DOUGLAS HYDE, former assistant editor of the Herald, political campaigner, Catholic apologist and distinguished journalist, died last week at the age of 85. He had been ill for some time Born into a comfortable non-conformist family in Bristol, he was initially drawn into the Methodist ministry. But he was soon influenced by the orators who came to speak on Bristol Downs, and militant Welsh miners like Lewis Jones, fresh from the General Strike. In 1928, at the age of 17, Hyde became a fully-fledged member of the Communist Party.
Hyde immersed himself in Marxism-Leninism, and later became an accomplished tutor. However, by 1948 he had become deeply disillusioned, disgusted at the Stalinist clampdown in Eastern Europe. His very public defection to Catholicism and denial of Communism was seen as a remarkable triumph by the Catholic Church and a bitter betrayal by former Communist comrades.
The country was stunned when he left the Communist newspaper, the Daily Worker, and as public witness to his conversion joined the staff of the Catholic Herald instead.
In 1951, he published I Believed. The book told of his personal odyssey from Methodism, through Communism and on to Roman Catholicism. Following his conversion, he lectured at colleges for wouldbe priests although he was always reluctant to be placed on a pedestal.
His conversion was more complex than at first appeared. Unlike many others, he never swung to the political right and refused to accept the grosser logic of McCarthyism. He remained instrumental in forging "Christian-Marxist" dialogue, and was angry as the papacy turned against militant and politically troublesome priests. Not surprisingly, he was deeply attracted to the fighting spirit of liberation theology.
By the 1960s, he devoted much time to the plight of political prisoners, especially in the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
Never oblivious of the pain of others, he spent two-anda-half years voluntarily in Asian prisons, working for the release of political prisoners. Indeed, it can be said that Amnesty International (founded in 1961) would never have got off the ground were it not for his influence.
His lifelong passions included William Morris, plainsong and Gothic architecture. He also loved literature and music, delved into the wonders of the garden and in his final years he enjoyed railing against what he saw as railed the iniquities of the present Tory government. "I haven't lived two lives," Hyde wrote shortly before his death. "There has been a continuum which is the most meaningful thing to me". A modest, unpretentious and straight-forward man, he described his religion at the end as an "agnostic Christian".
Towards his last years, he had become deeply depressed at the state of Western Catholicism. and papal • conservatism, he ended his life no longer a practising Catholic, but with a renewed interest in Socialism.
As one obituarist noted: "More gods than one had failed him, but his courage and optimism never failed him".