A long-standing member of the Guild, Michael Williams, has died at the age of 87. He was a well-known and much respected machinery journalist and author, and recipient of the Guild’s Netherthorpe Award in 2020 for an outstanding and sustained contribution to agricultural communications.
To his fellow machinery journalists, he was also a welcome companion at UK and overseas technical events, shows and press conferences, with an infectious giggle that revealed an endearing sense of humour.
Mike was a prolific author of books on vintage and classic tractors and other farm machinery, charting the early days of farm mechanisation through to the innovations of the 1990s, with numerous ‘collectors’ titles that also told the histories behind several of today’s well-known marques.
Keen to promote agriculture – and especially an interest in agricultural machinery to the next generation – Mike also wrote several books for young children and teenagers, all of which proved popular.
Having started his journalism career in Fleet Street and Farmers Weekly, Mike switched disciplines in the late 1960s by working at an equipment manufacturer – Howard Rotavator – for several years while maintaining his interest in writing by contributing freelance articles on the side.
The launch of the weekly title Farming News in 1982 gave him the opportunity to take up the machinery reporter’s pen and notebook full time once more, and enjoy friendly rivalry with his equivalent correspondents on Farmers Weekly and Big Farm Weekly for the best news ‘scoops’ and features.
Subsequently, he took up a full-time freelance career, contributing machinery feature articles to Farmers Weekly and the monthlies Farm Contractor and Farmers Guide, as well as titles overseas, and was delighted when his son, David, a fellow Guild member, followed in his footsteps by joining Farmers Guide as machinery editor.
Mike continued with his regular contributions to Farmers Guide and Farm Contractor in ‘retirement’ until shortly before his death in late September.
A funeral service was held on Tuesday, 17th October, at All Saints Church, Drinkstone, Bury St Edmunds.
Past and present friends and colleagues are welcome to email their own tributes, recollections and anecdotes to Peter Hill.
Mike was one of the great gentlemen of our industry and one of the most unfailingly courteous people I have ever met – he always (unnecessarily) apologised when he emailed to ask for background information or photographs while I handled John Deere machinery PR. I have known Mike since I started in agricultural journalism and PR over 40 years ago, and it would be no exaggeration to state that he pretty much invented and set the template for freelance machinery writing as we know it today. As an editor commissioning articles in the 1980s you could count the number of specialist machinery writers who weren’t staffers on one cartoon character’s hand – Mike had the advantage of producing accurate, concise and readable copy every time, which never needed editing (I certainly wouldn’t dare!). And he developed a parallel and very successful career as an internationally recognised authority on the history of tractors and power farming, with his books becoming staples of any serious reference library on the subject. I shudder to think how many words he’s committed to print and electronic media over the past four decades, but it was always done to the same consistently high standards. He gave long and respected service to our industry.
When I heard the news of Mike’s death, I dug out a copy of what I think must have been one of his first books, Farm Tractors in Colour, first published 1974, so just short of 50 years ago. It is a great book; and so is one of my favourite early books, Mike’s ‘Great Tractors’, first published in 1982. Looking back, Mike can lay claim to being one of the first successful ‘commercial’ writers on tractor heritage subjects, and he certainly led the way with his early research into the histories of many of the pioneering British manufacturers. He did so at a time when there was no such thing as e-mail or online research or reference sources, or even pre-published information. That meant he had to source the facts and information himself, first-hand, by referring to original records, documents and journals in various archives. Many of us of a certain age grew up reading the farm machinery sections and books of Mike Williams. He was certainly a legend in the farm machinery journalism world and has left his mark in more ways than one in the many publications he wrote for and the books he authored.
I last saw Mike two years ago when he turned out for a field product launch near to his Suffolk home and I was delighted to have a good catch-up with someone I spent many a happy time with over the years during the shows, technical events and press trips we attended. He was his usual chirpy self, which reminded me what a great companion he was during such events as we enjoyed many silly giggly moments together thanks to our shared sense of the ridiculous! One example sticks in my memory. We arrived late one dark evening in Budapest and the following morning Mike decided to take a brisk walk; at breakfast said he couldn’t fathom why he kept coming across a river whichever way he walked. He thought it hilarious when I pointed we were staying on an island in the middle of the Danube! Mike was immensely knowledgeable about his chosen specialism, a true professional and a delightful person to share this life with.
As well as being an exceptional machinery journalist and highly skilled writer, Mike was a kind and gentle man, always happy to offer a guiding hand to younger members of the farm machinery press group, as I know from personal experience. Back in the early 1990s, along with the likes of Mick Roberts, Tony Collier, Andy Collings, Steve Mitchell and Peter Hill, Mike often pointed me in the right direction when I was invariably headed elsewhere. He was a true gent … one of the old school. Rest in peace, Mike.
Mike Williams was a great friend and colleague for whom I have always had the greatest respect. I will never forget how kind and helpful he was to me when I first started on Power Farming. While he could be quiet and thoughtful, my best memories of Mike were when he, and then me, would get into a fit of giggles in a press conference – nearly crying with laughter about something quiet stupid; and what a lovely laugh it was! Mike was, as others have said, a true gentleman who was always great company. I always tried to sit with him on the long bus journeys to European events, hearing about the times before I joined, it was like sitting next to a talking farm machinery encyclopaedia. We also both enjoyed our friendly rivalry between Farmers Weekly and Farming News and later, with Peter Hill at Big Farm Weekly. We couldn’t believe how we both had our biggest scoops – the first pictures of a prototype JCB Fastrac working in Wiltshire. After questioning each other about how we got the same tractor in the same week, it transpired he heard about it from his nephew, who was also my best friend from college. JCB couldn’t have picked a worse place to keep it secret! Rest in peace Mike – you were a lovely man and I am so proud to have known and worked with you.
One of the best machinery writers, in my opinion. Had a deep understanding of things mechanical, plus the skill to simplify it on paper. I’ll remember you for your quiet and courteous ways. RIP, old chap.