Tom Kremer was a games designer, entrepreneur and publisher, best known for his discovery and popularisation of the Rubik’s Cube. As an octogenerian he had founded the publishing house, Notting Hill Editions, with the aim of reinvigorating the lost art of the essay.
Kremer was born in Transylvania in 1930, the son of an army officer. As a teenager he was imprisoned at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, finding freedom again on its liberation in April 1945. Travelling to Israel he joined the fight for the fledgling country’s independence, gained in 1948. Following studies in philosophy at Edinburgh University, where he met his wife-to-be, he carried out post-graduate research at the Sorbonne.
Kremer had been living in England and working in games design since the 1960s when he visited a trade show in Germany and saw the Rubik’s Cube for the first time in 1979. His son David recalled: “The cube wasn’t a big sensation at the Nuremberg toy fair: it was just a small thing in a backwater section at this huge event.” Kremer licensed the design to the Ideal Toy Company, which by 1983 had already sold some 300m of the fiendishly complicated 3D puzzle. The Cube’s worldwide success came, he said, because it “challenges you with simplicity. You can handle it, and yet it has enormous hidden complexity.” But it also became a victim of its own success, as his son explained: “Everybody had one. The cube went from world’s greatest fad to zero: there were thousands piled up in warehouses.” Kremer later reacquired the license, allowing him to introduce it to new generations of puzzlers.
His book, The Missing Heart of Europe: Does Britain Hold the Key to the Future of the Continent?, was published in 2004. Here he argues that the British are inherently “eccentric” or divergent, whilst the French and Germans are “concentric”, tending towards a single centre of power. He was for leaving the EU, envisioning what he described as a "semi detached" relationship to Europe, and advocating for the development of a “new European people’s agenda” including a “reversal of the ongoing centrally directed process of standardisation”.
Kremer established Notting Hill Editions in 2011 to focus on a writing form he felt had been forgotten in recent times. “The essay is brief but it allows the writer to explore ideas deeply and personally”, he explained, “Once I hit my 80s, I had the time and the opportunity to become a publisher, and so I decided to finally give my time to this long-held passion.” Resisting the trend to publish solely digitally, the press has to date brought out some 50 titles, encompassing works by notable authors such Virginia Woolf and Oscar Wilde as well as newer writers, and is now run by his daughter, Kim Kremer.
Two years after he established the press, he created the biennial Notting Hill Editions Essay Prize, with a top award of £20,000. The inaugural prize was won by the Canadian ethicist, Michael Ignatieff, with an essay on Raphael Lemkin, the lawyer who coined the word “genocide”. In 2015 this newspaper published the prize-winning essay, Eulogy for Nigger by David Bradley, which sought to expose what the author describes as a “glossing-over of prejudice”.
Kremer had since 1979 lived in an Elizabethan manor house in Devon, lovingly restored by himself and his wife Lady Alison Balfour.
Thomas Kremer, entrepreneur and publisher, born 26 May 1930, died 24 June 2017
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