Thomas Joy

Old-style bookseller who enjoyed a second career as managing director of Hatchards

Wednesday 04 December 2013 02:44

Thomas Alfred Joy, bookseller: born Oxford 30 December 1904; managing director, Hatchards Ltd 1965-85, president 1985; LVO 1979; married 1932 Edith Ellis (died 2001); died Twickenham, Middlesex 15 April 2003.

The bookseller Thomas Joy was a short man, with the bearing of a proud pigeon. He had immense self-confidence and considerable charm. He was also expert in the subjects about which he pontificated. He had been a junior assistant in a bookshop and a trainee in libraries, long before he became an authority on book-trade practice and managing director of Hatchards of Piccadilly: when he later became president of a book-trade charity, he could recall from personal experience the hardship of being on the poverty line.

Born close to Folly Bridge, in Oxford, in 1904, Thomas Alfred Joy was the third of seven children (otherwise all girls) in a lower middle-class family. In his autobiography, Mostly Joy: a bookman's story (1971), he omits reference to his father's occupation. Whatever this was, income from it ceased in 1914 when Joy senior volunteered for service in the First World War, leaving his wife and children dependent on "the miserable and disgraceful family allowances of that war".

Young Tommy, who had won a choral scholarship to a private school, Bedford House, went out to work at the Bodleian Library at the age of 14, earning 11s 6d per week. In 1919 he embarked on 64 years of bookselling, starting in Oxford at Thornton's, first as an indentured apprentice, later as buyer and cataloguer. He moved to London in 1933 as manager of Harrods Circulating Library and became temporarily in charge of the book department during the Second World War.

In 1945, when the former manager returned to claim his job, Joy moved to the Army and Navy Stores, where, in overall control of books, he founded the library. His organisational ability was recognised 11 years later when he became merchandise manager and deputy MD for the entire store. Despite these new responsibilities Joy never withdrew from the book trade. He served on many committees including the Arts Council working party on obscene publications. In 1937 he became President of the Booksellers Association. He also pioneered the annual National Book Sale.

At 60, with retirement beckoning, he accepted Billy Collins's offer to become MD of Hatchards, in London, which the publisher then owned. Here he inaugurated the Authors of the Year Party, held on the Martini Terrace at New Zealand House, established book sections in department stores and took over ailing provincial independents such as the Ancient House Bookshop in Ipswich. He actually retired in 1985.

All this time he was active within the Book Trade Benevolent Society both as President (1974-86) and as Chairman of the Retreat Committee which supervised an estate for retired booksellers.

Joy was always smartly dressed, often funereally so. He was polite, even-tempered, authoritative. He liked to think of himself as supportive of the underdog but the wages he paid juniors at Hatchards were miserably low. He held firm opinions expressed in a clear voice which, in accent, was more Oxfordshire than Oxford. The personal pronoun, often employed, came out as "Eye-ee". Once, when I enquired about his retirement intentions, he replied, rocking back on his little heels, his head tilted forward, "Eye-ee may go to Blackwell's and run their Orientalia." (I'm not sure Blackwell's were aware of this.) I then asked if he thought himself up to taking on the Book Centre, a central distributor currently requiring a new MD. "Eye-ee don't say eye-ee couldn't, but would eye-ee want to?" He took all suggestions about himself seriously.

When Gerry Davies, former Director of the Booksellers Association, was assessing, at a retirement dinner, those Presidents he had served, he remarked, "What can I say about Tommy which he hasn't already said himself?" Tommy took it in good part.

Tommy Joy was a FRSA, an officer of the Royal Victorian Order and held the 1977 Jubilee Medal. As MD of Hatchards, he was officially bookseller to the Queen. He must often have wondered what happened to "his" knighthood.

It was easy to mock Joy, who was undoubtedly pompous. He was not a clubbable, pubbable man but he became an integral member of the essentially friendly book trade of his time. He was able, practical and trustworthy, had wider vision than most booksellers and, as revealed in his memoirs, he could be amusing and flirtatious. He was happily married to Edith Ellis, known as "Bluebell" or "Belle", from 1932 until her death in 2001.

Ian Norrie

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