Obituary: Janet Adam Smith

BIOGRAPHER, MOUNTAINEER, critic, literary editor, textual scholar, comic versifier, visiting professor, hostess, anthologist, traveller - there seemed to be nothing at which Janet Adam Smith did not shine. And she shone with an intensity that made others glow in response.

A cosmopolitan with close friends in many countries, she was first and foremost a Scot. Her father, the Very Rev Sir George Adam Smith, had been Principal of Aberdeen University and was a fellow minister of the father of J.C.W. Reith, the founder of the BBC.

In 1927 Sir John Reith, as he had just become, was on a visit to the BBC station at Aberdeen and dropped in to see the Adam Smiths. Janet was then at home learning typing and shorthand in the hope of becoming a secretary in London. She had been a scholar of Cheltenham Ladies' College and an exhibitioner at Somerville College, Oxford, where she had read English. Reith urged her to try the BBC secretarial pool. She had one false start when she was asked what sort of typewriter she was using and made the mistake of replying "a Triumph", which happened to be the make of motorbike a friend allowed her to ride. But she tried again, and was given a job with BBC Publications.

Soon she found work worthy of her talents, first as a sub-editor on The Listener, later as Assistant Editor. She dealt with articles on art, selected reviewers for literary books, and published new poetry, especially the work of W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Herbert Read, Louis MacNeice and Michael Roberts.

Roberts, schoolmaster, poet and keen mountaineer, applied to review books for The Listener. Janet Adam Smith had been properly instructed in mountaineering by her father. Indeed the BBC's Yearbook for 1930 has a photograph of her high in the Alps with the Matterhorn behind her and a copy of The Listener in her hand. With a common interest in both poetry and mountaineering Roberts was soon a frequent guest at the parties for young intellectuals Adam Smith often gave.

They married in 1935 and moved to Newcastle upon Tyne, where he taught mathematics at the Royal Grammar School. This meant her relinquishing her job as Assistant Editor of The Listener. She resigned, early in April, a couple of weeks after the annual pay increases were announced. To her surprise she found that her salary had been put up from pounds 550 to pounds 650. When she went to say goodbye formally to the Director-General, Reith revealed that he had personally overruled the recommendation that stood against her name: "No increase - leaving".

"In the future you may want to do a job again," he told her, "and they will say to you, `What was your pay when you left the BBC?', and it would be better if you could say pounds 650 than pounds 550." It was an action typical of Reith - imaginative and canny.

Two children were born to the Robertses in Newcastle, and a third in Penrith, Cumberland, where the RGS was evacuated in 1939. Janet Adam Smith remained in Penrith with the children when her husband joined the European Service of the BBC. There she wrote Mountain Holidays (1946; reissued 1996), in which she recalled pre-war climbs in Scotland and the Alps.

In 1945 the family moved to London, where Roberts had become Principal of the College of St Mark and St John, in Chelsea. Janet Adam Smith continued to write and to edit. She contributed to the series "Britain in Pictures"; Life among the Scots (1946) and Children's Illustrated Books (1948). She had already established herself as an authority on Robert Louis Stevenson with a short biography published in 1937. She now edited the correspondence between Stevenson and Henry James (1948) and prepared a scholarly edition of Stevenson's Collected Poems (1950); both were published by Rupert Hart- Davis.

After Michael Roberts's untimely death in 1948, Janet Adam Smith moved to Lansdowne Road, near Holland Park, which remained her home on and off for the rest of her life. In 1949, to support the family, she became Assistant Literary Editor of the New Statesman and Nation; as its Literary Editor from 1952 until 1960, she made the second half of the magazine essential reading for all sorts of people who had little sympathy with the first half.

Adam Smith still found time for her own work; she edited The Faber Book of Children's Verse (1953). She also edited Michael Roberts's Collected Poems (1958), and with her friend and fellow climber Nia Morin, translated from the French several mountaineering books, notably Maurice Herzog's Annapurna (1952). In 1965 Rupert Hart-Davis published her magisterial biography of John Buchan; she had been invited to undertake this by Buchan's son Alastair, then Professor of International Relations at Oxford. (She was justly proud when her son Adam Roberts was later appointed to the same chair.)

In 1965, after 17 years as a widow, Janet Adam Smith's life took a new turn when she became the wife of the headmaster of Westminster School. It was a surprise to many, for John Carleton, then aged 57, was regarded as a permanent bachelor. It was a very happy marriage and their conversation was often punctuated by gales of laughter. Janet was a marked success in her role as headmaster's wife. She began to list "mountain walking" rather than "mountaineering" as her recreation, but her vitality was undiminished. The Carletons were the only married couple who served together on the committee of the London Library; Janet herself served on it from 1955 to 1977.

After John Carleton's death in 1974, Janet Adam Smith continued to contribute literary criticism and memoirs to a variety of publications; throughout her eighties, she wrote for the New York Review of Books. Her reviews, especially of books about Scotland, were penetrating and beautifully written. She frequently broadcast on Critics' Forum. From 1976 to 1984 she was President of the Royal Literary Fund; she also served as Vice-President of the Alpine Club (1978-80), and for many years was active in the affairs of St John's, Smith Square, which John Carleton had helped to establish as a concert hall.

Janet Adam Smith also continued to travel. She visited her nephew, John Thomson, when he was High Commissioner in New Delhi, and was delighted to glimpse Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling. She made several trips to see friends and relations in the United States; in 1994 she returned to the Alps with a family party, and her 91st year was marked by an expedition to Paris by Eurostar. She retained a zest for gossip, never malicious, but always apt. Friends treasure felicitous rhymes which she sent as notes of thanks, apologies or simple festive greetings.

Janet Adam Smith, in a phrase she sometimes herself used, was worth a guinea a box.

Leonard Miall

Janet Buchanan Adam Smith, writer and journalist: born Glasgow 9 December 1905; staff, BBC 1928-35, Assistant Editor, The Listener 1930-35; Assistant Literary Editor, New Statesman and Nation 1949-52, Literary Editor 1952- 60; trustee, National Library of Scotland 1950-85; President, Royal Literary Fund 1976-84; OBE 1982; married 1935 Michael Roberts (died 1948; three sons, one daughter), 1965 John Carleton (died 1974); died London 11 September 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star