Obituary: Timothy O'Keeffe

Timothy O'Keeffe, publisher: born Kinsale, Co Cork 27 September 1926; married (three sons, one daughter); died London 11 January 1994.

TIMOTHY O'KEEFFE's death closes a chapter on the London publishing scene.

After National Service when he spent some time in Egypt, then Oxford, O'Keeffe started his publishing career at Hutchinson in the heyday of Robert Lusty, when their New Authors list launched a number of notable careers.

He was taken on at MacGibbon & Kee as chief editor when Reg Davis- Poynter had taken over the reins under the proprietorship of the socialist property millionaire Howard Samuel. The firm had been founded by James MacGibbon and Robert Kee and the list boasted the early work of Doris Lessing and Colin MacInnes. It was at this time that O'Keeffe brought back into print Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two- Birds, published abortively in 1939 by Longman's. Though it had praise from Graham Greene and James Joyce it was swept into limbo by the outbreak of war.

The book's relaunch, in 1959, encouraged the Irish author back into print with further novels but it was not until after his death in 1966 that O'Keeffe recovered from his widow the typescript, long conjectured lost, of The Third Policeman, which had been declined by Longman's because of the war and buried in disgust by the author. O'Keeffe later garnered together much of the Irish Times column O'Brien wrote under the name of Myles na Gopaleen, as The Best of Myles (1968), and published a translation of his 1941 comic Irish masterpiece An Beal Bocht - The Poor Mouth (1973). There were many other Irish writers associated with his publishing activity, among them Maurice Leitch, John Montague, Francis Stuart and the poet Patrick Kavanagh; though his scope was not confined to Irish writers and fiction.

The major upset in O'Keeffe's career happened late in the Sixties after the death of Howard Samuel, when death duties forced his widow to put MacGibbon & Kee on to the market. The conglomerate takeovers had begun in publishing, echoing those lines in Shakespeare's Pericles: ' 'How do fish live in the sea, master?' 'Why, same as man does upon the land, the big ones eat up the little ones.' '

Granada took over MacGibbon & Kee, Rupert Hart-Davis and a number of associated imprints and the one demand made of the editors was that they produce 12 best-sellers a year. This was not the kind of publishing that O'Keeffe wanted to be associated with and his services were politely terminated.

Along with myself who had worked as an associated editor with Tim O'Keeffe for 10 years, and another colleague, Brian Rooney, a new company, Martin Brian and O'Keeffe, was formed in 1971, at the worst of all possible times - coinciding with the imposition of VAT, the three-day week and astronomically high interest rates. Neither of the associates could face the rigours of the small, underfunded and unsalaried publishing house, leaving O'Keeffe to soldier on until ill- health finally caught up with him and put a stop; though even in the last weeks he brought one of his back-list titles back into print.

Salient memories are the fresh buttonhole offering worn every day on his dapper person and his dry sense of humour; this prompted the remark when I paid tribute to the passing of a mutual friend that 'Having an obituary in the Times by Martin Green is like buying a suit from 50-shilling tailors.'

(Photograph omitted)

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 People

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering