Obituary: Louis Pauwels

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Louis Pauwels' quest took him from a deprived background all the way to the Academie des Beaux Arts via a remarkable series of books and the successful editorship of several magazines, including the first French newspaper magazine supplement, Le Figaro Magazine.

In 1978 the media tycoon Robert Hersant appointed Pauwels arts editor of the conservative daily newspaper Le Figaro. Drawing inspiration from the British Sunday colour supplements, Pauwels launched Le Figaro Magazine, available for a symbolic one franc as a supplement with the Saturday edition. Within a few years, sales on that day had reached 850,000.

With his daughter Marie-Claire overseeing the magazine's sister publication Madame Figaro (launched in 1980), Pauwels promoted a right-wing agenda in his editorials. However, these views, including the coining of the phrase "Sida mental" ("mental Aids") to describe the actions of protesting students in 1986, gradually took their toll on Le Figaro Magazine's circulation, which eventually fell to 500,000 by the time the editor retired in 1993.

Born in 1920, Pauwels was the son of a Belgian middle-class man who divorced his mother two years after Pauwels's birth. Thanks to an attentive stepfather, Pauwels's education did not suffer; on the contrary, he excelled at school and was reading literature at university when the Second World War intervened. He became a teacher in the suburbs and then a journalist in 1945. Four years later, he was appointed editor of Combat, a daily paper. In the Fifties, he made a surprise move to the women's magazine Marie-France, where he successfully stopped a decline in readership.

In the early Sixties he got together with Jacques Bergier, another maverick spirit with a scientific background, and together they wrote The Morning of the Magicians, a 600-page treatise looking at bizarre civilisations and phenomena. Published in 1961, the book became an instant best-seller with French baby-boomers.

Pauwels then started Planete, a magazine relying on the same blend: popular science, science fiction, esotericism, a soupcon of eroticism and his own belief in "realisme fantastique". Monthly sales went from 8,000 to a mighty 105,000; Italian and Spanish versions soon followed.

Following his retirement, Pauwels wrote screenplays and tried his hand at poetry with Dix ans de silence ("Ten Years of Silence") in 1989, before writing Les Orphelins ("The Orphans"), which earned him the Grand Prix du Roman de La Ville de Paris in 1994.

A keen pipe smoker and an elegant man, Louis Pauwels thought nothing of arguing the night away with fellow French thinkers like (the late) Herve Bazin. His death closes another chapter in the history of French letters and publishing.

Louis Pauwels, writer and editor: born Paris 2 August 1920; married 1941 Suzanne Bregeon (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1956 Elina Labourdette (one adopted daughter); died Paris 28 January 1997.