Richard Hough (Naval Historian)

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Richard Hough (15 May, 1922 – 7 October, 1999) was a former Royal Air Force fighter pilot who became a publisher, then a historian.

Life & Career

Richard Hough was educated at the co-educational Frensham Heights School, where he met his first wife Charlotte. His hopes of a naval career were dashed by colour-blindness but he was accepted for aircrew training by the Royal Air Force and this provided him with an interlude beyond the dreams of any of his generation reared in the reflected glamour of Hollywood films.

The American flying-training school, to which he was posted, was near Los Angeles and his instructor, Mary Pickford's brother. In 1941, when the Battle of Britain and the Blitz had also acquired glamour in American eyes, the 19- year-old Hough was taken up and lionised by the British community in Hollywood. Spending weekends as the guest of Brian Aherne and his wife Joan Fontanne and entertained by the likes of Ronald Colman and C. Aubrey Smith, he even fulfilled his youthful fantasy of dancing with Ginger Rogers.

Reality intervened with his return to Britain and combat as a fighter pilot in Hurricanes and later Typhoons. He was a natural pilot and celebrated his 21st birthday, when ordered into the air from his celebration party, by shooting down two German fighter-bombers over the North Sea. He was delighted when Southwold, which had just been bombed by the same enemy aircraft, honoured him, decades later, with a civic banquet.

During the invasion of Normandy and the flying-bomb attacks, he was a fighter-controller on the ground but took to the air again that autumn, flying Typhoon fighter-bombers on dangerous, low-level operations over Holland and Germany. All this he described in his memoir, One Boy's War (1975).

In 1943 he had married his schooldays sweetheart, Charlotte Woodyatt, who, like him, became a writer, as did two of their four daughters, Sarah Garland and Deborah Moggach. In 1947 he entered publishing: first with the Bodley Head and then for five years from 1955 as managing director of Hamish Hamilton Children's Books; the subject became a lifelong interest and he himself wrote many books for boys under the pen-name Bruce Carter. He combined this with some journalism, notably as a freelance motor-racing correspondent for the Manchester Guardian.

But his real love was naval history and his account of Tsushima in The Fleet that had to Die (1958) set the pace for more than a dozen, including Admirals in Collision (on the loss of H.M.S. Victoria); The Potemkin Mutiny; The Pursuit of Admiral von Spee (the first Falklands naval campaign); Captain Bligh and Mr Christian; and The Murder of Captain James Cook. He wrote popular histories of the naval side of both world wars but he discovered a talent for biography when writing First Sea Lord (1969), an official biography of Lord Fisher.

While researching his book about the Bounty and taking passage to Pitcairn Island in a naval tanker, he met Lord Mountbatten, who was accompanying the Duke of Edinburgh on a visit to the island. Invited to transfer to the Royal Yacht Britannia, Hough struck up a friendship with Mountbatten, which led to his writing the authorised biography of the latter's parents, Louis and Victoria: the First Mountbattens (1974). At the prompting of a mutual friend, Hough asked Mountbatten whether he might be considered as his own eventual biographer and was told that, while a decision on the author of an authorised biography must rest with his heirs, he would be delighted if he wrote an unofficial book.

With this in mind, the two had many meetings at which Mountbatten talked freely about his life and times. Hough had no immediate plans to write but, on Mountbatten's assassination, was commissioned to write his biography for publication on the first anniversary, and this remarkable feat of literary industry resulted in Mountbatten: Hero of our Time being published in 1980. Exception was taken to this by Mountbatten's heirs. Strenuous legal efforts were made to prevent publication and the strain on Hough contributed to the worsening of a heart condition which led to major surgery and recurrent health problems which he faced with cheerful gallantry.

His study of the Mountbatten family, in company with Mountbatten himself, led directly to a companion volume, Edwina: Countess Mountbatten of Burma (1983).

After his first marriage ended in divorce, he married Judy Taylor, the publisher, in 1980. They divided their time between a house in Gloucestershire, a flat in London and then in their house on Primrose Hill. He was an active member of the Garrick Club and became its historian with the publication of Ace of Clubs in 1986.

In 1994, his Captain James Cook was well received and sold particularly well in Australia. Soon afterwards, more than a decade after his successful bypass surgery, he suffered a severe heart attack and was told that no further surgery was possible. Other health problems followed but, undaunted, he wrote on. There was a joint biography of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort, Victoria and Albert (1996). His last book, soon to be published, was, suitably, an account of great naval engagements.

He lived a full social life, for some years arriving for lunch at the Garrick Club by taxi from Primrose Hill with his friend Sir Kingsley Amis almost daily, dining out and entertaining friends to meals which he often cooked himself.


Commander Hilary Mead, a former naval officer, Younger Brother of Trinity House and editor of The Mariner's Mirror, was scathing of Hough's 1959 work Admirals in Collision. Hough was said to have gone, "out of his way to whitewash Tryon, and to blacken the character of Markham, saying that Markham was an amateur and grew more and more taciturn and embittered on account of his broken career, and his having become 'forgotten'."[1]


  1. Mead. "The Loss of the Victoria". The Mariner's Mirror. Volume 47 (1). p. 17.


  • "Richard Hough" (Obituaries). The Times. Friday, 8 October, 1999..