Obituary: Wing Cdr Douglas Blackwood

Douglas Blackwood was the last member of his family to edit the distinguished Edinburgh-based magazine which bore his name. A great-great- grandson of the William Blackwood who founded Blackwood's Magazine in 1817, he was editor between 1948 and 1976 and was chairman of the publishing house until 1983. He was also a naturally gifted fighter pilot who commanded 310 Czech fighter squadron during the Battle of Britain.

In many ways Blackwood was a reluctant publisher. His name and his family relationship meant that he had little option but to follow in his father's foosteps but he always looked back with affection and pride to the short service commission he had held in the RAF between 1932 and 1938. Had it not been for the outbreak of war he would have returned to Edinburgh to work for his father and uncle who between them ran the family firm.

Blackwood rejoined the RAF in 1939 and ended the Second World War commanding the Czech Fighter Wing in the 2nd Tactical Air Force. He was decorated with the Czech War Cross and Czech Military Medal and it gave him considerable pleasure when he was presented with the Czech Medal of George of Podebrad in 1993.

At the height of the Battle of Britain Blackwood was on patrol over London after a German air-raid and remembered looking down from 25,000 feet to see the family firm's London office in Paternoster Row, beside St Paul's Cathedral, burning furiously. Millions of books were lost in the blaze. Although he did not realise it at the time, the destruction of Blackwood's base in the capital marked the beginning of a protracted decline in the firm's fortunes. Due to wartime paper rationing the firm lost many of its leading authors and the size of type and number of pages had to be reduced in the magazine. To the Blackwoods the system was unfair: the amount of paper allotted to them was based on their 1939 output which happened to be the lowest in the firm's history.

When Blackwood left the RAF in 1945 his introduction to the business of publishing was something of a short sharp shock. Before the outbreak of war Blackwoods was one of Britain's leading literary publishers. George Eliot, John Buchan, E.M. Forster and Joseph Conrad appeared under their imprint and Blackwood's Magazine - known as "Maga" to its readers - was widely respected for its good taste and sound critical judgements. It soon became clear, though, that name and literary reputation counted for little in the post-war world. Suddenly Blackwoods had to compete with a growing number of mass-production rivals and with a declining interest in monthly literary magazines. One by one, rivals such as John Murray's Cornhill and Chambers's Journal fell by the wayside and it was something of a triumph that "Maga" remained in production until 1980.

Although Blackwood was a kindly man who wore his learning lightly he was shy and could appear aloof or remote. Happiest in the company of military men, he never courted literary or political society and was quick to puncture any literary pretension. When asked by a reviewer if he had known George Orwell at Eton - he was six years his junior - Blackwood retorted, "Oh, Blair, yes I remember him, he had a motor-bicycle."

By the beginning of the 1970s Blackwoods and its magazine had a somewhat dated air and as a result it failed to attract a younger generation of writers and readers. Even its head office at 45 George Street, with its elegant oval saloon, was more redolent of the heady days of Walter Scott and James Hogg than of any contemporary literary vibrancy. Despite a number of design changes, "Maga" began losing readers and Blackwood retired from the editorship in 1976. He was succeeded by his assistant David Fletcher, the first and last editor not to be a member of the family.

None the less, under Douglas Blackwood's control "Maga" remained a haven of good, if old-fashioned, literary style and its political column, "The Looker-On", offered trenchant commentary from right of centre. Amongst the writers he encouraged was Leslie Gardiner, a former naval officer, who travelled extensively in the remoter parts of Eastern Europe. Nowadays his articles would be commonplace but at the height of the Cold War Gardiner was in a class of his own.

After Blackwood's retirement in 1983 he was succeeded by his son Michael, a former naval pilot, but by then the firm had amalgamated to concentrate on printing and one of the great names had disappeared from British publishing. In retirement Blackwood lived in the Scottish Borders, where he was able to indulge his love of field sports and country pursuits. His wife, Phyllis Caulcutt, whom he married in 1936 and who survives him, was a noted equestrian rider and an expert exponent of dressage.

Trevor Royle

George Douglas Blackwood, air force officer and publisher: born 11 October 1909; managing director, William Blackwood & Sons 1948-76, chairman 1948- 83; Editor, Blackwood's Magazine 1948-76; married 1936 Phyllis Caulcutt (one son, one daughter); died Edinburgh 2 March 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own