Obituary: Charles Letts, businessman

Born: 21 February, 1965, in Lowestoft, Suffolk. Died: 15 June, 2014, in Duns, Berwickshire, aged 49

Charles Letts: Last member of the Letts famly still working with the famous diary-producing company
Charles Letts: Last member of the Letts famly still working with the famous diary-producing company
Charles Letts: Last member of the Letts famly still working with the famous diary-producing company

Charles Letts was the last remaining member of the Letts family still working at the historic diary-producing firm based in Dalkeith, Midlothian, which was founded in 1796 and created the world’s first commercial diary in 1812. His sudden death from a suspected heart attack in his driveway after a cross-country run near his home close to Duns came as a shock to family, friends and the 300 Dalkeith employees of the firm, now trading under the name FLB Group (Filofax, Letts, Blueline).

They described him as extremely fit and sporty; he enjoyed riding, stalking, fishing, polo, tennis, marathon running and skiing, and he was a keen fan of rugby and of Chelsea FC and he ran the New York marathon in 1996.

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Charlie Letts, as he was widely known, travelled the world championing the Scottish family brand, the world leader in diaries, as its marketing and sales director with markets as far afield as Russia, Japan and Australia, his name gaining him access and usually sales.

He was famed among his sales team and his customers for his penchant for red corduroy trousers rather than a suit. Despite his name and being the seventh generation of the Letts family to work in the firm, he never actually ran Letts, even after it acquired the Filofax personal organiser company in 2001. His father Martin Letts and his uncle Anthony were the last Letts family members to run the company, some 200 years on from its founding by John Letts.

With Charles Letts’ death, no-one from the family is left in the company. FLB Group is now owned by Canadian publishing magnate Harolde Savoy, whose family own the Blueline stationery company, and Filofax Letts’ longtime chief executive Gordon Presly. The firm now makes more than 22 million diaries and is firmly established as the global market leader, exporting to more than 75 countries.

After his colleague’s death, Presly said: “The reaction from around the world has spoken volumes about the great character he was. He was universally recognised with total respect and warm affection for his ebullient humour delivered with energetic zest, a cheeky smile and a charming twist. He did not have an enemy in the world.”

Charles Letts was born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, in 1965. Although born in England, he was brought up in the picturesque College Valley in the Borders and went to Rickerby House Preparatory School in Ecclefechan, near Lockerbie.

The Borders would remain close to his heart for the rest of his life.

After leaving Edinburgh’s Fettes College in 1983, he travelled in Australia for two years, working in several jobs including at a cattle station, before a brief spell back home as a trainee merchant navy officer.

After joining the army in 1985, he trained at Sandhurst before being commissioned into what was then the Queen’s Own Hussars, a light cavalry regiment, in 1986, serving in what was then West Germany, in Canada and in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. In the latter, as the youngest officer in the regiment, he commanded a light tank unit during daily danger.

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Always a keen skier, he organised and led a ten-man regimental ski team which competed in races in Austria and France. He also taught rock-climbing and led an expedition of fellow soldiers to climbing and trekking exercises, including in Sardinia.

According to friends and fellow soldiers, he was always fond of a wee dram. An army comrade recalled that he was once given three “extras” (effectively three shifts of night duty) after the army dentist smelled a whiff of whisky on him one morning.

After studying at evening college, he got an MBA and joined the family company in 1990, aged 25, and worked his way up to become a key and popular member of management, red corduroys and all.

Following in the footsteps and hoofprints of his father, who was a hound-breeder and MFH (Master of Foxhounds), Charlie Letts walked, stalked, hiked, climbed and rode the College Valley in the Borders where his father was a major figure.

Oddly enough, although from a “horsey” family, Charlie took up riding only in his later years after a horseback safari in Botswana with friends. Before that, he was more likely to be seen following the hunting pack on a quad bike, often scaring his passengers with his brae-climbing bravado. But he later became a keen huntsman and an enthusiastic member of the Border Reivers Polo Club at Pittlesheugh farm, Greenlaw, near his home.

“Charlie was at home in the mountains, a keen climber,” according to one of his closest friends Angus MacDonald. “He once went from one end of the very challenging Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye (which includes 11 Munros) non-stop in 17 hours, despite a fall. He remained a remarkable skier for the rest of his life, for the last 15 years on the difficult pistes of La Grave in the French Alps with a bunch of friends who called themselves the Anchovy Gang. He once climbed Mont Blanc (the highest mountain the Alps) and skied down it.”

Another longtime family friend, Sally Hamilton, still in shock from his death, told The Scotsman: “Charlie loved anything to do with the great outdoors and countryside life and was a keen fisherman and enjoyed stalking and shooting. He was also a very keen gardener and was particularly fond of his vegetable patch which was very productive although his much tended asparagus beds didn’t ever produce much fruit to his constant irritation and amusement.

“More than anything else he was a content, positive, happy and loving family man who will be very much missed by many.”

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Charles Letts is survived by his wife Rosie (née Walker) and their children Emily, Harry and Louisa, aged between 14 and 11.