Roger Coleman

Publisher who oversaw the creation of the Revised English Bible

Roger Coleman, publisher: born London 16 June 1929; Publishing Director of Bibles and Religious Books, Cambridge University Press 1975-89; Secretary to the Joint Committee of the Churches 1982-89; married 1957 Mary Hayns (one son, two daughters); died Taunton 7 May 2002.

As secretary to the Joint Committee of the Churches and Publishing Director of Bibles and Religious Books at Cambridge University Press, Roger Coleman played an important role in the creation of the Revised English Bible of 1989.

The Oxford and Cambridge presses had been engaged since 1947 in the organisation and publishing of the New English Bible. The New Testament appeared in 1961, and was much read – and criticised; the Bible in 1970. But this was just the first phase. The antagonism was partly because this was not the classic text of 1611; but there were also scholarly criticisms. The original panels of translators were succeeded by revisers who took up the work under a new Director, the Rev Professor W.D. McHardy, who took office in 1973 just before Coleman joined the publishing staff at CUP.

McHardy was as amiable, shrewd and sensible as he was learned; wheelchair-bound, he was the reverse of disabled, almost demonic – an oxymoron, but "angelic" would be too mild – and the spectacle of Coleman pushing the wheelchair to and from McHardy's car and operating a skilled transfer while the director continued serenely to direct became familiar both at the Printing House in Cambridge and in the Jerusalem Chamber at Westminster Abbey where the regular meetings of panels were held.

The Chairman of the Joint Committee of the Churches, and so the overall commander of the making of the new Bible, was Donald Coggan, who had been appointed in 1968 while still Archbishop of York. In 1982 Coleman became officially Secretary to the whole enterprise. In effect, it was run by the triumvirate Coggan-McHardy-Coleman, who got on extraordinarily well, with Coleman doing the administrative work, and in due course supervising the printing and publishing operation.

The Revised English Bible appeared in September 1989, three months after Coleman retired from the Press. For all the criticisms of the 1961 New Testament, the REB will come to be seen as one of the most accurate and useful versions in English. In 1989 the Cambridge and Oxford university presses published Coleman's New Light and Truth: the making of the Revised English Bible – a brief account of a great enterprise, and now a memorial to him.

Roger Coleman was born in Blackheath, in south London, in 1929 and educated locally at Colfe's School. He read Modern Languages and Law at Clare College, Cambridge and then worked for Shell. In 1964 he joined the Cambridge University Press, on the staff of the Printing House, under Brooke Crutchley as University Printer.

Coleman was responsible for customer relations – in effect he sold the printing service to potential customers. This involved travel, especially to the United States where there were important customers for Bibles and Bible-printing: it was stressful, and gave him an early heart attack, which for the rest of his life prescribed self-discipline. In 1975 he crossed over to the Publishing Division, then being reorganised and reinvigorated by Geoffrey Cass, to take responsibility for Bibles and Religious Books. Here he came into his own.

He was a gentle, open, friendly man; a devout Anglican; also a keen musician. He sang cheerfully rather than well, and would attempt any keyboard. He is remembered by Cambridgeshire children to whom he introduced the trombone-like instrument the sackbut, and groups of them found themselves successfully playing ancient music on ancient instruments.

Michael Black

"Bombardier Coleman is no soldier and his tour of duty in the army has not been a pleasure to him." So wrote my father's Commanding Officer in the Royal Artillery in his discharge notes to the bombardier's not hugely distinguished National Service career after the Second World War, writes Nick Coleman. Indeed, despite being endowed with obvious administrative ability, natural efficiency and a rather nice personality ("He is in possession of considerable charm of manner and dignity and has always been found at his best when dealing with Lieutenant-Colonels and above"), it was noted by the CO that this was a man not best suited in nature to the haulage and deployment of 5.5in field-howitzers around the dunes of North Africa. Well, no, you can say that again.

It might have been similarly observed 30 years later that Roger Coleman was not the man best suited in nature to be the marketing director of a major university press, despite all that ability and charm. But he did the job anyway, even though it made him less than happy. He had a family to feed and a duty to perform. No matter that his innate gentleness and principled modesty made the very idea of marketing about as attractive to him as lugging heavy ordnance about the desert, he got on with it and made the most of it. It was in my father's nature to do the right thing.

In the end, though, his right thing came to him. As CUP's Publishing Director of Bibles and Religious Books, he found his natural place in the publishing world – a situation enhanced by his appointment in 1982 as Secretary to the Joint Committee of the Churches on the vexed subject of the forthcoming Revised English Bible. No better place than this, you'd have thought, for a gentle, principled, erudite, spiritual, obscurely witty man.

So it proved. He loved it. And he worked absurdly hard, regularly completing a 10-hour office day, then coming home to get down to it again in his study throughout the evening. He read the entire REB out loud to himself, all the way through, twice, to ensure that it included no verbal infelicity that might trip the tongue. He also made sure that the REB had no asses in it, because a large number of its readers were to be American.

I suspect, however, that his greatest pleasure in the REB arose from his dealings with his fellow editors. He adored both "Mac" McHardy and Lord Coggan, both of whom shared my dad's scholarly enthusiasms and utterly arcane sense of humour. My family has a lovely photograph of him and Lord Coggan, the latter clearly enjoying the moment of having just cracked a splendid joke. Dad is in the act of getting it. He's turning, beginning to lift up the corners of his mouth, only fractions of a second from bathing the company in a huge, twinkling, slightly distracted grin, which will serve for the next few seconds as cover for him to work on a suitably witty extension to the crack – one which will run and run. We were inordinately proud in 1991 when the then incumbent Archbishop, Robert Runcie, awarded my father a Lambeth Degree. And so, secretly, was my father.

Still, however much he loved his work and those men, he loved his family above all things, and we knew it. We are all grateful.

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
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
Sport
football
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us