Obituary: Stan Remington

Richard Charkin writes . . .

The recent death of Wilbur Smith prompted memories of Book Club Associates for whom he was one of the two most important authors (the other being Catherine Cookson). For many readers today the acronym BCA probably stands for British Car Auctions or even the Berkshire College of Agriculture but for my generation it stood for the biggest group of book clubs in the UK – Literary Guild, World Books, Quality Paperbacks Direct, specialist clubs for cricket, military history, mystery and thrillers and many more. At its peak it held four million members on its database of whom 2.5 million were active book purchasers. It was an incredibly powerful book marketing machine, in its time more important than many leading bookshop chains. 

From 1971 to 1987, the period of fastest growth, BCA was run by Stan Remington. Wilbur’s death prompted me to contact his daughter to ensure he had heard the bad news. It turns out that he died, largely unrecorded in the trade press, in February this year. 

He was born in 1929 to a working-class family in Tottenham. He was brought up living there with his parents and grandparents in a small house but broke out by earning a place at the London School of Economics specialising in banking and commerce. He rose through the ranks at Odham’s printing and mail order business and in 1969 he joined BCA as marketing manager. By 1976 he was chief executive which role he held until 1987 during which time club membership increased tenfold and revenue rose from £2m to £80m. 

BCA supported publishing in many ways. Clearly, the ability to sell tens of thousands of novels to customers leery of or distant from traditional bookshops was a boon. In addition, however, BCA was able to ‘make’ books. Titles such as The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady or The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain were only made possible by guaranteed large initial orders from BCA. And then they were capable of reinvigorating titles. I remember a moribund series of fourteen expensive hardbacks dating from the early years of the twentieth century, The Oxford History of England, being revived at Stan’s insistence as an unjacketed but beautifully-presented collectible and sales exceeded well over 100,000 copies. The specialist clubs were a boon to the publishers of niche titles many of which would never have seen the light of day without the 3000 copy order from BCA. 

In addition Stan was president of the Association of Mail Order Publishers. He served on the Council of the Publishers Association (can you imagine the equivalent today, the c.e.o. of Amazon UK, joining that group?), and he was the founder of the Book Marketing Council. 

He was also a great guy, a supporter of reading for everyone, a supporter of publishers as well as his own business, and someone whose impact went way beyond that of many more celebrated book trade personalities. I wish he was around today to advise us on the many challenges we all face.