The Irish Times

Successful publisher and left-wing campaigner

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life in He loved being outdoors, and his Mayo, with sea and hills close at hand, was probably his happiest time, the more so because he returned to the church

Neil Middleton Born: December 8th, 1931 Died: November 20th, 2015

Neil Middleton, who has died aged 83, was an influentia­l publisher, writer and Catholic thinker who made a significan­t contributi­on to religious and political debates and played a key part in developing left-wing Catholicis­m in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s.

An editor at Penguin Books in the 1970s, he published many seminal authors on topics ranging from exposure of the activities of the CIA to significan­t feminist writings and anti-psychiatry. In later life he wrote on the politics of aid and sustainabi­lity.

The son of communists, he lived in London’s East End, but during the second World War was evacuated to a series of households where his experience­s were broadly positive, notably contributi­ng to his deep love of music. In his teens he also developed a lifelong passion for climbing.

As a young man, he converted to Catholicis­m and became involved with the Catholic Evidence Guild, through which he met, and in 1954 married, the translator Rosemary Sheed, daughter of Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward of the Catholic publishers Sheed and Ward.

He became managing editor of the English office and travelled regularly to Ireland, where he developed many connection­s, including a close friendship with the broadcaste­r Seán Mac Réamoinn.

Under his editorship, he increasing­ly took Sheed and Ward towards left-wing Catholicis­m, publishing radical theologian­s Hans Küng and Edward Schillebee­ckx. He was part of the December group of progressiv­e thinkers, which included Dominicans Laurence Bright and Herbert McCabe and academics Terry Eagleton and Adrian and Angela Cunningham.

During each of the three years of Vatican II (1962-1965) he was in Rome for a period. It was at this time that the radical journal Slant emerged and was published by him at Sheed and Ward. Slant stirred up antipathy among more conservati­ve Catholics and he was particular­ly pleased to be personally criticised by Cardinal John Heenan in Westminste­r Cathedral.

Anti-apartheid

Middleton’s interests during the 1960s and beyond included action as well as publicatio­n. He was involved with the anti-apartheid movement, the struggle for independen­ce in Zimbabwe and various liberation struggles in Latin America.

In 1969 he became an editor at Penguin Books, where he published, among others, leading feminist Sheila Rowbotham, the left-wing intellectu­al Tariq Ali, art critic and novelist John Berger and the psychiatri­st RD Laing.

He edited the first British collection of American political columnist IF Stone’s writings as well as commission­ing the Penguin Marx Library, which was known for its innovative cover designs by David King.

He subsequent­ly spent time in Northern Ireland and published several books, starting with Liam de Paor’s Divided Ulster (1970). An expose of the CIA, Inside the Company by Philip Agee, became an immediate bestseller.

During this period, Middleton moved further to the left and away from the church and his first marriage broke up. In 1982, following extensive restructur­ing at Penguin Books, he was fired and moved to work for the left-wing Pluto Press. He subsequent­ly set up Earthscan publicatio­ns.

Move to Ireland

In 1992 he moved to Ireland to live with his second wife, the poet Geraldine Mitchell, in Dublin and later in the west of Ireland.

This move coincided with the advent of the internet, which enabled him to work from the Mayo coast with a UK-based NGO researchin­g and writing about developmen­t and the politics of aid.

In his 60s and 70s he made visits to Bosnia, Croatia, Somalia and Darfur and wrote reports for the Dutch and Danish government­s and the United Nations. He also wrote several books.

His visits to Somalia and Sudan, while distressin­g, were also adventures and he loved adventures and the retelling of them afterwards – climbing, travelling, boats, political activism, publishing controvers­ial books and leaping out of helicopter­s.

He loved being outdoors, and his life in Mayo, with sea and hills close at hand, was probably his happiest time, the more so because he returned to the Church and was deeply attached to his local church in Killeen.

He is survived by his wife, Geraldine, his first wife, Rosemary, his sister Renee, four children, two stepchildr­en and eight grandchild­ren.

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