Publisher at Transworld
Thursday 30 March 2006
Mark Baxter Barty-King, publisher: born London 3 March 1938; MC 1958; editorial director, Granada Publishing 1974-81, managing director, Hardback Division 1981-83; staff, Transworld Publishers 1984-2004, deputy managing director of publishing 1992-95, managing director and CEO 1995-2000, chairman 2001-03; chairman, Wade & Doherty Literary Agency 2004-06; married 1963 Margild Bolten (two sons; marriage dissolved 1975), 1976 Marilyn Scott Barrett (two sons); died London 25 March 2006.
Mark Barty-King, known as "the Captain" of British publishing, will be remembered not just for his remarkable eye for the commercial potential of a new young writer, but for his unswerving loyalty to both authors and colleagues and his tremendous, yet modest, courage in the face of considerable adversity.
Barty-King was born in 1938 and spent his early years in the United States, having been evacuated to his maternal grandparents' home just outside New York immediately before war was declared. When he returned to England in 1945, boarding school was a rather unpleasant shock - he once said he had "escaped" from Winchester into the Army.
At the age of 18 he found himself doing National Service in Aden and in 1957 as a second lieutenant was awarded the Military Cross for "repeated gallantry and skill in using ground fire and manoeuvre". Finding a stint in Germany an unattractive proposition after life in the desert, Barty-King left the Army and headed back to America and publishing. After two years with the small general publisher Abelard Schuman, and a spell in antiquarian bookselling in San Francisco, Barty-King returned to London and a job with William Heinemann. J.B. Priestley was his first big author:
My only job was to meet him and bring him up in the lift. He was a gruff Yorkshireman and I was quite terrified of him.
After eight years, in 1974 Barty-King moved to Granada Publishing as paperback editorial director where he acquired the first novels of soon to be hugely successful writers such as Robert Ludlum, Barbara Taylor Bradford and Nelson DeMille. However, once Granada was acquired by HarperCollins, Barty-King was enticed to Transworld by its managing director, Paul Scherer, to start a hardcover imprint, Bantam Press.
Forging a successful partnership with his erstwhile Granada colleague Patrick Janson-Smith, then publisher of the paperback imprint Corgi, in a short time Barty-King made Bantam Press a force to be reckoned with. Initially, American rather than British agents were more willing to take a punt on a start-up and Barty-King acquired Mario Puzo, Erich Segal and Judith Krantz, but big British names soon followed - Catherine Cookson, Frederick Forsyth, Jilly Cooper.
A turning point was the acquisition of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time (1988), which Barty-King felt would add gravitas to a list that up until then had consisted primarily of fiction. At the meeting to agree the first, rather small, printing, the financial director somewhat crossly wrote off what he thought was the certain unearned advance, only to find it was to become the most successful science book in publishing's history.
As a manager of people, Barty-King's strength was in spotting talent and giving people a chance to move into another area and do something new. Many of us in publishing owe our careers to that foresight and willingness to take a bit of a risk. Larry Finlay, now managing director of Transworld, was given his opportunity when Barty-King moved him from marketing to become publisher of the paperback division.
In 1995, on Scherer's retirement, Barty-King took over the helm at Transworld, but almost immediately was taken seriously ill with a rare auto-immune condition that caused chronic vasculitis. Ill-health brought forward his retirement from day-to-day work in 2000. He had always been a hugely popular figure in international publishing - he retained special links with America throughout his career - and it was a considerable tribute to him that European publishers flew to London specially for a private dinner to mark his contribution and friendship.
Mark Barty-King was a devoted member of the Court of the Merchant Taylors' Company, having joined as a Freeman in 1966. He was elected to the Livery in 1971, joining the Court in 1992 and acting as Chairman of St John's Preparatory School, 1997-2004. He had been scheduled to be Master of the company this year but was unable to take up office.
In her excellent obituary of Mark Barty-King, Ursula Mackenzie omitted to mention that he was a startlingly handsome man, writes Adam Sisman. Tall, clear-eyed and straight-backed, he had a remarkable physical presence. Even in his fifties, he could have modelled as an ideal escort in an advertisement for a romantic novel.
Mark's looks helped to lure lady novelists of a certain age to the Transworld list. They were accompanied by an endearing shyness and a gentleness of manner. Before the terrible illness that hastened his retirement, he insisted on continuing his work in public, even though his condition, and the powerful drugs necessary to combat it, had devastated his appearance.
He was deaf in one ear, a result (so it was said) of a gun blast. I once accompanied him to meet Lester Piggott, whose speech is not always easy to decipher, even for those with perfect hearing. The rendezvous took place in a hotel, with piped background music. I'm not sure that Mark understood a single word the great jockey spoke. Lester would mumble something; Mark would lean forward, straining to make out the words, and then bark, " What?" This happened again and again. My role on that occasion was as a sort of interpreter.
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