Obituary: Charles Letts

editorial image

Diary firm executive
Born: February 21, 1965
Died: June 15, 2014

Charles Letts, who died aged 49 of a suspected heart attack near his home near Duns, was a popular and gregarious businessman who championed the family brand of diaries around the world.

Charlie, as he was known to his friends, was not yet 50 years old and known as one of the fittest men of his generation. His sudden death took everyone by surprise.

Born in 1965, his life was remarkably full. His father and uncle were the last family members to run Charles Letts and Co, the Scottish-based global leader in making diaries, which was founded in 1796.

Charlie joined the family firm in 1990 aged 25, immediately after a business television programme featuring “­troubleshooter” Sir John Harvey-Jones led the bank to withdraw funding and the immediate sale of the company.

Despite this unpromising background, Mr Letts did an MBA in the evenings and flourished in the company and was one of the key management team for over 20 years. As sales director his family name helped gain access to even the most impenetrable of buyers.

With 260 workers in the Dalkeith factory, Charles Letts has remained a significant Scottish business. Recently the Letts Filofax business was bought by Harolde Savoy, a 
Canadian publishing magnate, and Gordon Presly, the long-term chief executive of the company and renamed FLB Group. Mr Letts travelled the world, supporting his team of 50, with markets as far off as Russia, Japan and Australia seeing frequent visits.

Presly said: “Since the announcement of Charles’s death the reaction from around the world has spoken volumes about the great character he was.

“The themes of his character are universally recognised: total respect, warm affection, ebullient humour delivered with energetic zest, a cheeky smile and a charming twist. He did not have an enemy in the world.

“Charles was famous amongst the salesforce and with customers for the red corduroy trousers he wore at nearly every special event.

“These were always the topic of amusement and conversation until he decided, due to time and wear and tear, that he would have to have to ‘retire’ them. He turned up at the next ‘do’ with a new pair exactly the same.”

Martin Letts, his father, a notable huntsman and judge of hounds, was acting Master of the College Valley Hunt for many years and still lives at Hethpool. Although Charlie was brought up with horses until a few years ago he avoided them entirely.

When following the pack with local farmers on quad bikes, Mr Letts would tackle even the steepest brae with gay abandon, oblivious to the squeals of terror from his passengers. Once, when persuaded to go on a horseback safari in Botswana with friends, while they cantered across the ground he was to be found wildly zigzagging across the savannah behind them with no control of his galloping mount.

Inspired by the experience, on his return he bought a horse, then another one and became a keen huntsman and later enthusiastic member of the Borders Reivers Polo Club.

He was a keen supporter of Chelsea FC, as well as a big rugby fan. He was at home in the mountains, being a keen climber, and once went from one end of the very challenging Cuillin Ridge on Skye non-stop in 17 hours, despite a fall which resulted in a nasty cut on his arm.

Attending Fettes College then the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, he served as a lieutenant in the 7th Queens Own Hussars in Hohne in Germany, and was described by a former colleague as a superb soldier.

He competed in the army Alpine ski team and remained a remarkable skier for the rest of his life, for the last 15 years going to La Grave, possibly the most challenging of all ski areas in the French Alps, with a club called The Anchovy Gang. He once climbed up and skied down Mont Blanc.

In 1996, he married Rosie Walker and had three children, Emily, Harry and Louisa.

He was a highly regarded businessman, who loved people from all backgrounds. He was ebulliently enthusiastic in everything he did, and a considerable sportsman.

He loved being at home with his family and his garden and will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Angus MacDonald