He was the son of Regent Marcus Geoffrey Middleton, bookbinder, and Doris Hilda Middleton (nee Webster). In 1951 he married Dora Mary Davies, an accountant, formerly in the WRAF, who died in 1997.
Bernard was educated at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London, and apprenticed to the British Museum Binder in 1940. In 1943 he was awarded the City and Guilds of London Institute’s Silver Medal (1st Prize)– an honour returned when he became the institute’s chief examiner in bookbinding from 1957-63. He served in the Home Guard from 1941-43 and in the Royal Navy from 1943-46.
From 1949-51, Bernard was a craftsman-demonstrator to Roger Powell at the Royal College of Art, and, from 1951-53, manager of Zaehnsdorf’s.
Bernard conducted workshops in restoration of leather bindings in Europe (Belgium, Switzerland, and the Netherlands), and the Americas (Brazil, USA, and Venezuela). His gold-tooled bindings may be seen in Britain in the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Library, and the Wormsley Library, and in major libraries worldwide.
In 1955, he helped found the Guild of Contemporary Bookbinders (now Designer Bookbinders). He was president from 1973-75 and a Honorary Fellow in 2011. He was also a Brother of the Art Workers Guild from 1961, became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1951 and the Society of Antiquaries in 1967.
In 2002, Bernard was made ‘Patron’ of the Society of Bookbinders. In 2006, the Institute Conservation (with which he had long been associated) made him an Hon Fellow, and The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, made him an Hon Member, in 2010. He was elected a member of the Association Internationale de Bibliophilies in 2002. Foreign honours bestowed on him include the Chevalier, Légion d’Honneur (France) in 2015.
Bernard was the author of two landmark books: A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique (1963, 4th edition, 1996), and The Restoration of Leather Bindings (1972, 4th edition 2004; Spanish edition 2001).
His Recollections: a life in bookbinding (2000), was first printed in 1995 by the Bird and Bull Press. Throughout his working life he also wrote a large number of useful articles on various aspects of bookbinding, some of which were reprinted as a Bookbinders Miscellany (2015), and countless introductions to books and exhibition catalogues.
Eric Horne, Bernard’s long-time assistant from 1961, retired in 1986. For 12 years his place was taken by Flora Ginn, who carries on in the Middleton tradition. In his Who’s Who entry (2019), on which this account is based, Bernard said his recreations were ‘Reading, and enjoying the past from a safe distance’.