His paternal grandfather was born in Hillhead, Glasgow, in 1872, and his mother’s family came from Morayshire. Douglas himself was born in London in 1931 to Maurice Alfred and Dorothy Jean MacDowell, and brought up mainly in that city, except for a few months in 1939–40 when his father was posted in the RAF to Lossiemouth and Leuchars. Douglas attended first Elgin Academy and then Madras College, St Andrews. He was later to declare that he learned more English grammar in Elgin than he ever learned anywhere else. From 1941 to 1949, he was educated at Highgate School in London. It was there that his love for the study of Greek began, and where too he developed what was to become a lifelong interest in the theatre. His performance in the school’s dramatic society as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night must have been a sight worth seeing. His National Service from 1949 to 1950 was spent, after a trying period of basic training, as a sergeant in the Royal Army Educational Corps at Chepstow. The experience of teaching there, as he came to acknowledge himself, was not entirely useless to him later on.