Douglas-Home Playwright

September 30, 1992

Playwright William Douglas-Home, who was court-martialed in World War II for refusing to bombard the French port of Le Havre, has died, his niece said yesterday.

Mr. Douglas-Home, 80, a younger brother of former Prime Minister Lord Home, died Monday of heart failure at his home near Winchester, about 50 miles southwest of London, his niece Caroline Douglas-Home said.

His plays, mostly light comedies which drew heavily on his aristocratic background, included "The Reluctant Debutante" (1955), "The Drawing Room Tragedy" (1963), "The Secretary Bird" (1968), "Lloyd George Knew My Father" (1972), "The Editor Regrets" (1978) and "Portraits" (1987).

He produced more than 40 plays over four decades.

As a captain in the Royal Armored Corps, Mr. Douglas-Home was jailed for a year for refusing orders to take part in the bombardment of Le Havre because thousands of French civilians were in the German-occupied city. More than 2,000 French civilians died in the five-hour bombardment Sept. 8, 1944.

In 1988, Mr. Douglas-Home (pronounced Hume) sought a pardon, but the British Defense Ministry ruled there was no reason for a review.

"I felt if I'd obeyed orders at Le Havre, I would have been party to what we now call war crimes," he once said.

Many in France hailed his stand as an act of courage and humanity. Eddy Florentin, a French historian of the liberation of Normandy, called it "a superb act of fair play."

Second son of the 13th Earl of Home, Mr. Douglas-Home was born into an ancient, land-owning Scottish family on June 3, 1912. He was educated at Eton, Oxford and London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

A brief stage career was interrupted by the war. In his plays, he mingled the life of the upper classes with political experience, drawn both from his brother and his own three unsuccessful attempts to get elected to Parliament.

His first dramatic success in London's West End was in 1947 with "The Chiltern Hundreds," whose hero was an eccentric nobleman.

He is survived by his wife, the former Rachel Brand, the Baroness Dacre; a son; and three daughters. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

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