Last Word: Neil Faulkner

Andrew Selkirk remembers Neil Faulkner (1958-2022).

Neil Faulkner, editor of our sister-magazine Military History Matters, and a long-standing contributor to CA, died on 4 February 2022, aged 64.

I still remember how I first met Neil. It was in 1997, and I had been going round the country in my motor caravan, seeking articles for CA. I decided to try one more site in Norfolk, and went to Sedgeford, where a chap called Neil Faulkner was digging. I arrived at 5.30pm. Now, 5.30 is not the best time to arrive on an excavation, especially an unknown one. I asked with great trepidation if I could see the director, and then Neil bounded up, welcomed me warmly, forgot all about the supper that was awaiting him, and spent the next two hours taking me all round the excavation (see CA 155).

Neil contributed to, and/or edited issues of, all four of Current Publishing’s sister-magazines: Current Archaeology, Current World Archaeology, Military History Matters, and Minerva.

Sedgeford had begun while Neil was working a lot as a tour guide; one evening, during a chat in a Naples bar, he said he would love to take a piece of the English countryside and see if he could find its history by digging. ‘I have an estate,’ said one of the tour party, ‘come and dig anywhere you like.’ And that is how Neil arrived at Sedgeford, where he has uncovered a completely unknown chunk of Anglo-Saxon history – and the project is still flourishing more than a quarter of a century later (CA 299, 333, and 379).

above CA 171 (December 2020) was the first issue of this magazine that Neil edited.
CA 171 (December 2020) was the first issue of this magazine that Neil edited.

Neil was an interesting person, as he lived two lives. One was as an archaeologist, as a tour guide, excavator, and valued contributor to our magazines. But he also had another life, as a revolutionary Marxist and a long-term member of the Socialist Workers Party. Many of the almost 20 books he wrote were on this theme, including A People’s History of the Russian Revolution, A Marxist History of the World from Neanderthals to Neoliberals, and A Radical History of the World. He kept his beliefs more-or-less in the background as an archaeologist, but I always felt that they added pepper and salt to his articles.

He began life fairly conventionally, being brought up in Tunbridge Wells, and educated at Skinners’ School and King’s College, Cambridge. Neil then spent ten years as a teacher before returning to academia to write a doctoral thesis on late Romano-British towns – and he was already becoming an invaluable tour-guide lecturer. I was always rather jealous in that, not only was he a superb writer, but also a wonderful speaker and powerful orator. I remember one of his very enjoyable tours around Pompeii, in which we clashed over the Roman poet Juvenal – Neil saw him as a proto-Marxist, but to me Juvenal was a right-wing grouch letting rip on the decadence of modern youth.

this page An enduring legacy: Andrew first met Neil at Sedgeford in 1997, as documented in CA 155 (left); this excavation is still thriving today and was most recently featured in CA 379 (below).
An enduring legacy: Andrew first met Neil at Sedgeford in 1997, as documented in CA 155.

I met Neil at a perfect time for both of us. I was about to launch a new magazine (Current World Archaeology) and was also looking for a new writer for CA. So, from 2000 until 2010, Neil wrote extensively for CA (his first appearance as a guest editor came in CA 171), and was a regular contributor to CWA from its second issue onwards, becoming one of its editors with CWA 4. Then, in 2010, we launched a third magazine, Military Times (later Military History Monthly, now Military History Matters), which Neil edited right up to the latest issue. From 2020 he also contributed to our latest acquisition, Minerva magazine. He wrote like an angel, one of those annoying people who seems to get it right first time, first draft, but above all, Neil was also a warm-hearted people-person, as happy to talk with long-term MHM contributor and friend, former Tory MP Patrick Mercer, as he was to the most junior recruit at Current Publishing or at Sedgeford. All were equally deserving of his time, which he always gave generously.

This excavation is still thriving today and was most recently featured in CA 379.

Neil always had a ‘portfolio career’, reflecting his wide interests; as well as writing for us, he set up and was continuously involved in Sedgeford, as well as archaeological projects as varied as Copped Hall in Essex (CA 185), Monte Cassino in Italy, and the remains of Zeppelin L48 in Theberton (CA 206). His major excavation in Jordan, investigating evidence of Lawrence of Arabia, was particularly noteworthy: Neil succeeded in locating some of the desert campsites from which Lawrence blew up trains, and revealed intriguing insights into the reality behind the myth – finding he would be able to write a fine typology of the gin bottles from the site.

Everyone at Current Publishing will miss Neil incredibly. Any interaction with Neil was always fun, thoughtful, and intelligent. I shall miss him greatly as my closest collaborator and one of my best friends. And of course there was a third important aspect of Neil’s life, as a family man. Neil is survived by his partner, Lucy Harris, and his three children, Tiggy, Rowena, and Finnian, and our thoughts and love go out to them. You can read other tributes to Neil at www.currentpublishing.com/neilfaulkner.