Douglas-Home, Charles Cospatrick 1937-1985, journalist, was born in London 1 September 1937, the second son and youngest of three children of the Hon. Henry Montagu Douglas-Home, ornithologist, known as the BBC Bird Man, the second son of the thirteenth Earl of Home. His mother, Lady Margaret Spencer, a talented pianist, was the daughter of Charles Robert Spencer, the sixth Earl Spencer. Douglas-Home won a foundation scholarship to Eton College. This was followed by two years' compulsory National Service when he obtained a commission in the Royal Scots Greys, becoming a somewhat unruly subaltern (1956-7).
After leaving the army he travelled in Canada for nine months before taking up the post of aide-de-camp to Sir C. Evelyn Baring (later Lord Howick of Glendale) [qv.], the governor of Kenya. During this year (1958-9) he became fully involved for the first time with people who were shaping world events. He was very much influenced by Lord Howick, whose biography he wrote (Evelyn Baring, the Last Proconsul, 1978). He also wrote Howick's entry for this Dictionary, as he did that of Sir Seretse Khama.
Douglas-Home then opted for a career in journalism. Pulled towards Scotland by his family roots, he started as a general reporter on the Scottish Daily Express, a tough training ground. However, he soon developed a reputation as a hard news man with a sure nose for a good story. In 1962 he moved to London as deputy to H. Chapman Pincher, defence correspondent to the Daily Express. This sharpened his interest in political intrigue and espionage. After eighteen months he was appointed political and diplomatic correspondent, at that time a powerful post. He used this opportunity to develop many lasting friendships on both sides of the House of Commons. In 1965 the breakthrough to the higher ground of journalism came when, at the age of twenty-eight, he was appointed defence correspondent to The Times. He adjusted quickly, bringing a new emphasis to news stories from the Services, and travelling extensively abroad. He covered the Arab-Israeli war in 1967 and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, being arrested and expelled by the Russians when found examining a Russian tank.
From 1970 to 1982 Douglas-Home spanned the full field of office on The Times. In 1970 he became features editor, bringing many new ideas to the newspaper. In 1973 he became home editor; in 1978 foreign editor; and in May 1981, after K. Rupert Murdoch had become owner, deputy editor under Harold Evans. When, after a year in the editorial chair, Evans left in 1982, Douglas-Home succeeded him and took over the paper whilst it was facing one of its worst crises. However, his true vocation as a journalist and his combined qualities of courage, integrity, and judgement were quickly to revitalize the paper, enabling it to achieve its highest circulation ever.
Douglas-Home gave The Times a consistent philosophy. The paper moved to the right, supporting many (but by no means all) Thatcherite policies. Always well informed, Douglas-Home regularly contributed leaders of forthright decisiveness on a broad range of important topics, whilst giving full hospitality in his columns to the views of opposition parties. He brought radical changes to the paper, even though the last three years of his editorship were dogged by illness.
A committed Christian, Douglas-Home was a man of many interests with a great diversity of friends. Amongst his pastimes were writing (he wrote four books), travelling, music, reading, speculating on the metaphysical, wildlife, sailing, and hunting. He was a highly competent pianist, as well as being a fearless rider to hounds who broke many bones in the hunting field. He had a bubbling sense of humour and although he brought a military approach to the order of his professional life, his personal style was remarkably informal. Indeed the more he grew in eminence the more striking was his total lack of pretension. His dress was unconventional, with a firm attachment to spectacularly shabby clothes.
Douglas-Home was a fellow of the Royal College of Music. His awareness of the visual arts was greatly stimulated by Jessica Violet Gwynne, an accomplished artist and stage designer, whom he married in 1966. She was the daughter of Major John Nevile Wake Gwynne, of Knightsmill, Quenington, Gloucestershire. They had two sons and their family life was exceptionally happy. Douglas-Home demonstrated great courage in continuing to edit The Times to the last despite the advance of cancer of the bone marrow, an illness which was eventually to overwhelm him. Indeed the rearguard action which he conducted against it was an epic of human valour which his friends will never forget. He died, aged forty-eight, in the Royal Free Hospital, London, 29 October 1985.
The Times, 30 October 1985
Philip Howard, An Appreciation, Charles Douglas-Home, UK Press Gazette, 4 November 1985
Contributor: Edward Cazalet