Ian Sutton: Valued editor with Thames & Hudson for four decades

On 2 July 1986 the novelist Anthony Powell recorded in his journal meeting Ian Sutton – "tall, fiftyish, rather inscrutable" – who was to edit for Thames & Hudson a picture book based on A Dance to the Music of Time. Powell was intrigued that Sutton came with a recommendation from the firm's editorial director that he was "the best writer of captions I know", reflecting that although "that designation may not sound a very dazzling qualification... one saw immediately that in this particular case caption-writing would be a valuable, if not essential, ability".

That was astute. Ian Sutton edited complex, highly illustrated books, and his work went beyond improving authors' text, to helping select illustrations, overseeing the layout and writing captions and other additional material. At times, Sutton was in effect a co-author, and the many writers with whom he worked were warmly appreciative of his help, some perhaps unaware that they were part of a tradition that stretched over half a century. He joined Thames & Hudson in 1960, and continued working there until his retirement, aged 80, last year.

Powell's impression that Sutton was "inscrutable" was shared by many people who did not know him well. In appearance he was a publisher's editor from central casting. Tall, stooped and spectacled, with a mane of thick hair (of which he was rather proud), he habitually dressed in a tweed jacket and corduroy trousers. Less expectedly, he had no interest in alcohol and strongly disliked tea. Yet in most other ways, notably his air of courteous reserve, he exemplified a certain sort of Englishness that in some ways was rather out of character with Thames & Hudson.

The firm, founded in 1949 by two refugees from Nazi Europe, the imperious Walter and Eva Neurath, was – and remains – cosmopolitan and dynamic, artistically and commercially. Sutton appreciated the Neuraths' seriousness of purpose, but he learned to keep a low profile on the frequent occasions when the creative pressure at the firm's cramped Georgian offices in Bloomsbury Street boiled over into tantrums. Fond as they were of him, and appreciative of the respect in which he was held by their distinguished authors, including Kenneth Clark, Rudolf Wittkower, Alan Bullock and Joan Evans, it is doubtful whether the Neuraths entirely appreciated, or even understood, the donnish wit and gift for facetious parody that delighted Sutton's junior colleagues.

Born in London and raised in Petts Wood, Kent, the son of a civil servant, Sutton studied English at King's College, London, where he took a first in English literature. He then worked for some time in the post room at the university's Senate House, a salon des refusés for bright students who could not get a job. He was rescued by a college contemporary, Judy Nairn, who was working for Nikolaus Pevsner as an assistant on the Buildings of England series for Penguin Books. She introduced Pevsner to Sutton, who asked whether he might attend his course on architectural history at Birkbeck College. "You can come as an occasional student", said Pevsner, "so long as you don't just come occasionally."

Pevsner changed Sutton's life, firstly by stimulating a deep interest in architecture, and then by recommending him to Walter Neurath for a job at Thames & Hudson. Pevsner's chairmanship of the Victorian Society led Sutton to become involved in the society's battles to defend Victorian and Edwardian architecture. He was for many years a member of the society's publications committee, and edited its annual journal. With a later chairman, Peter Howell, he edited and contributed to The Faber guide to Victorian churches (1989).

Under pseudonyms, Sutton published two books in the 1960s, one on the abbeys of Europe and another on the architecture of theatres. Among the many books he edited for Thames & Hudson was a volume on the history of western architecture in the firm's celebrated World of Art series, written in 1969 by the then-fashionable historian Robert Furneaux Jordan. When it was realised that Jordan had neglected to write anything on baroque architecture, on the grounds that it wasn't interesting, Sutton had to provide an additional chapter. It is notably better than Jordan's text, and when a revision of the book was proposed in 1999, Walter Neurath's son, Thomas, who had inherited the firm, agreed to let Sutton write the entire volume under his own name.

In 1964 Thames & Hudson was joined by a young American picture researcher (subsequently an editor), Emily Lane, who had grown up in France and India. She and Sutton formed a lifelong partnership, based to a considerable degree on a shared pleasure in architecture. Lane, with Sutton's encouragement, also studied under Pevsner. They made innumerable tours together all over the world looking at buildings, recorded by Lane in excellent slides shown to their friends in Sutton's book-stuffed Islington home on long, convivial winter evenings – events that they dubbed "bore-ins". Emily Lane survives him.

Michael Hall

Ian Richard Sutton, editor and writer: born London 6 February 1929; died London 10 January 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Customer Account Manager

£27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing cloud based I...

Ashdown Group: Product Marketing Manager - Software & Services

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Product Marketing Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Exhibition Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding B2B exhibition and...

Recruitment Genius: QA Technician

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading manufacturer of re...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat