Biographer and daughter of Lord Reith

Born: April 10, 1932;

Died: November 3, 2019

MARISTA Leishman, who has died aged 87, was the daughter of Lord Reith, the first director-general of the BBC. She wrote an honest biography of her father in 2006 (Reith of the BBC: My Father) about his erratic behaviour and ungracious treatment of his wife which suggested a very different persona from the one he carefully nurtured at the BBC. As director general, Reith never promoted divorced employees and insisted that anyone reading the religious programme The Epilogue should be of unblemished character.

Her connections with Scotland were strong. She married Murray Leishman, a minister of the kirk who later became an analytical psychotherapist in Edinburgh. They had met as students at St Andrews but as her children grew up Leishman worked in the National Trust for Scotland’s imposing offices on the south side of Charlotte Square where from 1979-86 she was the first head of education.

In the late 1980s she was a director of Insite Consultancy for Management and Training and of that company’s Heritage and Tourism division in Edinburgh. The latter brought her into close contact with the management and restoration of historic houses.

Marista Muriel Reith was born in Beaconsfield and was the daughter of John Reith and his wife Muriel. She had an older brother, Christopher, who became a farmer in Perthshire and after their father’s death in 1971 decided to disclaim the hereditary title. Christopher died in 2016.

Leishman attended St George’s School, Ascot, and then read English and philosophy at the University of St Andrews. After graduating she took a variety of jobs but in the early 1960s worked for the Rev George MacLeod at the Iona Community. She then took a post in the finance department of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh raising funds to open new churches.

In 1960 she married Murray Leishman who did not come up to the strict standards of her father. Not only did he play the ukulele but when they were photographed by the press on the announcement of their engagement, he wore a polo-necked sweater – fashionable attire at the time. Lord Reith was horrified and telegrammed his daughter: “Can Mr Leishman not learn how to dress properly, even if only as a minister of the Gospel?”

Their relationship was to remain at an uncompromising level for many years. In her book she wrote candidly about the strains he put the family under – especially the treatment of his wife. Leishman wrote when her father was rector of Glasgow University, he "made an ass of himself" dancing with pretty girls. Her mother was tactfully taken home to spare her humiliation. At the Edinburgh Book Festival in 1970 she told the audience, “My father was a mix between a thunder god and a spoiled child."

Leishman recalls being made to play the piano in front of guests. Reith exerted pressure on his daughter to become a concert pianist and it left her physically incapable of playing in front of an audience. “My father would summon me to play in front of his guests and the keyboard would freeze under my fingers,” she wrote.

But it was Reith’s hypocritical private life which caused grief within the family. He was a serial womaniser and of his extra-marital affairs Leishman wrote, “It was ghastly, absolutely ghastly. He was quite blatant about it.” It was all the more remarkable as Lord Reith had had a rigorous Scottish upbringing. His father, George Reith, had served as a Scottish Presbyterian minister of the College Church at Glasgow and later as Moderator of the United Free Church of Scotland.

Family life for Leishman was seldom easy and often fractious. As he accompanied his daughter in the Rolls Royce to her wedding at St John's Kirk, Perth, he was furious that she was marrying. He considered it a betrayal. The two had not spoken for two years

Even when married he treated her with disdain and only referred to her husband as Mr Leishman. However, ‘Mr. Leishman’ decided he should be generous, “After all, I got the girl.”

Relationships did improve slightly over the years and her father bought for the Leishman family a holiday cottage in Duror of Appin, in Argyll. But reconciliation was not easy. In one of her final comments in her book Leishman wrote "If he did have a sense of humour, it was very hard to locate.”

Leishman also wrote books on Clydebuilt: the Story of George Reith, about a cantankerous ancestor who was involved in the development of Clydebank and a memoir of Sir Jamie Stormonth Darling a former director of the NTS.

In retirement the Leishmans lived at Donavourd, near Pitlochry. She maintained her keen interest in music, painting and walking the Perthshire hills. Her husband predeceased her and she is survived by their four children.