Peter Mayer obituary

Charismatic publisher who combined erudition with commercial savvy to turn Penguin Books into a global brand

In 1978 Peter Mayer, who has died aged 82, was drafted in from the US to rescue a moribund Penguin Books. He took the beloved but by then loss-making publisher and turned it into a global publishing brand, along the way transforming the publishing industry as a whole. Without doubt the greatest publisher of his generation, Mayer was also the most charismatic. Handsome, charming, witty and at times infuriating, he was also brave, defending to the hilt Salman Rushdie and his novel The Satanic Verses (published in 1988 by Viking Penguin) and refusing to go into hiding when a fatwa was issued against Rushdie, as he was advised to do.

Mayer was a true intellectual but what made him unique was the combination of erudition with an overarching vision and commercial savvy. Among his ...

Ernest Hecht obituary

Founder of the fiercely independent Souvenir Press who arrived in Britain on the Kindertransport on the eve of the second world war

Ernest Hecht, who has died aged 88, was the last of the great émigré publishers and, remarkably, Souvenir Press, which he founded in 1951 in his parents’ spare bedroom with a £250 loan from his father, was still proudly and indefatigably independent at the time of his death.

A fall after a party marking Souvenir’s 65th anniversary had forced Hecht to run Souvenir from his home in west London rather than from its office-cum-shop near the British Museum in Great Russell Street, where passers-by stop to marvel at the eccentricities on display in the window – books on cats and dogs jostling for attention with offerings from Nobel laureates such as Knut Hamsun, Pablo Neruda and Albert Einstein, or Bum Fodder: An Absorbing History of ...