Tim Johns: An Appreciation
Si monumentum requiris, circumspice
We are very sad to acknowledge the death of Tim Johns,
who was the creator and editor of the Literary Pages, and played
an important part in the development of Arthur Ransome material
on the world wide web. This page offers tributes from those who
knew Tim or worked with Tim, and know of his contributions.
Tim's colleagues at the University of Birmingham have implemented a
page in memory of Tim, at
We owe him a big debt of gratitude for all the work he put in to creating
the Literary Pages - beavering away, out of the limelight and largely unsung,
to create an extremely valuable resource for all Ransome fans to enjoy into
the future. He obviously got great enjoyment from hunting out and researching
the articles and texts, but also the technicalities of creating the layout of
the web pages and publishing them to the world. When I first started doing work
on the original TARS website, Tim was very encouraging, suggesting new things to
add and giving constructive comments. His heartening mannerisms and enthusiasm
were still clearly there during the very recent discussions we had about the renewed
We had quite a lot of email contact, and occasional phone calls, back in 1996/7/8/9,
both being interested in the possibilities of "the web" for information dissemination
- he was consultant and first tester for things like Dick's Pocket Book, and the
"Test Post" function of TarBoard. We discussed things like his implementing quizzes
and Trivia files. We seemed to share a humour, approach and interests... two
quotes from Tim in years past can illustrate his attitude and approach:
"The biggest problem in putting stuff on the page is in getting consent,
not from the authors (who have in every case been delighted to have their words of
wisdom take electronic flight), but from the copyright holders (eg The Guardian,
which in 1994 published a marvellous piece on Winter Holiday by Martin Kettle,
but won't reply to my pleas for permission to use it). Peter Dowden has suggested
that I should become 'Literary Editor' to the TARS site: this may help a little
in getting permissions." - March 1997
"To correct a possible misunderstanding" (of third parties - ed) "I don't think
of what I am adding to the Literary Pages as only at the 'learned' end of the spectrum."
- April 1997.
Roger Walker once said that had Columbus known about chocolate he
would certainly have used it. It's nice to think that Arthur Ransome
himself might have had a literary website discussing the finer points
of storytelling and Russian folklore if he had had the chance.
When we started the arthur-ransome.org web pages, we were really
working in the realm of fandom. Tim Johns, with his work on the
Literary Pages elevated our efforts to a much higher plane, and should
be viewed in a wider context.
In those days the Internet was in a relative infancy compared to now,
and so the use of websites to discuss the finer points of literature
was not widespread. Thus Tim Johns should be seen as an Internet
pioneer not only in Ransomology but in literary criticism overall.
I played a very small bit part in the Tim Johns saga.
I had become involved in a minor way in Dave Thewlis's
project to resurrect the Arthur Ransome Literary Pages
as part of the 'All Things Ransome' website. I knew
that Tim had been the original LP architect and main
developer and that, like Howard Hughes, had gone to
ground for several years and had not been responding to
e-mails. Certain 'architectural' decisions had to be taken about
the future shape of the combined ATR/LP site and I found
myself wondering on a number of occasions - what would
Tim have done?
Imagine my surprise when shortly after ATR went live, I
heard that Tim had been in touch with Margaret Radcliffe
of the TARS Library. A telephone number was available
and I tried ringing it. After an enormous wait Tim
answered. He explained somewhat gruffly that he had been
somewhat surprised that the LP had been taken off-line, but
then changed tack and with great gusto thanked those who
had helped to bring them back to life.
A teleconference followed when Dave, Woll and myself learnt
all about Tim's intended plans for the future of the site.
LP was not just to be a collection of the written word, but
was to contain images, sound files and even video. Tim's
enthusiasm was infectious and I remember thinking to myself
that perhaps I could take on responsibility for the Sea
Shanties part of his grand plan. A second teleconference with Tim and a wider group which
included the TarBoard rescuers never got off the ground
because of technical difficulties, but a few of us were able
to wish Tim 'Happy Christmas' and to arrange to 'meet up
again' over the Internet in the New Year.
Alas, that meeting will not now ever take place, but Tim's
Literary Pages will live on an excellent resource for all
Arthur Ransome researchers and a fitting memorial to the
enthusiasm and dedication of a most extraordinary man.
If all else fails as a memorial we could do worse than copy
Christopher Wren's memorial inscription in St Paul's cathedral:
"'Si monumentum requiris, circumspice" ('If you are seeking his monument, look around you").
Tim Johns was my supervisor for my M.Phil research at Birmingham from
1996-1997. I visited Tim many times to discuss the work we were doing
on dictation and corpora. Tim was a very warm-hearted and encouraging
supervisor with a terrific sense of humour. He had a very light but
sure touch in editing and very clear ideas about style. He was much
loved by all of his students at Birmingham. If Tim had been the
'pushy' type he could easily have become Professor of Linguistics at
Birmingham, but titles meant very little to him. His focus was on the
work and on students. He will be sorely missed.
I once showed him some ransom notes in which the author had written
'ransom' as 'ransome'. That was how we got talking about Arthur
Ransome and his research into Ransome's work. It was an interesting
diversion from our studies.
Anyone with recollections or remembrances of Tim who would like to contribute to this
page, please contact Dave Thewlis.
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