Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, writer – obituary


Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, who has died aged 74, was, till his appointment as a Labour whip within the Home of Lords, higher referred to as Matthew Evans, the long-serving former managing director, later chairman, of the publishers Faber & Faber, in addition to a consummately glamorous partygoer. 

Evans joined the publishing home in 1964, when he was in his early twenties, 18 months earlier than the loss of life of T S Eliot, who, as a founder director, had established Faber & Faber because the main champion of literary modernism. He began as a “gofer” to the then managing director Peter du Sautoy, earlier than working his means into his boss’s seat eight years later. In 1981, after the retirement of Charles Monteith, he added the function of chairman to that of managing director.

Evans recalled that when he turned chairman he had been handed a file that was regarded as too “scorching” to be positioned within the archive. Among the many letters within the file was one from Eliot to the agency’s founding editor Geoffrey Faber, written within the late Forties, saying that it was wonderful to publish good books, however that it was essential to publicise and promote the books, fairly than simply depend on the Faber identify. Faber, Evans recalled, “wrote an offended letter again saying wasn’t it sufficient that Eliot had received the Nobel prize and had a world status as an creator, and would he please go away the operating of Faber & Faber to him.” Evans had, he claimed, “some sympathy for Faber”.

Evans in 1996 Credit score: UPPA/PHOTOSHOT

But it was Eliot’s attraction that he took to coronary heart, and Evans’s time as the general public face of the publishing home marked a major break with the previous. Irreverent, entertaining and astute, he managed to modernise Faber’s considerably fusty picture with out sacrificing its dedication to writing of the very best high quality. So, whereas he introduced on authors akin to Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Hanif Kureishi, Kazuo Ishiguro, William Golding and Paul Auster, he upset some traditionalists by ditching entire classes of books, together with philosophy, faith, worldwide affairs, sociology, farming and gardening. He additionally introduced in The Who’s lead guitarist Pete Townshend as an acquisitions editor.

The appointment, in 1983, described in a single newspaper as a “s— stirring train” by Evans and his then head of fiction, Robert McCrum (one other Evans appointment), raised eyebrows amongst Faber writers and employees. P D James was not impressed by Townshend’s hellraising credentials, whereas one aged editor was stated to have requested whether or not the brand new appointee was “the dashing Peter Townsend who was virtually engaged to Princess Margaret”. However Evans was unrepentant, explaining that he was eager to vary Faber’s status as a “stylish literary publishing home, barely conservative, and by no means aggressive on the road [and] make it extra trendy, get a extra diverse, uncommon checklist.”

Plainly Townshend shortly took to the day-to-day publishing grind, commissioning an eclectic and offbeat vary of books on every little thing from a revolutionary drug-addiction remedy, to bikers (by a Hells Angel), to John Lennon. Together with the publication of such titles as Who’s Had Who (1987), “a billet doux to the promiscuous” by Richard Curtis, Simon Bell and Helen Fielding, and Stephen Bayley’s Intercourse, Drink and Quick Vehicles (1986), Townshend’s presence undoubtedly raised the imprint’s “road cred”, main one commentator to dub the publishing home “Fabber and Fabber”.

The solid of Cats Credit score: Alastair Muir

Maybe Evans’s biggest single achievement was serving to to steer T S Eliot’s widow, Valerie, {that a} musical model of Previous Possum’s E-book of Sensible Cats is likely to be a good suggestion. He invited her alongside to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s home in order that she may hear the composer play a couple of songs he had sketched out on the piano. She was, Evans recalled, “shocked”. Cats went on to take greater than £1.4 billion in world-wide field workplace gross sales, a lot of which went to the Eliot property. Nevertheless it additionally shored up Faber’s monetary place at a time when different unbiased publishers had been being swallowed up by greater corporations or had been disappearing altogether.

Evans’s try to repeat the trick with a Pete Townshend rock musical adaptation of The Iron Man, Ted Hughes’s best-selling trendy youngsters’s fable, was much less profitable, nevertheless. It made the stage in 1993, however shortly vanished.

Matthew Evans was born on August 7 1941, the son of George Ewart Evans, a Welsh-born historian and Socialist who made his identify because the creator of Ask the Fellows who Cuts the Hay, a group of anecdotes about nation customs which had been already vanishing when it got here out in 1956. His mom, Florence, was a trainer and ardent Quaker.

Matthew was introduced up at Blaxhall in Suffolk and educated on the Associates’ Faculty, Saffron Walden, and the London Faculty of Economics, the place he took a level in Economics. After a brief interval as a bookseller, he joined Faber & Faber aged 23.

Quixotic, humorous and engagingly indiscreet, Evans acquired a trustworthy following amongst writers, a lot of whom turned shut pals (Heaney and Hughes had been godfathers to 2 of his childen) and stayed loyal to Evans and to Faber fairly than going for the large cash. He had the power to appease and allure probably the most delicate of egos, but not everybody was a fan. His considerably frosty relationship with Craig Raine (who ultimately left Faber) was conveyed by a diary piece within the Guardian during which Evans described the poet as  “a pure bullfighter” whom he (Evans) had tried with restricted success to “cease… sticking swords into Faber authors”.

Stephen Bayley’s Intercourse, Drink and Quick Vehicles

Nor did his colleagues at Faber all the time discover him simple to work with. Although famend as a sensible joker (he as soon as despatched the publishing world right into a frenzy by beginning a hearsay that somebody at MIT had discovered the answer to the issue posed by new expertise for the way forward for the printed ebook), not all his sensible jokes had been innocuous and he was given to occasional darkish moods that left colleagues on edge. “Typically you’d simply be depressed by it and must maintain away,” one former Faber junior was quoted as saying. “He was probably not a shouter, however he may very well be fairly merciless.”

Evans later held a variety of public appointments, together with as vice-chairman of the British Movie Institute. However his spikier aspect got here out in March 2000 when he was appointed first chairman of the brand new Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, created by the tradition secretary Chris Smith, when he used his first speech to savage his new flock and recommend shifting collections out from behind museum partitions and into pubs, faculties and outlets.

If this didn’t occur, he threatened, “we threat turning right into a cultural model of Marks & Spencer”. Brian Sewell, the artwork critic, described Evans’s diatribe as “the ideas of Chairman Mao couched within the typical waffle of Islington”, whereas Sir Henry Keswick, chairman of the Nationwide Portrait Gallery, accused Evans of driving in direction of an “Orwellian state”.  “It must be potential to say one thing like that with out individuals going bananas,” stated an unapologetic Evans.

Evans was a founding father of the Soho media hang-out, the Groucho Membership, and he and his second spouse, the literary agent Caroline Michel, had been distinguished in modern cultural and political circles. Their marriage in 1991 was attended by Seamus Heaney, Harold Pinter, Ted Hughes, Salman Rushdie, Melvyn Bragg and Ruth and Richard Rogers; the Each day Mail columnist Richard Kay later noticed that “an invite to dinner at their magnificent white-stucco townhouse in Belgravia – crammed stuffed with books, objets d’artwork and oil work – is an entrée to a world of superstar and literary genius, the place you would possibly end up rubbing shoulders with everybody from historian Simon Schama to rock chick Pattie Boyd.”

Evans was appointed CBE in 1998 and created a life peer in 2000. In 2002 he resigned from his place at Faber to take up a publish as a authorities whip. From 2003 he was a authorities spokesman for the Division for Constitutional Affairs and in addition served as a spokesman for the Workplace of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Division of Commerce and Business, the Division for Work and Pensions, and the Treasury. He left the Authorities in 2007 to affix EFG Worldwide, a Swiss non-public financial institution of which he turned chairman in 2008. In 2010 he was appointed an opposition spokesman for the humanities.

He and Caroline Michel separated in 2010, however they by no means divorced they usually remained shut. She survives him with their two sons and a daughter, and two sons from his first marriage to Elizabeth Mead, which was dissolved.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, born August 7 1941, died July 6 2016


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here