David Riley

Award-winning ELT publisher
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The Independent Online

David Riley, publisher: born Wigan, Lancashire 1 November 1955; married 1975 Kay Buttar (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1981), 1991 Pilar Rodas; died Madrid 18 October 2007.

David Riley was a visionary publisher in English Language Teaching, winning both a British Council ELT Innovation Award (an ELT "Oscar") and a Duke of Edinburgh ESU English Language Award for Campaign (2004), a course for teaching English to personnel on multinational peace-keeping and humanitarian missions.

Riley was born in Wigan in 1955 and showed early artistic promise, editing a school magazine and winning local and national competitions, but his parents, though proud of him, thought art would lead only to poverty. Riley was undeterred and studied in both Wigan and Cardiff while supporting his wife and two children. But he ended up in a series of dead-end jobs in London, squatting with a houseful of addicts.

Starting anew, he took a TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and went to teach in shabby, pre-Olympic Barcelona, where his Spanish was improved by an obnoxious landlady, as he had to hold up their frequent arguments, asking her to repeat her insults, so that he could check the dictionary before the tirade continued.

A year later, he joined Executive Language Services in Paris where he later became Director of Studies. A voracious learner, he also visited restaurants, reproducing the dishes at home, to become a discerning cook and generous host. In 1987 he joined the language school International House in Madrid (where he married his second wife, Pilar Rodas) before becoming director of the school in Palma.

For many, the next step would have been to open their own school but Riley decided to enter ELT publishing in Britain. In 1998, after gaining a BA in publishing, he joined Macmillan in Oxford, took an MA in ELT and rose to become publisher of International Adult ELT. He focused on demonstrably useful products that were rigorously assessed for commercial viability, spotting many gaps in the market and sometimes pushing his ideas to success in the face of company scepticism. This, and his unusually rounded experience, made him a sympathetic, much-admired and very successful publisher, inspiring a phalanx of loyal colleagues.

Personally, his life reached new heights of happiness: there had been a rapprochement with his parents and he grew increasingly close to his children. Having played the guitar since being a teenager, he now took up saxophone as well, quickly graduating to playing in local jazz bands in Oxford.

Shortly after the triumph of Campaign in 2004, Macmillan's internal politicking led to Riley's being made redundant. But some years earlier he had had an idea for a series of books that he knew would be a great success and now he grabbed his chance. Ever the Hispanophile, he also saw that it would allow him and Pilar to return permanently to Madrid and in March they finally achieved their goal.

It was, then, a horrible irony that he was almost immediately diagnosed with several tumours in both the lungs and the brain.

John Riley