She joined the fledgling Consumers' Association in 1957 as Secretary to the Council of Management, helped to choose the first director, and settled into a career that involved many jobs until she retired in 1988. It was as the Editor of Consumer Publications, the Association's book publishing activity, from 1962, that she set her stamp of high standards and integrity on practical information to help lay readers cope with those hurdles of life which are often, and mystifyingly, the province of professionals who hold all the cards of knowledge.
Her approach was idiosyncratic. She commissioned each book from an "expert" but she regarded the manuscript as a jumping-off point. Drafts were sent out to consultants, and then the book was reworked word by word and sentence by sentence, incorporating information provided by the consultants, hunting down more if necessary, so that the end result was a book that combined information without ambiguity. Nothing was allowed to go in that did not meet her severe standards.
Her first collaboration was with a young lawyer then working for the Inland Revenue, David Tench (who later joined the Association as its energetic campaigning legal adviser), The Law for Consumers (1962), and The Law for Motorists (1963) were the first titles. They were followed by Wills and Probate (1967), The Legal Side of Buying a House (1965) and What to Do When Someone Dies (1969), all approachable, all appreciated and therefore best-sellers. These last three are still, in their constantly up-dated versions, staple reference books.
Edith Rudinger came to England from Czechoslovakia in 1939 as a child refugee, under the auspices of the Quaker Society of Friends. A degree in philosophy at St Andrews, marriage to Hugh Gray in 1954, a career at the Consumers' Association lasting over 30 years, a law degree in 1978, followed by a diploma in criminal law, and three years working for a degree in Opera Studies until her last illness, provide only a glimpse of her sparkle, vivacity, wisdom and erudition.
Conversation with her was fascinating. She managed to attend almost every interesting opera, play, concert and exhibition. When Hugh became Labour MP for Yarmouth in 1966, they bought a cottage there and she gave him every support. She loved Venice and they had an apartment there which they visited as often as possible. In retirement, when Hugh was International Secretary of the Theosophical Society, they made a winter visit to India every year.
Her health often caused her much discomfort, but she never complained or showed self pity; sometimes in severe pain she would close her office door and lie down on the floor, only to get up again in half an hour with apparently renewed energy. Often first in the office and last to leave when a deadline demanded it, her energy was astonishing.
It may seem incongruous that someone so cosmopolitan and so little concerned with the preoccupations of consumerism should have established the stable of practical books that characterise the Which? publications. Yet it is typical of Edith Rudinger's generosity of spirit that she wanted to demystify formidable subjects for unformidable people so that they could meet on reliably equal terms. She, such a joyous searcher after knowledge, maintained that approachable information gave people the power they needed to take control of situations that affected their lives. Her job was to do the work that made knowledge accessible.Edith Esther Rudinger, consumer affairs editor: born Vienna 2 March 1925; married 1954 Hugh Gray; died London 28 February 1998.Reuse content