Obituary: Chris Philip

Michael Christopher Philip, book editor and fireworks impresario: born London 7 September 1928; died Bartestree, Herefordshire 10 January 1998.

For gardeners, The Plant Finder is the most useful invention since the trowel. First published in 1987, and since then annually, it is already indispensable. Like all pivotal ideas it seems supremely obvious: simply to list all plants and shrubs available in Britain, and where to obtain them. But it took a man of immense drive and application to turn the idea into reality.

Chris Philip was an archetypal polymath. Educated at Oundle, he decided not to go into the family firm of atlas publishers, George Philip & Son, but instead became interested in the burgeoning field of electronics. He began his career with EMI, then took a job with a recording studio close to Broadcasting House in London.

In 1952 he met Denys Gueroult, a BBC music producer, and they remained together for more than 45 years. Being a gay couple in the Fifties required discretion and fortitude. Friends say it was the attraction of opposites. Where Gueroult is outgoing to the point of flamboyance, Philip was reserved. He hated parties because he found that small talk interfered with his train of thought as he grappled with whatever enterprise currently monopolised his attention.

When commercial television began in 1955 he joined Lew Grade's ATV, holder of the London Weekend franchise, as transmission controller. He impressed Grade with his practical, down-to-earth approach. When the company decided it needed an on-screen clock, he bought one in Soho for less than pounds 2 and mounted it in a simple box. It told viewers the time between programmes for several years.

Becoming bored with television, in 1962 he turned himself into a tough theatrical agent, bullying impresarios into paying his clients more than they intended. A few years later his career took another twist when, on holiday in Malta, he became intrigued by the elaborate splendour of locally made fireworks.

He was appalled to find that they could not be imported into Britain because the authorities claimed they contained a hazardous mix of chemicals. Philip arranged for the scientific analysis of British-made fireworks and established that they included the same ingredients.

As a result, the ban was lifted. He set up a company, Festival Fireworks, that organised spectacular displays all over the world, notably the one outside Buckingham Palace for the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977. He developed ingenious systems to ensure that the shows could always go on, even in pouring rain. At the same time he built up a library of books on fireworks, then published a unique bibliography of fireworks literature.

This venture, involving the creation of a meticulous database, paved the way for his crowning achievement. In 1983 he and Gueroult bought a house in Worcestershire with a six-acre garden. Its previous owner was a daffodil collector who had dug up all his bulbs, leaving the garden a barren waste.

Gueroult, the keener gardener of the two, seeking to restock it with a variety of plants and shrubs, was frustrated to discover that there was no comprehensive guide to suppliers of particular varieties. So Philip doggedly set to work to compile one, starting by writing to more than 2,000 nurseries for their catalogues.

The first edition of The Plant Finder listed some 20,000 plants. The latest has 70,000, derived from nearly 800 nurseries. Now published by the Royal Horticultural Society and selling more than 40,000 copies a year, it has become not just a buyers' guide but a recognised authority on plant nomenclature. It has also encouraged the growth of new specialist nurseries, now that there is a reliable means of reaching potential customers. Just after his death, Philip was awarded the RHS's Veitch Memorial Gold Medal for his contribution to horticulture.

"When he wanted to do something he would not be stopped," says Gueroult. "He would carry it through to the end, regardless. In all the jobs I've known him do, you only had to tell him it couldn't be done, and he'd find a way to do it." Long hours at the computer screen probably contributed to his worsening sight in recent years, and possibly to the brain tumour diagnosed last May. From then, a remorseless physical and mental decline culminated in his death in a hospice last month.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • 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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living