Peter Burton: Writer and publisher who championed gay literature for over 35 years

 

Not many writers could begin a distinguished 50-year career in journalism and publishing with a review in the Walthamstow Express & Independent (1962).

But then Peter Burton, who has died suddenly aged 66, was a master at working to create unlikely opportunities for himself – and other writers he championed. In his first memoir, Parallel Lives (Gay Men's Press, 1985), he wrote, "From about the age of 13, I had two ambitions: to leave school, and to leave home. Both were accomplished before I was 16 – and essentially, since then, I have been master of my own fate. And things have happened."

Born in Hackney, Peter Burton left school without qualifications and landed a job in the publicity department of Hamish Hamilton – a perfect start for a self-educated boy with a thirst for books and knowledge. Knowing he was gay from his early teens, Burton also found his way round the early (and illegal) gay pubs and clubs in London's West End, eventually becoming manager of one of them, Le Duce. Simultaneously, he developed his love of literature, courtesy of EC Mason's Pocketbooks shop. "Ted" Benson was a reviewer for The Stage and, when opening nights clashed, he asked Peter to cover for him. And so Burton's "proper" journalistic career began, on 23 September 1965, with a review of The Marriage of Mr Mississippi.

His eventual portfolio of interviewees was impressive and eclectic, including Joe Orton (who Burton met, clad in a serge sailor suit), Kenneth Williams, Quentin Crisp, Patricia Highsmith and Christopher Isherwood. He famously offended the latter by declaring that Isherwood was "a writer who didn't grow up... he has been showing promise for 50 years."

Burton began in British gay journalism at its inception in the late 1960s, writing for Spartacus and then editing Jeremy. In 1973, he began writing for Gay News, under its founding editor Denis Lemon, and became its literary editor, establishing the paper's reputation for serious coverage of books and authors. It was Lemon who described Peter as "the Godfather of gay journalism", though no one is quite certain when his other nickname, "Dame Peggy", came into being.

His successful life as a scribe ran parallel to some unlikely byways: in the early 1970s, he was press agent for the Faces pop group, and his authorised biography, Rod Stewart: A Life on the Town (New English Library, 1977), which according to Burton was written on speed in 48 hours, gave him enough money to buy his first home, in Brighton's Kemp Town. Then, in 1968, his friend Colin Spencer introduced him to the novelist Robin Maugham, whose literary talents had been steadily eroded by his fondness for "just another little drink". For more than a decade, Burton learned to cope with Maugham's alcohol-fuelled whims and rages. He helped him complete a number of books and articles, and at least one, Conversations With Willie (WH Allen 1978), was entirely Burton's work.

After Gay News imploded in 1983, he became the literary and features editor of Gay Times, a position he held for 20 years, in addition to being the founding publisher of Millivres Books, where he tirelessly nurtured emerging writers alongside more established names. Burton wrote or contributed to over 30 books, including a second volume of memoirs, Amongst the Aliens: Aspects of a Gay Life (Millivres, 1995), and six anthologies of gay short stories, three of which were nominated for Lambda Literary Awards; the most recent, both by Arcadia Books, were A Casualty of War (2009) and What Love Is (2011).

In the last decade he was a regular contributor to the Brighton-based publications 360 and One80, a new gay generation benefiting from his high-quality journalism, and he also contributed regular book reviews for the Daily Express and obituaries for The Independent. As literary programmer of Brighton's Clifton-Montpelier Festival for the last five years, he curated, on a shoestring budget, a line-up of events which put bigger festivals to shame.

It will surprise and amuse many to learn that Peter's entire literary output was produced on manual typewriters, the ribbons of which he couldn't change himself. Yet the copy was always clean, meticulous and diligently written, the deadlines always met. It is apt that his last words, to his beloved friend Torsten Højer, were to "make sure the copy gets there [Daily Express] on time".

Peter Burton once wrote, "The relationship between friends can be every bit as binding and rewarding as that which exists between lovers." He never wavered from that. And he liked nothing better than to cook Elizabeth David-inspired meals for us and sit at the kitchen table in his book-filled house, dispensing food, wine, whiskey, music, gossip, ideas and advice, with unfailing generosity, and understated, yet deep – and reciprocated – affection.

He is survived by his sister Pamela Hinchcliffe and her sons, his close companion, Torsten Højer, and his devoted friends.

Peter William Burton, journalist, publisher, editor and author: born London 29 April 1945; died Brighton 7 November 2011.

29.04.1945

On the day he was born...

Dachau concentration camp was liberated by US forces. Brigadier General Henning Linden accepted the surrender of the camp, in which at least 30,000 people died

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?