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Peter Middup: 1948-2011

Author : David Strydom

18 November 2011

Peter Middup, publisher, family man, golfer extraordinaire, died on 16 November, aged 63

With its undulating hills and valleys, glorious oak trees and watchful herds of fallow deer, Knole Park in Sevenoaks captures the essence of England in any season. Yet its golf course ranks only 138th in one poll of the country's top courses, and is described with mixed feelings by first-time users as quirky, unique, memorable, awkward and challenging. Here, surrounded by dog walkers and impenetrable ferns, bogeys and doubles are the golfer's constant companion.

To excel on the course, you need to be able to concentrate, and you have to have a talent for golf. Maybe that's why Peter Middup enjoyed it so much. He had been a scratch golfer in his younger days. If there was one place he felt completely at home, it was on the sloping greens of Knole.

It was where, as a member, he whiled away countless weekends. This is where long-time friendships were made and sustained, and, in the hallowed tradition of the working lunch, business deals were, if not signed, then certainly sealed and delivered.

It was a world away from where his life had begun, in the hot, dusty heat of an Indian summer in May 1948. Middup's family was part of the colonial presence in India, a legacy of the British Empire's involvement in that country before independence.

His father was a mine manager who had taken his family to a warmer climate in the hope of a better quality of life. And it was better, for the most part, until 1950 when a series of disturbances, sparked by an incident against another British mine manager, led to Middup Senior relocating back to England. Baby Peter was two at the time.

Middup grew up with stories about the haunting beauty of the country in which he'd been born, and he always intended to return for a visit. In fact, as soon as he retired, he told us, he was going back to Calcutta with a few friends so he could see where he was born. They would fly into Delhi, he explained, and take a train to Calcutta from where he would locate the church in which he was christened. He had it all planned, and had only a year and a half to wait before he retired.

As a young man, Middup carved out an outstanding career as a salesperson. He started out at Roneo Vickers as a marketing trainee, then supply representative and finally machines sales representative for that company. In 1973 he moved to Morgan Grampian. ‘’His gamekeeper-turned-poacher moment came with the move to MG,’’ explains Peter Jago, MD of Industrial Media Limited (IML). ‘’Instead of selling office equipment to business he chose to sell advertising space to business equipment manufacturers, with burgeoning success.’’

After working as an advertisement director at Director Publications, Middup joined IML in 1991, renewing his association with Peter Jago, with whom he’d worked at MG. No two men could have been more different; where Middup was diplomatic and diffident, Jago could be pointed and driven. By the time of Middup’s passing, they had known each other for 40 years. Some marriages last less than one year, but their working relationship would, as Jago recalled, be quite similar to a marriage.

At IML, Middup was promoted to publisher of Business Equipment Digest in 1993, adding Premises & Facilities Management (PFM) to his portfolio shortly afterwards. ‘’He developed the PFM Annual Awards into the most prestigious and successful awards night in the market,’’ said Jago. ‘’He was an active and influential Board member of several facilities-based associations, where he was held in as high a regard there as he was among his customers, many of whom became his good friends.’’

Utilising the many contacts he'd made both on and off the links, Middup turned PFM into one of IML's flagships. As always, it was primarily a talent for getting on with people that defined his success. He negotiated a few recessions and other economic obstacles but the end result was that when he knew his market, few could match him.

Out of work, Middup found happiness with a bubbly brunette called Julie. A former airhostess, she and Peter had a son, Jack; Middup would become a devoted family man. He was better at it than he was even at golf, and took pride in encouraging their musical talents – ‘Jules’ as a soloist and Jack as part of a band. They doted on him. By June 2007, just as he was beginning to wind down a long career, he was tasked with taking on another IML title, Food Processing.

The magazine needed an injection of enthusiasm and ad revenue, and not necessarily in that order. This was a sign of the times for most print publications. In addition, the team was relatively new, consisting of sales manager, Adam Garside; classified executive Kay Killick, and myself.

None of us knew what to expect but it wasn't long before Middup revealed his management style: he would give us plenty of rope but in turn he expected results - a presentable magazine, an upward trending profit margin, and a professional approach to our market. It would have been easy at that point to mistake his affability for weakness but he could be tough and demanding when required. In an increasingly difficult market, he needed to grow the magazine.

In November 2006, the first Appetite for Engineering event was launched in association with Food Processing. It was the brainchild of Middup’s predecessor and longtime associate Peter Whitfield. They had known each other since those early days at Morgan Grampian.

The event's remarkable success over the past few years helped sustain the magazine's recovery in a flat-lining economy. Again, it would be easy to overlook Middup’s contribution, but it was priceless. He delegated where necessary, and allowed the team free reign when it was clear this was to the magazine’s benefit.

Although Middup was easy to like, we didn’t initially have much in common. His sport passions were golf and football (he was passionate about football when Arsenal was winning and indifferent when they weren’t, Whitfield chortled), as opposed to mine which were cricket and tennis.

One day, however, he told me about his family’s history in India. Uncannily, my maternal great-grandfather – like his father - had worked as a mine manager near Calcutta in the 1940s. My great-grandfather was bludgeoned to death by a disgruntled former worker in January 1950, I told Middup. He was intrigued: was this the bloody incident against a British national that had led to his father deciding to move back to England? The timing appeared to confirm it.

We never did find out, and it led to many conversations about the land of his birth. But although Middup was born in India and died in the Welsh hills of Pembrokeshire, he was quintessentially English. With his dry wit, impeccable manners and sense of fairness, he effortlessly charmed all he met, probably even without realising it. He excelled at oiling the wheels of social intercourse, and was as good at it as he was at firing off the blind drive on the 18th hole at Knole Park.

His colleagues’ lasting memory will be of him sitting hunched over his desk, wincing into his slow-as-a-snail laptop, cursing modern technology for its unpredictability. And waiting, patiently, for the day he would board that train to Calcutta.

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