Christopher Helm - Obituaries - News - The Independent

Christopher Helm

Publisher and ornithologist

Christopher Alexander Roger Helm, publisher and ornithologist: born Dundee 1 February 1937; married 1967 Caroline Price (one son, and one son deceased; marriage dissolved 1976), 1979 Amanda Thomas (one son, one daughter); died Hastings 20 January 2007.

There can hardly be a birder's bookshelf in the land without at least one or two volumes bearing the distinctive logo and the name "Helm" on their spines - and quite probably a whole row of them. Such is the influence and reputation of Christopher Helm in the world of ornithological publishing.

The elder son of a Presbyterian minister, he moved with his family in 1939 from Forfar to Tunbridge Wells, where his father preached to the Scottish diaspora. After Harrow, Christopher was obliged to undergo National Service. He joined the Highland Light Infantry and was posted to Glasgow, where he obtained his commission. He endured a demanding time on active service in Cyprus, and looked back on it with a notable lack of nostalgia.

After Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, where he read Classics and Law, Helm worked first in advertising, moving on to Penguin Books and Macmillan. While at Macmillan, he made friends with a dynamic young editor from Allen and Unwin - David Croom. The two realised that, in the expanding market for tertiary-level education, they could be fleeter of foot than the established monolithic publishers, and in 1972 Croom Helm Limited was incorporated.

The concept was to commission broadly scholarly works from young academics, publish them quickly, and market them on an international scale. Croom was the prolific editor and Helm the marketeer. The concept worked because of the short publication schedule and the wide export sales network that Helm set up. Thus, Croom filled the warehouse and Helm emptied it.

Helm always commissioned some books, and in the late 1970s this began to include some bird books. The turning point came with the publication in 1983 of Peter Harrison's Seabirds. This was the first bird book covering a specific group of birds to concentrate mainly on field identification and, most importantly, to illustrate them fully. Never before had there been such a useful book with which to identify such a challenging group of birds. It was followed in 1986 by Shorebirds and these two books became an instant success, remaining in print for the next 20 years and selling tens of thousands of copies.

They became the first of the "Helm Identification Guides", which developed into a long series of much-imitated guides to bird families of the world. Two other classic Helm titles, the Handbook of Bird Identification and Raptors of the World took nearly 20 years in preparation before publication in 1998 and 2001.

In 1986, Croom Helm was sold to ABP, and the two eponymous founders parted amicably. Helm went on to found Christopher Helm Publishers, where he concentrated on popular reference. Gradually, the bird books took over and the Christopher Helm name became synonymous with the genre. In 1990, the company was sold to A&C Black Publishers, where the Christopher Helm list remains one of the key divisions.

Not ready to retire, Helm began to develop new ideas for more books and in 1994 the first bird books appeared under the Pica Press imprint. Accolades continued to be won, and Helm or Pica Press books regularly were named as "Best Bird Book of the Year" by the ornithological press. In 2000, Pica Press was sold to A&C Black, and in retirement Helm was able to enjoy his many interests, especially bridge, cricket and opera. Birdwatching remained a passion and his regular census work at Brightling Park gave much pleasure.

Helm's service on the Council of the British Ornithologists' Union was of immense value, in particular in chairing the Publications Committee. He also held office at the Publishers Association. In the 1970s he served as a Labour councillor in Wandsworth, and stood as a parliamentary candidate for Wokingham.

At two metres in height Christopher Helm towered over most of his peers, and he was convivial company, a warm-hearted man with a sharp wit and the tongue that often goes with it.

Nigel Redman

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week