Andrew Best

Literary agent of wit and energy
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The Independent Online

Andrew Hall Montagu Best, literary agent: born London 20 January 1933; three times married (one son, three daughters); died London 19 August 2006.

Andrew Best was one of the most distinguished and intelligent literary agents of his generation. He had his own elegant style and might even have appeared an idle dandy to those busy men who like to say that time is money. His wit and energy hit you with surprise as it cleared the lee of his faux-didactic drawl. And that completely disappeared as soon as his interest engaged with a writer's ideas.

Educated at Winchester and Magdalene College, Cambridge, Best had been a schoolteacher for seven years before he joined the publishing trade, working for Longman, the Bodley Head and Hamish Hamilton. In 1970, he joined the Curtis Brown Literary Agency to found their Academic Division. That is when I met him - two quadruple whiskies, please, said he - and we worked together for nearly 20 years.

He encouraged the young and it was probably the morning following a particularly enjoyable evening that you realised that good advice had also been on offer. He wore his learning lightly, gave his advice briefly with humour, and worked unimaginably hard. He looked after over a thousand clients, comprising a sizeable slice of the very best of our cultural and intellectual life: Christiaan Barnard, Isaiah Berlin, Michael Bloch, Piers Brendon, Alan Bullock, John Cornforth, Barry Cunliffe, Glyn Daniel, H.J. Eysenck, Andrew Parrott, Colin Renfrew, N.A.M. Rodger, David Starkey, John Summerson, David Sweetman and Christopher Wood.

Best enjoyed representing Juan Manuel Fangio's autobiography as much as Ian Hay-Davison's new textbook for the Institute of Chartered Accountants. He paid as much attention to the design, typography and illustrations of a book as he did to the quality of the writing. Just as authors were in despair of ever hearing his reaction, their typescript would appear embellished with notes and queries in his distinctive calligraphy.

Much of his skill as a negotiator arose from his friendship with his writers. Some agents work alone behind closed doors. Best's style was to work closely with his authors, involving them at key moments to finesse a deal. When a publisher's sales department complained that they could not sell Alan Bullock's Hitler and Stalin (1991) as a double biography, Bullock's riposte was "Tell them they are getting two shits for the price of one". It was as a result of his friendly informal conversations with Best that Bullock started to write his moving book about his father, Building Jerusalem (2000).

Andrew Best had a fine tenor voice and enjoyed singing in first-class choirs. His negotiations with publishers and the Daily Mail on the one hand and with the formidable lawyer Maître Blum, the Institut Pasteur and Michael Bloch on the other over the Duke of Windsor's papers was worthy of an agile conductor of a five-part choir.

Best developed a great interest in Africa and made two pioneering visits to Nigeria to search for new writers. Entry into Nigeria in those days was tricky because of currency restrictions which obliged you to carry cash to defray living expenses. Best was called to one side at Customs and asked to open up his briefcase - "This is damn serious, sir!" A fist held out an apple left over from the airline meal. Best's elegant reply, "Surely, Nigeria isn't the Garden of Eden?" produced grins and he was shoved on his way, with his currency but without his apple.

He represented the International Africa Institute and his friend and historian of West Africa Michael Crowder introduced him to his third wife, Jackie - never leave Andrew alone in a room with a bottle or a woman - who was the apple of his eye and his constant support after he took early retirement from Curtis Brown in 1990 to become a literary consultant.

Andrew Best edited a trilogy of Arnold Wesker's plays for schools and in 1972 an anthology of short stories. He wrote on music and was an occasional book reviewer for the Literary Review. With his wife Jackie he wrote Funerals: a guide (1994) and Weddings (1997).