Obituary: Raymond Brammah

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Raymond Ernest Brammah, publisher: born 1927; representative and Regional Manager, Oxford University Press East Asia 1955-90; died 9 September 1993.

RAYMOND BRAMMAH spent almost all of his working life with Oxford University Press, and the greatest part of that in East Asia.

In 1955 he began sales tours of South-east and North-east Asia by ship and train, OUP's sole representative in the region, accompanied by large blue trunks of samples. Thirty-five years later, when he retired as Regional Manager of Oxford University Press East Asia (an area from Indonesia to Japan) he left behind offices in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo with a network of smaller offices covering every important country in the region, 400 staff, profitable and progressive school publishing in Hong Kong and Malaysia (the latter mainly in Bahasa Malaysia), flourishing and respected academic publishing in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, and Japan a more than important market for both academic and English-language teaching titles.

Brammah had a very private personal life: and in a sense OUP in Asia, its staff, its authors and advisers became his extended family. When he retired in 1989 in Malaysia he opened an antique-furniture business in Kuala Lumpur: antiques, specially Chinese ceramics and Indonesian furniture, were the love of his life after books.

His achievements fall into three categories in East Asia. First, he was a good spotter of local managerial talent everywhere from Malaysia to Japan and had the expertise to set up branch offices that will long outlive him. He managed to balance the need for a financial return to OUP (and in its heyday in the Seventies the East Asia Branch contributed more profit to OUP than any other region) with maximum freedom of publishing opportunity to local managers.

Under his supervision opportunity took many forms. In Malaysia the partly indigenised OUP company is now the largest private publisher in Malaysia. In Hong Kong likewise OUP has a flourishing business in both English and Chinese educational publishing. Most important, the Japan office was moulded to become the largest market for both academic books and English-language teaching books for OUP in both England and the United States.

Secondly, in educational publishing Brammah brought OUP out of the colonial era of products such as the Oxford English Course for Malaya, encouraged local writers to replace such products and ensured that the new products kept OUP at the forefront of local educational publishing. He was realistic enough to realise that such books could only sell in the market by being better but in the same tradition as local publishers. Nevertheless he insisted on the highest standards of design and helped pioneer full-colour textbooks in the region.

Thirdly, Brammah would certainly wish to be remembered for the academic publishing that he started in Kuala Lumpur and later developed in Hong Kong. Starting with reprints of classic European works on South-East Asia, produced to the highest standards in Japan - Raffles' The History of Java was reprinted six times - the academic publishing extended to monographs (with especial encouragement for local academics), hardbacks on the Asian arts, especially ceramics, and trade paperbacks. This publishing was never easy, but it helped OUP to keep a high reputation in the region.

Brammah took five years out of his career in East Asia to be Educational Publisher at OUP Oxford from 1975. He took up this position soon after the transfer of OUP publishing in London to Oxford. At the time it would fair to say that OUP school and language-teaching publishing had the potential to develop far, but needed firm direction and guidance. This he provided and the present flourishing departments are based on his succcess in the five difficult years he spent in Oxford. He also contributed to the revamping of OUP's distribution system and generally the modernisation of the university press upon which its present success is largely based.

On his retirement, Brammah mused, 'Why was it not realised sooner that East Asia was not one region, but rather three distinct regions without a great deal in common?' It is impossible to speculate sensibly about three independently run offices based on Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan and whether they would have done better than the East Asian Branch that Brammah set up. Whatever happens in the future, Brammah's vision and determination made a quite remarkable contribution to publishing in English in East Asia for which all should be grateful.

(Photograph omitted)