Publications will sometimes give undue prominence to the death of a former journalist simply because he or she worked there.
In the case of Douglas Middleton, however, there is not enough space in an entire Scotsman edition to convey how important and vital he was to generations of journalists. The sudden death from a heart attack at home on Sunday caused deep shock to the many friends and former colleagues of Middleton, known as Duggie, Dougie or Doug.
He had been poorly for some years following a triple heart bypass operation, but had recovered from recent hospitalisation, and his family are taking comfort from the fact that he was in good spirits – an excellent cook, he had just made Sunday dinner – when he suffered his fatal collapse.
Born in wartime Edinburgh to Alex and Alyce, Middleton suffered a grievous blow at the age of five when his accountant father died. His mother remarried, and with his stepfather, a Rhodesian police officer, he spent two years in the country now known as Zimbabwe.
His spell there gave him a lifelong abhorrence of apartheid, as his playmates were the local black children. In the rugby circles in which he moved later in life, his stance was not always appreciated, but he himself would always cite men of integrity such as John Taylor – who famously refused to tour South Africa – and Finlay Calder as his ideal rugby people.
Rugby was to be an abiding passion throughout his life, stemming from his education at George Heriot’s School which he was able to attend thanks to a scholarship fund specifically designed for the children of former pupils, as his father had been.
Excelling in the arts and humanities subjects, especially English, Middleton became Vice-Captain of the school in his final year, and his pride in being a Herioter was still extant 50 years later when the class of 1959-60 held a reunion.
Middleton went straight from school to begin his working life as a trainee reporter with the Edinburgh Evening News. Though he received Thomson Publications’ formal training, he always maintained his journalistic education was in the School of Hard Knocks and the University of Life in which the legendary reporter George Millar was his professor.
A talented rugby player, Middleton also enjoyed tennis and athletics.
His junior shot putt record at Heriot’s will stand forever because the weights later changed to metric measurement. He later played for Heriot’s FPs second XV, always blaming the pressures of his job for not making the “Firsts”.
At the Plaza ballroom, he met his partner for life, Jackie, who he married in 1968. He recalled it as love at first sight, while she was a bit dubious about his suit.
His personality and intelligence, however, soon won her over and they enjoyed almost 45 years of marriage blessed by three sons, Chris and the twins Mike and Richy, and their three grandchildren.
To broaden his horizons, Middleton joined the News’s sister paper, The Scotsman, as a reporter before he trained as a sub-editor, which gave him the ideal set of talents when he became deputy news editor back at the News under editor Ian Nimmo and news editor Hamish Coghill, eventually succeeding the latter.
A news editor should be many things – inspiring, omniscient, and tough when necessary.
For many years, Middleton was all of these, but he went out of his way to encourage young talent, and many of his protégés from those days are now in senior positions in the media. He was also a man of principle, joining junior colleagues on the picket line during a bitter strike in the late 1980s.
His finest hour was the News’s award-winning coverage of the Lockerbie bombing, in which Edinburgh’s local paper outdid many larger news organisations.
In 1990, he took redundancy and spent a year writing the official centenary history of Heriot’s FPs, where he had been a coach to the juniors, starting the mini-rugby section. He always watched the careers of his “wee laddies” who included Scottish internationalists Gordon Ross and Bruce Douglas.
Middleton’s other hobbies included drumming, and as a youngster in the Heriot’s Pipe Band and afterwards, he was a Scottish champion. He also built up a huge stamp collection, which he was cataloguing even in his final weeks.
For ten years after leaving the News, Middleton was a lecturer in journalism at Napier College, now Napier University.
He trained the first degree students from that institution, and though not always keen on the paperwork, he nevertheless enjoyed teaching the students – he called them “chums” – the realities of journalism as opposed to “textbook” lectures.
He latterly enjoyed several years working for Scotland on Sunday as a sub-editor, mostly on the sports desk where his wise counsel reined in the exuberance of a talented crew. He also edited a number of books for the likes of Jeff Connor, Neil Drysdale and me.
Possessed of a prodigious memory, Middleton was a dedicated “old school” professional who also loved life and was never happier than when in convivial company where his larger-than-life personality shone through.
We who knew him have lost a great friend, a man of total honesty and utter integrity, a consummate journalist and editor, and a mentor whose advice was always sagacious. Scottish journalism has lost a real character, a man who earned universal respect and one whose legacy is seen in the work of those he taught.
Duggie Middleton is survived by his wife Jackie, his sons Chris, Mike and Richy, and his grandchildren, Max, Frankie Drew and Edward.
His funeral on Monday, 24 June, will be private for the family only at his own request, but at 4pm on the same day there will be a celebration of Duggie Middleton’s life at Heriot’s Rugby Club, to which all friends and former colleagues are invited.
A short, dry event is not anticipated.