Obituary: Clive Labovitch

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The Independent Online
Clive Labovitch, publisher, businessman: born Leeds 11 April 1932; married Penny Perrick (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), secondly Bonnie Spencer (died 1993); died London 7 April 1994.

CLIVE LABOVITCH's remarkable record as a publisher conjures up the archetype of a driving American-style dynamo. He was altogether quieter and kindlier. Yet he really was the enterprising Oxonian who turned the sleepy Cherwell into a lively undergraduate tabloid in 1951, who established a profitable corner in recruitment guides for graduates, who set new trends and standards of excellence for British magazines in the early Sixties with Town's design, photography and vitality; and who, with Topic, a would-be British Time magazine, had a failure that was at least heroic.

Labovitch had crowded all this in, along with ventures in property and medical and leisure magazines, by his early thirties. But he was not only softer than the archetype; he was much more complex. He had a delightful quality of diffident insouciance that helped explain the number, warmth and permanence of his friendships. He was genuinely creative, and it was the romance of publishing that excited him. Sometimes people thought that Michael Heseltine, his Oxford friend and business partner from earliest days, was the dreamer, and Labovitch the hard-headed businessman. If anything, the reverse was true.

Their combination could be marvellously effective - never more so than when the contract to publish the magazine of the British Institute of Management was snatched from the mighty Thomson organisation in 1966. The pair, alerted to the main chance, formed a consortium with the Financial Times and Economist, thus achieving total credibility and over a weekend whipped together an extraordinary dummy. It was actually a fully fledged business magazine; the 96 pages with full-colour cover announcing Management Today and proper, weighty articles, landed on the table and metaphorically bowled over the BIM.

The triumph made Labovitch so proud that he sold me this David and Goliath story - I was Business Editor of the Observer and he nervously came to the office to get an early sight of the piece. He asked me, en passant and vainly, if I wanted to edit his new baby. A little while later, the idea had become more attractive. Accepting, I soon saw that Labovitch had hit the jackpot. The combination forced on the partners that weekend by sheer haste - Town's glossiness and large format as the setting for quality business journalism were perfect for the time and the market.

But Labovitch characteristically chose that moment, before the first issue of Management Today had even appeared, to end his partnership with Heseltine. It was entirely his own wish. The romantic had triumphed over the realist. Labovitch wanted to pursue his ambitions independently, when in truth his best work was done with partners who were more interested in the prose of business. His independent venture failed (not for lack of grand ideas, but because of them) and his first marriage to the journalist Penny Perrick broke up at around the same time.

It was a bleak period. But Labovitch was sustained by unfailing friends, and bounced back to form a new magazine team with Fred Newman, another friend from Oxford. Their Publishing News shook up the cosy world of book publishing. It would certainly not have been the last of Clive Labovitch's achievements. The two years after leaving that venture were cruelly dominated by the tragic illness of his second wife, the fashion writer Bonnie Spencer. Her death last year was a savage blow.

The youngest of three brothers, Clive had come from a close family background in the Leeds textile world and the support of his family, especially his son and daughter from his first marriage, helped him once again to climb back up. He was teeming with ideas when he went into hospital for by-pass surgery and I was delighted to be helping him do what he loved, turning a publishing opportunity round and round, trying it out this way and that, and never being dismayed by practical difficulties. He inspired many colleagues, who went on to great things and he had the priceless quality of also inspiring their lasting affection.

(Photograph omitted)