Dan Grisewood

Publisher and packager specialising in children's encyclopaedias
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Daniel Grisewood, publisher: born Nicosia 25 October 1934; managing director, Macdonald & Co 1973- 74; chairman and managing director, Grisewood & Dempsey 1974- 93; chairman and chief executive, Larousse 1993-95; married 1960 Margaret Pickett (three daughters, one adopted son; marriage dissolved 1979), 1980 Jane Oliver (one daughter); died London 28 June 2003.

It seems no accident that Dan Grisewood was a publisher of children's encyclopaedias - from Purnell's New Junior World Encyclopedia (12 volumes, 1969) and The Great World Encyclopedia (1975) to The Kingfisher Children's Encyclopedia (10 volumes, 1989). His interests were startlingly wide- ranging and every aspect of his life was infused by his sense of fun.

After school in Fort Augustus and National Service, he tried his vocation as a Benedictine monk. Though it was not to be, he retained a deep devotion to his Roman Catholic faith and an abiding interest in religion. He went on to study Maths at St Andrews, where he met his first wife, Margaret.

His first job was as Science Editor for Macmillan for two years from 1960, and, after an interlude teaching maths at the University of Malta, he was taken on by André Deutsch in 1965 to run African Universities Press in Lagos. In 1968 he joined BPC Publishing (in its pre-Maxwell days) as publisher of Macdonald Educational and five years later became managing director of Macdonald & Co, a company forged by Grisewood from many disparate imprints into a pioneering publisher of illustrated information books for children, as well as general books and more specialised imprints, such as Jane's.

One best-selling series of reference books and encyclopedias followed another. By the strength of his personality and business acumen, Grisewood extended the market into the United States, creating lucrative US editions of most Macdonald titles. His secret lay in his charismatic ability to encourage and support the creativity of his more timid colleagues and to ensure that his staff enjoyed their work. Constant revelling accompanied working sessions that often lasted long into the night.

Too wild for corporate life, Grisewood decamped with his editorial colleague Michael Dempsey to set up a new packaging company. Unhappy at their departure, BPC's board, led by its far-sighted chairman Monty Alfred, offered to finance the venture. The new firm, Grisewood & Dempsey, supplied books to publishers around the world. Grisewood's negotiating skills landed one deal after another from Argentina to Indonesia.

In all these ventures the firm had to please clients whose marketing abilities were often inferior to Grisewood's own. So, in 1978, Kingfisher Books was established, and the company began publishing successfully under its own imprint. A setback came in 1980 when Robert Maxwell took over BPC and attempted to wrest control of the financially over-extended Grisewood & Dempsey. Grisewood, like the Old Testament patriarch he came to resemble in later years, took his sling and launched a defence that saw off the dreadful giant.

The company relaxed and, newly financed, went on to years of record-breaking publishing success. In 1988 Grisewood accepted an offer from the leading French reference publishers Groupe de la Cité. The new owners entrusted Grisewood to set up a US company and made him chief executive of Larousse, incorporating G&D, Kingfisher, Chambers and Harrap.

In 1995 Grisewood retired in order to spend more time with his wife Jane in a lovely house in Suffolk, and to pursue his lifelong quest to understand all things in heaven and earth. He read voraciously on every subject, talked and argued with his vast network of friends and family, and entertained them liberally. On being diagnosed with leukaemia, he quickly became an expert in the condition, making light of it to his friends and helping fellow victims via the internet.

With unbelievable zest, he seized every day that remained to him, filling hundreds of notebooks by day with thoughts and meditations for the books he planned to write, and peering through his telescope at night to see the secrets of the universe.

Angela Sheehan

Comments