Ion Trewin: Obituary

Ion Trewin: Obituary

Ion Trewin, personable, professional and playful, will be missed by all corners of the industry, writes PFD senior consultant Michael Sissons

I first met Ion in 1970, when he became diary editor of the Times. We did a story or two together and shortly afterwards he was promoted to literary editor, a role in which from the start he was a great success. But he had arrived by an unusual route for those days. He had left Highgate School after one term of A-Levels to become a journalist, joining the Independent, a small newspaper in Plymouth, as a cub reporter. It was said that he was the only literary editor in Fleet Street who wasn’t an Oxbridge man. I well remember how important it was to get his attention for a book that had just been published.

Indeed his life was steeped in books and literature from the start. His father was the famous theatre critic J C Trewin, his mother the journalist Wendy Trewin, and he left you in no doubt about the role that their book-filled house in Hampstead had played in his upbringing. 

In 1979, the print unions brought the Times to a halt  and Ion was offered the role of editorial editor at Hodder & Stoughton. He was a breath of fresh air in book publishing and after only a few years, in 1982, he won the Booker Prize with Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark

He hugely enjoyed the mechanics of the literary world, soon becoming central to the running of what became the Man Booker Prize; in due course he also became chairman of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, a position he held for some 10 years. When the new publishing company Orion absorbed the non-fiction list of Weidenfeld & Nicolson, he was invited to become publishing director. Everything he undertook was done with great thoroughness, competence and, above all, charm and good manners. I doubt if he ever made an enemy along the way and I very soon came to value him as a loyal and congenial friend, as well as a sparring partner and customer. 

We enjoyed a great success together with The Alan Clark Diaries, which Ion edited, and Alan’s biography, which he wrote. He picked his way through the dodgy detail of Alan’s life with infinite professionalism and good taste, earning the respect of all involved, including Alan’s wife Jane. He wrote excellently, with great love for the English language and disgust for those who, out of laziness or ignorance, got Style wrong, as in “Lord Michael Heseltine” or “Her Royal Highness The Queen”—or indeed Booker without the Man. So I’d better watch it!

A tale to tell

The personal side of Ion’s life was immensely important to him. He had so many friends and seemed to know everyone. He treated his staff and colleagues with tenderness and generosity, and loved his wife Sue and their children Simon—now a distinguished literary agent—and Maria with all his heart. Without a trace of the pomposity which often goes hand in hand with men’s clubs, he loved the conviviality of The Garrick, and I looked forward immensely to the regular invitation to lunch there. But one had to turn up with a good tale to tell.

There are two endearing aspects of his life that I can’t resist sharing. First, his obsession with restoring antique clocks. I’m told that it took most of Saturday morning just to wind the clocks in the Trewins’ Highgate house, and when required Ion would take one to pieces and fix it. Then there was DIY, which he did ineffectively but with passion. His column in the Times about doing up the Trewin cottage in Norfolk was effectively the first DIY column in a national newspaper. A Black & Decker lorry once turned up at the house with a complete range of their tools in the hope of getting a mention. 

Ion lived the fullest and most exemplary of lives. He is greatly missed. All in all, he was a lovely man.


Michael Palin, author

“Ion was one of the most genuinely good-natured men I have ever met. Loyal, generous and supportive, he maintained high standards without a whiff of pomposity or pretension. I spent many hours sat at a table with Ion, trawling through pages of diary. He was such a congenial companion that we were constantly diverted from the text into stories, reminiscences and life in general. 

He drank enormous amounts of coffee yet remained completely unflappable. He arrived off the King’s Lynn train carrying my unedited diaries in a slightly torn plastic bag, yet he cared so much about them that he would urge me into an extra hour or two’s work at the end of the day, just to get the details absolutely right.

I feel very lucky to have known Ion. He was a fine editor who became a good friend, and I learned much from him. Perhaps the most valuable was that for him the pleasures of work and the enjoyment of family and friends were indivisible; all equal parts of the same man—a lesson we need to remember in an increasingly frantic world. Ion was the personification of the civilised man.”

Bea Hemming, editorial director, W&N

“Although Ion retired only a few weeks after I joined W&N, he has had a greater influence on my career than anyone else. Not only did he take the time to sit down and show me the way around a set of proofs, but he was the first person I had come across who seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. 

He was astonishingly generous, patient and trusting with the clueless editorial assistant I was—all the qualities that made him such a good editor and a loyal friend to his authors. I’ll miss his visits to the office, which became less frequent as the years went on, but always brought wonderful gossip, new book recommendations and the glorious sound of that great laugh. With his deep love of books and literature, he seemed to me to represent the very best of publishing. He will be hugely missed.”