Obituary: Cecil Turner

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The Independent Online
Cecil Turner belonged to that small but influential group of publishers, such as Cecil Woolf and Peter Owen, who remain liberal and independent in a sphere increasingly dominated by the giant conglomerates. Publishing however came fairly late in a career in which he followed his instincts in various promotional roles.

He was born and educated in Leyton, in London, the son of a moderately prosperous jobbing chemist. The effects of the Depression denied him the opportunity of attending university, and instead he entered the world of advertising, working for John Knight's agency in the pre-war period.

He served as a captain with the Royal Artillery, and after desert training was on his way to North Africa when his convoy was diverted by Churchill to India. He saw active service in Burma and was seriously wounded. Recuperating in India he met Tessa Boraston, who became his second wife on his return to England, where he co-founded the advertising agency of Auger and Turner. In the late 1950s he set up his own agency, Cecil Turner Ltd, which was briefly very successful but foundered on an ambitious attempt to move into the newly independent Nigeria.

Because Tessa felt unhappy in Britain, Turner took her to Malta, where she died a year later in 1970. It was in Malta that he met his third wife, the Swedish Marta Bachman, who shared his growing enthusiasm for publishing. Together they founded the company of Bachman and Turner (although outside the business, in order to maintain their privacy, he and Marta used the family surname of Thyer-Turner).

During the 1970s and 1980s they issued a wide variety of books, ranging from the strictly practical, An Inside View of Advertising (1973) by Micky Barnes, to Immortals at My Elbow (1974), based on the experiences of a medium, Rosemary Brown. Some themes were political; the reminiscences of a survivor of the Katyn massacres, The 79th Survivor (1976) by Bronislaw Mlynarski, and a volume on the 1956 Hungarian revolt, Light in the West (1978) by Noel Moynihan; but there were also glimpses of the Royal Family in Step Aside for Royalty (1982) by Eileen Parker, poems by Beverley Nichols, Twilight - first and probably last poems (1982), one of my own novels, Don't Swing a Cat (1983) and a biography of Nijinsky, Nijinsky and Romola (1991) written by Tamara Nijinsky and mainly researched by Marta.

In contrast to his interest in the wilder shores of human experience, Turner's domestic arrangements reflected his liking for patrician surroundings and aesthetic propriety. As a temporary guardian of Stone-acre in Kent, an Elizabethan manor leased from the National Trust, he was in his element. Here he would assemble his authors, encouraging them in a manner witty and avuncular. In its heyday Stoneacre became a Garsington in miniature, which he and Marta, who had tended the gardens, were loath to leave for the equally elegant though less commodious chaplain's house in Chatham Dockyard.

Two further projects preoccupied him when his health was already in decline. He advocated the establishment on English soil of the European Literary Centre, in Rochester, with the aim of promoting "a deeper understanding and wider knowledge of the literature, languages and culture of other European countries". This was an offshoot from his earlier work for the English Language Literary Trust, a charitable organisation which he founded in the 1980s. When his own sight began to fail he organised the Ocular Research Fund to fight glaucoma.

If Cecil Turner had faults they were the consequences of his many virtues. Ever-brimming with energy and exciting ideas, his mind was directed towards future targets. At the same time his own managerial skills sometimes languished for want of an appropriate infrastructure. The result was that some of his projects began well but failed to reach their full fruition.

A man of persuasive charm and near-Dickensian whimsicality, Cecil Turner will be missed by all those he cajoled into assisting his inventive enterprises. Fervently British, he was also a true European.

Cecil Norman Turner (Thyer-Turner), advertising agent and publisher: born London 6 October 1912; married 1936 Julia Bishop (one daughter; marriage dissolved), secondly Tessa Boraston (died 1970; one son), 1971 Marta Bachman; died Gillingham, Kent 16 June 1996.