Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Remembering Fred....

It is with sadness that I report the death of Fred Newman, founder of Publishing News, the paper I worked on for 20 years, until its closure in July of this year. Fred, who was 76, had had cancer for some time, but battled on, maintaining as cheerful a demeanour as possible to the end.

Fred’s legacy will undoubtedly be the two strands of the British Book Awards – the Galaxy British Book Awards aimed at the consumer, and the British Book Industry Awards for the trade itself. Despite the closure of the paper, the two events continue. The former showcases the Richard and Judy Best Read of the Year, of course. It is worth noting that Fred is at least partly responsible for the prominence of the Richard & Judy Book Club throughout the book trade, by far and away the most successful book promotion the UK has ever seen.

In the sometimes-pretentious world of publishing, Fred was down to earth. Terry Maher, the former Dillons chief who fought against the NBA, would love to tell people just how many of the Booker list he had read; Fred didn’t mind saying he was reading Jeffrey Archer. He didn’t care what people thought. If he liked a book, he liked a book, and that was that.

When he founded Publishing News in 1979, with his Oxford friend Clive Labovitch, he took on the monopoly enjoyed by the Bookseller and brought some refreshing Fleet Street vigour to the somewhat staid atmosphere of book trade journalism at the time. He was from the Street himself, having spent time on the Daily Sketch, and although his approach was occasionally too tabloid, when it worked, the result was both incisive and fun.

My own fondest memory is of putting together endless Frankfurt Dailies with him in the Messe. Every year Fred would bring his battered portable, manual typewriter with him to the fair, and proudly set it up while all around us flat screens and lap-tops glowed on neighbouring stands. It didn’t matter what we put in the paper: when people stopped by the stand, all they wanted to know about was Fred’s typewriter . So we did a story about it, calling it ‘The Stone Age Daily’.

Fred, I hope it’s up there with you now, clattering away as it did in Frankfurt. My thoughts are with your wife Sylvia, and children Stephanie, Deborah and Mark.