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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Henry Douglas (1925-2018)

The longest-standing member of our Institute, and one of the best-loved former Presidents, has died, peacefully, after a “very good lunch”, at the age of 93.

Henry Russell Douglas was born in Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow, in 1925. According to his daughter Jane, he was a particularly patriotic Scot who had an extensive collection of kilts, in which he was proud to appear “at the drop of a hat”.

Henry joined the navy in 1943 and, rather surprisingly, given that he was immensely tall, served in submarines. Only a year ago, he found himself stuck in a lift and was asked whether he was claustrophobic: “Oh no. I was in submarines during the war” was his swift reply.

After his service in the Royal Navy, Henry went up to Oxford University where he read History. While there, apparently, he wrote a great deal of poetry, played a lot of chess – sometimes playing for the University – and met his future wife, Elizabeth. In her eulogy, Jane referred to how the family often heard of the chess tournament in which Henry “beat the man who beat the man who beat the world champion”!

Henry met the young Elizabeth at a seminar on the French Revolution. The class consisted of Elizabeth, and three men. She described the experience to her children as “One was married, one was mad and one was Daddy!” Married in 1951, the couple settled down to married life in Liverpool where Henry worked on the staff of the Liverpool Daily Post as leader-writer and assistant editor. His passion for books also manifested itself in his other role as the Post’s Literary Editor.

Legendary

Henry Douglas became a member of the Institute of Journalists in 1957, which suggests he may well have been the longest-standing member of the Institute – unless, of course, any Journal readers know otherwise!

Encouraged by the now-legendary Larry Lamb, Henry moved to Fleet Street in 1969 as part of the launch team for the new Sun newspaper. Writing in his book Sunrise, Larry wrote of Henry that “he is a big man in every sense of the word, with a big heart, a big appetite, a big family and a magnificently well-stocked mind.” 

In common with many Institute members, Henry was a stickler for proper use of language and grammar. (I fear that, even now, he will have a good look at this piece from above and find my scribblings a little wanting!)

As an employee of News International, Henry, although he had not had any former legal training, went on to become Legal Manager of the News of the World and, after retiring, served as a much-respected consultant on media legal issues.

However, he found he had to defer to his granddaughter Helen when he was asked to check over the teenage publication, Sugar, for libel. Unfortunately, without her help he couldn’t understand what the magazine was on about!  I suspect many fathers and grandfathers would have sympathised!

Henry continued to be an active and committed supporter of the Institute in his retirement, attending many functions, and serving as one of the organisation’s senior “Three Wise Men”, who, traditionally, were called on to resolve seemingly intractable disputes between officers and, sometimes, argumentative members. Although Henry’s legs and knees were not in great shape in 2008, he and Elizabeth attended that year’s CIoJ conference in Malta. The walk up through the old capital was a bit of a trial, I remember uncomfortably, because arthritis had already taken a hold on my left knee so I was happy to slow down and wander through the historic streets with them both.

Requiem Mass

Henry’s grandfather and great-grandfather were ministers of Scotland’s United Free Church, but, at the age of 18, in 1943, he became a Roman Catholic. It is clear that Henry’s faith was vitally important to him, and most surely, he would have appreciated the traditional Requiem Mass held to celebrate his life at the church of St Edward the Confessor, Sutton Park, near Guildford.

As daughter Jane told me, his Faith sustained him greatly on the death of Elizabeth after their 61 years of marriage. It must have proved a huge comfort too on the early deaths of two of his children; Catherine and Alexander. 

After the service in Guildford, his coffin began a journey north so that Henry could be buried with Elizabeth in Yorkshire. The Institute was represented at his funeral by Chief Executive Dominic Cooper and Past-Presidents Roger Bush and Paul Leighton.

On the Sunday before Henry died he was out with his family for lunch at his favourite local hostelry, The Olive Tree, where he enjoyed a ‘jolly good lunch’, two large glasses of Merlot, and was driven home by his family for an afternoon snooze. May he Rest in Peace.

Paul Francis Leighton

(with grateful thanks to Jane Douglas for her help and kindness)