career flying Spitfires, which left him, imprisoned in the notorious Stalag camps for the duration of the war. 

 

On his return to England in 1945 the frustrated Falkus struggled to adjust to a more pedestrian pace of life with his estranged wife Doris and two children. It wasn’t long before he left his family and pursued an acting career in London. Whilst in London he met his second wife Diana but after a bizarre and shocking accident at sea which left his wife and three friends’ dead. Falkus took sanctuary in the Esk valley and led a more quiet existence in pursuit of sea trout and salmon which developed in his two revered books Sea Trout Fishing: A Guide to Success, and Salmon Fishing: A Practical Guide

 

Newton brings to the surface the battle Falkus fought with depression. He was not an easy man, haunted by past tragic events, disappointed by his own  achievements and in possession of a temper. In contrast he was highly entertaining, passionate and charming, often reconciling a fallen friendship with an invitation to Cragg Cottage (his home in the Esk valley) for a few days fishing and some late night conversations fuelled by whisky. 

A Life on the Edgeuses letters written by Falkus and his friends to expose the light and darkness of his life, it is the darker moments that unveil his most poetic written words, most evident in his final years as his own mortality takes on a gothic reality, delivering a fascinating and gripping finale to this haunting book.