It has taken me a few days to compose my thoughts about the loss of Duncan MacFarlane.
Many people knew him much better than I, but for what it's worth here are few words on the passing of our friend...
I was first aware of him via the old Battleground TV series, the Edgehill episode in which he commanded the Royalist army being my favourite (along with the Chalons ep). But like many I really only knew him much later when the first Miniature Wargames magazine hit the shelves. I travelled home from an excursion into town, clutching a copy of this new mag, and my head was spinning. His magazines (MW and WI) were a breakthrough in the presentation of our hobby - uniquely Duncan-esque. He could spot angles for photos like no other, and create a narrative with images that was compelling. His direction of the publications created a fresh style that pushed the hobby forward in the '80s and '90s to a whole new standard. Getting a hobby magazine onto the shelves of WHSmiths in the UK was no mean feat. Keeping it there was a miracle.
I first met him in person around 1986, I think at Midland Militaire or WMMS or some or other show. A brief chat at his stand ensued. It was the first of many.
Much later, Duncan took a keen interest in what Barry and I were doing as the League of Augsburg, and following our Neerwinden game at Claymore (Edinburgh) in August 1995, invited us to his Warcon show which was to be held less than a month later in Birmingham. We seized the opportunity, and the photos of our game appearing in Wargames Illustrated 98 in November 1995 was a huge bonus.
Of course, subsequent Partizan shows provided similar
opportunities to meet Duncan, and at places like Triples and Claymore too. We
also visited his home for photo shoots and the Scout Hall in Newark for
"Shoot to Thrill" sessions. At his home, one had to tip-toe around the
boxes of wargaming paraphernalia all the way up the stairs.
During one such weekend, being dined by Duncan as a treat in Newark’s Café Bleu, including late night cognacs aplenty, I was struck by the fond interaction between he and the staff at the restaurant – a mark of just how popular he was with people beyond wargaming, for he had a natural rapport with others and was able to converse with anyone.
In hobby terms, he was a great supporter of others’ efforts. You always felt he was genuinely interested in whatever you were doing in the hobby. I will miss the friendly wave, smile, and nod of acknowledgement, beckoning across a show hall, and the lengthy chats at his stand … and getting him a coffee when he looked overrun by eager customers.
Following me showing my Sassanid army on my old blog/ website, he took great delight in telling me his many tales of derring-do with the Peter Gilder Sassanids he had inherited and used in WAB tournaments (in my opinion, they were one of his best magazine front covers). When I launched my small, very amateur, Classic Wargamer’s Journal back in 2010, he was one of the first to subscribe.
At Claymore in 2011 I bumped into him as we were both setting up stalls in the morning, me to sell off a whole host of wargaming materials, including many old magazines (later issues of Min Warg, and some WIs), and he insisted on helping me carry the magazines in from the car and set them up on my stand. He figured that it was all his fault anyway “for publishing the damned things” in the first place!
After every encounter with Duncan, you always got the sense that you came away a better person for it… more knowledgeable, more illuminated, more enthused than ever before. On one occasion he and I even discussed at some length the very clever coded messages that were part of the correspondence between Frederick the Great and Voltaire!
I imagine, somewhere up there just now, there’s a “Great Wargames Show in the Sky” happening… the hobby ‘luminaries’ (those who have gone before us) are playing games, and Paul Trickett and Lee Maxwell have nipped away from their tables to help man Duncan’s stall for a few minutes while he goes around taking photos of the games.
I would like to take this opportunity to extend my condolences to his family, of course, and also to our fellows in the hobby who were close to Duncan… people like Tricks and Laurence , organisers of Partizan (and indeed all the Newark Irregulars), and my fellow demo-gamers down the years who, like me must be feeling it a bit at the moment… Graham Cummings, the Derby lads, Mark Allen, Bill Gaskin, John Ray, Ian Smith, The Perrys, Aly Morrison and Dave Andrews, and many more who I have got to know ‘on the show circuit’, and of course the many traders who were Duncan’s great friends. He has been a constant in all our hobby lives, a common denominator in our acquaintance, and maybe we are mourning the passing years, as well as the passing of our friend.
Erudite, wise, experienced in our hobby beyond measure, Duncan’s contribution is certainly beyond measure, not only to my life, but to many thousands of others too. He was the enigmatic, Merlin-esque, ‘Arch-Druid’ of the hobby; the island at the heart of the wargaming archipelago … who knew everyone, who sowed connections between so many, and who will never be forgotten.
Farewell my friend. Duncan MacFarlane, RIP.