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Booker prize chief Ion Trewin dies aged 71

Ion Trewin, the journalist turned publisher who went on to run the Man Booker prize, has died aged 71, the trustees of the Booker prize foundation have announced.

Trewin, who was diagnosed with cancer in October last year, kept all his irons in the fire almost until the end. His final journalistic assignment was the obituary of his Booker predecessor Martyn Goff, which appeared in the Guardian two weeks ago. 

At the Booker his style was more avuncular than that of his flamboyant predecessor, but he kept faith with a tradition of controversy, describing the prize as “Richard and Judy for grown-ups” when critics questioned whether it was selling out to “readability” in 2008, and outraging many in the UK literary establishment by opening it up for the first time to American novelists in 2013. 

His relationship with the prize went back to chairing the jury in 1974 when – due to a stand-off with the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard as to whether her husband Kingsley Amis should win – the prize was finally shared between Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton. 

AS Byatt, who was with him on the 1974 jury, said: “He was friendly and sensible and wise and he was a really good listener who thought about things from every angle. He also had a capacity for enjoyment of his work and his life which is very important in that role. I feel my life and my work will be diminished by his going. 

He began running the Booker in 2006 after a career that had swept him from literary editor of the Times to publishing director at Weidenfeld & Nicolson. His achievements in publishing included commissioning and editing Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark, which won the Booker prize in 1982 and was filmed as Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg. He also edited the bestselling Alan Clark Diaries and wrote the biography of the wayward Tory politician. 

While in charge of the Booker, in a role that was re-styled from administrator to literary director, he found time to edit the private notes of Guardian political commentator Hugo Young. 

Tim Radford, who co-edited The Hugo Young Papers with Trewin said: “Ion was one of the kindest of men and touchingly proud to be the son of JC Trewin, the Observer theatre critic. Although he became a considerable name in publishing, he never forgot his links with journalism, or with old friends and colleagues. That was one reason why he was the perfect man to edit The Hugo Young Papers: he knew the milieu, he knew the politics and he understood the attitudes reflected in the prodigious mass of unpublished, and often untidy, material left by Hugo when he died.” 

Other books he edited included Michael Palin’s Diaries and Judi Dench’s memoir And Furthermore

Jonathan Taylor, chair of the trustees of the Booker prize foundation, said: “Ion will be sadly missed not only by his many, many friends but also more widely in the literary world. “His calm, courteous and avuncular demeanour masked a sharp intelligence, shrewd diplomatic skills, a great sense of humour and huge knowledge of and affection for books and book people.”             

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