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Heatly, Sir Peterlocked

  • Richard Haynes

Heatly, Sir Peter (1924–2015), civil engineer, diver, and sports administrator, was born on 9 June 1924 at the Royal Maternity and Simpson Memorial Hospital, Edinburgh, the son of Robert Heatly (1901–1968), plumber, and his wife, Margaret Ann, née Sproull (1898–1955). He grew up near the Leith docks with his parents and younger brother, Tom, before moving to Portobello. He attended Leith Academy from 1936 and at the age of thirteen was taken by his father to see an exhibition by the US Olympic diving champion Pete Desjardins at The Pond, Port Seton, opened in 1932. Inspired by what he saw, he joined Portobello Amateur Swimming Club and dived at Portobello Open Air Pool, which opened in 1936, and at the time was the largest pool in Europe. The lido included a ten-metre diving platform, and, still aged thirteen, he won the East District diving championship, a title he held for three consecutive years until the competition was suspended in 1939.

From 1942, during the Second World War, Heatly studied engineering at the University of Edinburgh, and during this time was a reserved apprentice at the Naval Dockyard at Rosyth. He graduated with a BSc in 1945, and soon after became a chartered engineer. His first postwar job was with Redpath, Brown & Co Ltd (Structural Steel and Construction Engineers), which he combined with a part-time lecturing post in civil engineering at Edinburgh University (1947–50). He subsequently joined his father in the ‘family firm’, Hugh C. Gibson’s Heirs Ltd (Pipework Contractors & Engineers), later joined by his younger brother. The war delayed his first Scottish diving titles until 1946, when he won the ‘graceful diving’ and springboard championships, titles he would keep for the following twelve years in succession. He was also Scotland’s leading swimmer between 1943 and 1948, holding every Scottish free-style championship from 50 to 880 yards, and creating Scottish records in 440 to 1,000 yards. On 3 April 1948, at Duke Street Congregational Church in Edinburgh, he married Jean Robertha Johnston (Bertha) Hermiston (1925–1979), daughter of William Brown Hermiston, grain porter, and his wife, Jane. They had four children: Ann (b. 1949), Jane (b. 1951), Peter (b. 1955), and Robert (b. 1958).

Largely self-taught, Heatly was selected to compete for Great Britain in the three-metre springboard and ten-metre highboard at the 1948 Olympic Games in London. The London Games, in which he competed against the dominant Americans, gave Heatly an appetite for international sport, and in 1950 he competed for Scotland in the British Empire Games in Auckland, New Zealand. He won a gold medal in the ten-metre highboard and silver in the springboard. Away from home for the best part of three months, and travelling with the other home nations on board the SS Tamaroa, he kept a meticulous photographic record of the journey, something he would continue to do for the remainder of his sporting career. Reporting on the high standard of technical diving in the competition which eschewed the Scots emphasis on ‘graceful diving’, he believed that, until such conceptions of diving were removed, ‘diving in Scotland will continue to remain in its present primitive state’ (XXX). In order to transform the Scottish approach he introduced new innovations of his own. Ahead of his time, he recorded his dives on 8mm film, often filmed by his wife, Bertha, as an aid to the development of his diving. He was president of Portobello Amateur Swimming Club from 1952 to 1957.

In 1952 Heatly competed in his second Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland. In 1954 he won further medals, gold in springboard and bronze in the ten-metre highboard, at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada, and a bronze in the ten-metre highboard at the European Aquatic Championships in Turin, Italy. In his final competitive appearance at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, in Cardiff in 1958, he won the ten-metre gold, where he was also Scotland’s team captain and flag bearer. Until his death he remained Scotland’s most successful diver, and the only Scot to win consecutive gold medals at three Commonwealth Games.

Heatly maintained his commitment to Scottish sport through management roles with the Scottish team for overseas British Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia (1962), Kingston, Jamaica (1966), Christchurch, New Zealand (1974), and Edmonton, Canada (1978). He was chairman of the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland from 1967 to 1971, and his influence in Scottish sport and his love for Edinburgh led to his appointment as vice-chairman of the organizing committee of the 1970 Commonwealth Games held in the city of his birth. He also served as an Edinburgh councillor and was instrumental in the development of many of the city’s sporting facilities, crucially including the construction of the Royal Commonwealth Pool (with diving facilities), as well as the Meadowbank Sports Centre. All were important in the future development of Scottish Olympic and Commonwealth champions. His contribution to sport and the Edinburgh Games was recognized by his appointment as a CBE in 1971.

In 1972 Heatly became a board member of the newly formed Scottish Sports Council, and chairman in 1975, a position he held until 1987. He was also president of the Scottish Amateur Swimming Association on two occasions, and from 1982 to 1990 was chairman of the Commonwealth Games Federation. It was in the latter role that he became influential in persuading Commonwealth countries that Edinburgh should host the 1986 Games. The Games were beset by political and financial problems, with thirty-two nations boycotting the event in protest at Margaret Thatcher’s opposition to sanctions against apartheid South Africa. In spite of financial promises of support from the media mogul Robert Maxwell, the Games ran a £4 million deficit; reflecting on the experience, Heatly later recalled: ‘The boycott was terrible: you died a little bit every day’ (Guardian, 22 July 2014).

On 7 December 1984 Heatly married his second wife, Mae Calder Cochrane (1919–2003), a secretary and swimming administrator at Warrender Baths Club and the Scottish Amateur Swimming Association, daughter of Henry Torrance, sales representative, and his wife, Helen. Mae had four daughters from a previous marriage. The City of Edinburgh made Heatly a deputy lieutenant in 1984. He was a master of the Merchant Company of Edinburgh (1988–90) and an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Edinburgh, and was knighted for his services to sport in 1990. He also received honorary degrees from the University of Edinburgh (1992), Queen Margaret University (1994), and the University of Stirling (1998).

Heatly received recognition from within sport, being inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame (2002), the Scottish Swimming Hall of Fame (2010), and posthumously the International Swimming Hall of Fame (2016). As competitor, manager, administrator, chairman, and life president, he was involved in seventeen successive Commonwealth Games. In 2014 he was present to watch his grandson, James Heatly, compete for Scotland in the diving at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. He died on 17 September 2015 at his home in Thorburn Road, Edinburgh, from renal failure caused by prostate cancer which had been originally diagnosed in 1995. He was survived by his four children.



  • Sir Peter Heatly papers, University of Stirling archives


  • photograph, competing in the London Olympics, 1948, Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
  • photograph, with his grandson, c. 2009, Deadline News [Scotland] (25 Nov 2009)
  • photograph, profile, Scottish Swimming
  • photograph, group portrait, with other Olympic divers, 1948, PA Images
  • photograph, group portrait, with UK national swimmers, 1950, PA Images
  • photograph, 1954, PA Images
  • photograph, with Brian Phelps and Raymond Cann, 1958, PA Images
  • photograph, visiting the Royal Commonwealth Pool with Queen Elizabeth II, 1970, PA Images
  • D. Cheskin, photograph, PA Images
  • photograph, with his wife Mae, 1990, PA Images
  • photographs, International Swimming Hall of Fame,, accessed 31 August 2018
  • photograph, with his grandson, 2014, Edinburgh Evening News (12 April 2018)
  • photographs, repro. in Team Scotland Commonwealth Games,, accessed 31 August 2018
  • obituary photographs
birth certificate
death certificate
marriage certificate