Bernard Eaton, DIVER magazine’s Publisher, has died at the age of 86 following a short illness.
Born in Lancashire in 1926, Bernard started his career in local journalism and went on to work on national newspapers. He had many colourful tales of his days working in Fleet Street.
At 35 he was invited by Peter Small, a fellow-journalist and co-founder 10 years earlier of the British Sub-Aqua Club, to help publicise the Second World Congress of Underwater Activities in London.
The success of the event prompted a further invitation from Peter Small to partner him in developing, at their own financial risk, BSAC’s small club magazine Triton into a news-stand consumer title. As Bernard wrote later, he “became involved with diving at a time when underwater exploration and development were at their most exciting, the beginnings of underwater living and mixed-gas diving”.
Peter Small died soon afterwards, in late 1962, in the process of becoming one of the first two divers to descend to 1000ft in a diving-bell. Bernard took control of Triton as Editor as well as Publisher. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the magazine, which was expanded and later renamed as DIVER.
“For 12 years I had the dubious distinction of being the only non-diving editor of a diving magazine in the entire world,” recalled Bernard later, but that changed in the 1970s with a visit to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and qualification under instructor Mike Busuttili as a BSAC Third-Class Diver.
Bernard and his friends were soon making regular visits to the Red Sea, at a time when few divers ventured that far.
Under Bernard’s editorship DIVER was closely linked with the growth of BSAC, and at the same time was instrumental in changing attitudes to controversial diving practices such as spear-fishing and wreck-pillaging.
In the 1970s, amid a tide of concern about the state of Britain’s seas, Bernard Eaton took a leading role in founding Britain’s influential Marine Conservation Society, with HRH Prince of Wales as its President.
He was Chairman for the organisation’s first seven years and later a Vice President. The MCS remains a leading environmental force today.
He also took an active diving role in the excavation of the celebrated Tudor shipwreck Mary Rose in the Solent, and made many friends among Britain’s underwater archaeologists during that period of his life.
BERNARD EATON organised many international underwater conferences and introduced the International Festival of Underwater Film in Brighton – all of which succeeded in attracting the biggest names in diving.
His DIVER Group companies have organised all Britain’s major Dive Shows since the early 1990s, in London (Olympia and ExCeL) and Birmingham (NEC), and on several occasions Glasgow. Apart from DIVER, the group also publishes the B2B titles Underwater Contractor International and International Ocean Systems, and publishes and distributes diving books.
In 1998, Bernard steered DIVER through its transition away from the club scene to the fully independent consumer magazine it is today, maintaining its status as Britain’s best-selling scuba title. In recognition of his many achievements, he was an inaugural inductee into the International Scuba Diving Hall Of Fame in 2000.
Bernard Eaton’s great strength was his ability to bring divers from around the world together, whether through his magazines, conferences, competitions, campaigns or shows – or, at a personal level, through his convivial companionship.
He is survived by his wife Vera and sons Nigel, Michael and David.
These are just a few of the many tributes to Bernard Eaton from divers who knew him:
HOWARD ROSENSTEIN, Fantasea Housings
“Perhaps it is too late for this mail to you but now is a time when I am thinking of you and Vera and the good times we had in the Red Sea way back when.
“It was exactly 40 years ago that I bounced into your old offices at Triton Magazine (later to be DIVER) in London. I wasn’t yet 25 and had just started one of the first dive clubs in the Red Sea located in Sharm el Sheikh, and you were on the top of the ladder (even 40 years ago) as the esteemed Editor/Publisher of the UK’s leading dive magazine.
“I can still remember how kind and courteous you were to me, an unknown, bewhiskered kid (perhaps it was your affinity to beards even way back then) but you showed real interest in my new project (later to be known as Red Sea Divers) and we agreed to stay in touch. You even put me on the complimentary mailing list of the magazine (which I still receive, 40 years on).
“You were true to your word, and several years later I got a telex (remember those) saying that you would like to come down and dive with us in Sharm with some of your mates from BSAC.
“I was of course thrilled and honoured for the consideration and opportunity. Several months later you all showed up. I’m certain you were all in your 40s then, but you self-effacingly called yourselves the diving geriatrics. I believe I had the honour on one of our trips to take you on your first tank dive, little knowing it was the scuba premiere of a future Scuba Diving Hall of Famer.
“For several years you all returned religiously, and we had a grand time – those were the days! In the subsequent 30 years we would remain in touch as your new DIVER magazine emerged as one of the finest in the diving world.
At every London or Birmingham show I attended you received me with warmth and kindness. These gestures always meant a lot to me.
“To Vera and the family, I and the Fantasea team extend our sincere condolences. It is the end of an era but I am certain that Bernard is at peace with the knowledge that his beloved divEr has been left in the best of hands.”
Environmentalist PROFESSOR DAVID BELLAMY:
“It was Cousteau who opened the eyes of the world to the wonders of scuba diving. It was Bernard who crafted the pages that led people of all walks of life to take their first steps under water.
It was a pleasure and honour for me to work with Bernard and DIVER and help to develop the Marine Conservation Society.”
SAM FANSHAWE, MCS Chief Executive:
“Bernard was a pioneer in marine conservation.
His passion for Britain’s sea life and vision for the study of marine habitats and species in order to protect them for future generations created the foundations of the Marine Conservation Society.
“His charm, energy and enthusiasm brought together divers, scientists and government bodies to work together to ensure our seas are fit for future generations.
“Bernard leaves an inspirational legacy for all divers and marine naturalists and is remembered with great fondness and sincere appreciation for his significant contribution to marine conservation.”
ANDY & STEPHANIE GODDARD, Andark Diving & Watersports
“As a young diver just starting out in business, ! first met Bernard in the late 1970s. He was always interested in what we were doing and keen to encourage new dive businesses, excited by new developments and technology.
“Bernard made a significant contribution to, not only our sport of scuba-diving, but all aspects of the underwater world.
“He was truly a pioneer in understanding the need to conserve our marine environment. His place in diving history has long been secured by these achievements, which live on through the ethos and hard work of all involved in the family company and the MCS, to name just a few.
“It was a privilege to know Bernard.”
DR BOB EARLL, Marine Conservation Society:
“The world in the 1970s was a very different place to what it is now. There were no organisations or professionals working on marine conservation in the UK. Against this backdrop, it was Bernard’s ideas and actions that spurred many individuals and organisations to take marine conservation seriously for the first time.
“His professionalism in relation to promoting diving and the underwater world inspired generations of divers to care for the wonders of the marine environment.
His unswerving commitment to the protection of marine environment and MCS for over 30 years together with his generosity of spirit will be fondly remembered by all of us who were inspired by his prodigious output in divEr, and the conferences and exhibitions he ran.”
HORACE DOBBS, International Dolphin Watch:
“It is my opinion that Bernard Eaton made a greater contribution than any other single person to the immense popularity that diving enjoys in Britain today, and which continues to be so vividly portrayed in DIVER.
“When I started diving with the Oxford Branch in 1957, the British Sub-Aqua Club was clinging to its roots in spearfishing. Teams representing Britain were taking part in international spearfishing competitions to see which country could kill the greatest weight of fish in a day.
“When I was elected onto BSAC’s National Council in the 1960s, I faced strong opposition from the old guard when I challenged the ludicrous situation of sending out teams to destroy the very reason why I, and others like me, took up diving. Namely, to explore, watch and wonder at the beauty and diversity of the undersea world. ‘Hunt with a camera – not a gun,’
“Bernard Eaton, the Fleet Street journalist, wholeheartedly took up this battle-cry. He joined forces with Brighton BSAC to organise international conferences and film festivals in Brighton. With his contacts, Bernard was able to attract the biggest gatherings of renowned international speakers with an interest in diving ever to assemble in Britain.
“Luminaries included Jacques Cousteau, Arthur C Clarke, Ed Link, Ley Kenyon, Honor Frost, Peter Throckmorton, Ed Goldwyn, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, the Editor of the London Evening News, Kendall McDonald and many more. The talks given and the films shown inspired countless would-be divers as never before.
“I was there at the 1966 Brighton Conference and debated with my wife whether or not we should attend a presentation on pollution by a total unknown – David Bellamy. His humorous and enthusiastic talk launched him into TV stardom.
“This and subsequent conferences paved the way for British photographers and film-makers like Peter Scoones, Michael Portelly, Slim McDonnell and even myself to gain worldwide recognition.
“And paved the way for the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol to become second to none for its outstanding wildlife programmes.
“Bernard Eaton played a pivotal role in the creation of the Marine Conservation Society, and always supported International Dolphin Watch, which I founded in 1978.
“Bernard leaves a huge legacy. Every time a British diver is enthralled by the wonders of the deep, he or she will owe some part of it, no matter how small, to Bernard Eaton – the man who put diving on the map in Britain.”