Obituary: Douglas Sutherland

Douglas Sutherland was perhaps best known for his English Gentleman series of books, starting in 1978. The avalanche of witty trivia, in this and its four succeeding volumes, tended to obscure his other, more substantial, contributions to the literary and social scene: an excellent biography of Lord Lonsdale, The Yellow Earl (1965); The Landowners (1968); The Fourth Man (1965), an early and accurate account of the treachery of Burgess, Maclean and Blunt; two regimental histories (the Argylls and the Border Regiment) and a number of other books on fishing, wildlife and two volumes of autobiography.

Wherever he lived there was never any likelihood of his neighbours' being unaware of his presence. He lived life to the full. He had a distinguished war record, winning the Military Cross (and some say a Bar). He wrote one very funny book about his military experience, called Sutherland's War (1984), in which he claimed to have captured a tank driven by his former German tutor.

He was a clever journalist, a bon viveur, an habitue of pubs and clubs, not least the Colony Room, in Soho. He was a frequent visitor to El Vino's, he worked for the London Evening Standard and contributed to many magazines and newspapers on a freelance basis. He was generous, more often than not short of cash; and sometimes bloody-minded, not least to his wives. But he was a king of laughter, a wonderful gossip and a man of so many parts that he was difficult to pin down (and sometimes to reassemble).

Although, wrongly I think, best known for the English Gentleman series, which certainly earned him (and its publishers, Debretts) a lot of money, he should not be judged by such waffle. He was far better than that. He spent money like water and drank whisky as if it were; he was always the first man to put his hand in his pocket and the last man out of the pub. He was a great embroiderer of episodes in his career. He enjoyed the comforts of life without ever being able to afford them, and he was kind, talented and, when he was able to be, and indeed when he was not so able, generous.

Two stories remain in the mind. He wrote a history of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders for me, published in 1969. During the course of his research he was unwittingly locked into Stirling Castle after everyone had gone home. Climbing over the walls, no singular feat, he managed to reach his car only to be apprehended by the local copper. Having passed the breath test, he was allowed back into the car and, driving off, put the car into reverse and rammed the police car. A second test was called for, with the inevitable result.

I once saw him give a speech to the assorted might of the Argylls, standing up in front of us all with his fly-zipper undone. No one seemed to mind. On another occasion, he rang my office at about 8.30am to ask, "Can you lend me a pair of socks?" While he was sleeping rough under the arches at Charing Cross after a row with his wife Diana, someone had relieved him of his socks - but not his shoes. I was able to obligeand sent a chit to the Royalty Department asking them to debit his royalty account. Needless to say, they failed to see the joke.

Douglas Sutherland lived a rumbustious and varied life. He was a very funny man and a very brave man. Having learnt recently that he had incurable cancer he refused all treatment. When offered the opportunity of going home to live out his final days he had to admit that there was no longer anyone left to look after him, Diana, his third wife, having died four years ago.

Sutherland once rented a house near Malton, in Yorkshire. It was called Pasture House. He always said he was attracted to the name, so people could say "I walked past your house this morning." I bitterly regret his passing.

Leo Cooper

Douglas Chalmers Hutchinson Sutherland, writer, journalist: born Appleby, Westmorland 18 November 1919; married 1944 Moyra Fraser (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1954), 1954 Susan Justice (two sons; marriage dissolved 1960), 1991 Diana Fendall (died 1991); died 28 August 1995.

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