There are no words that are adequate to describe Ed Victor (9th September 1939 - 7th June 2017). Quite simply, he was the best of us; and by us I mean not just the agency world, but the publishing industry.
This was a man who lived for the deal. He was once quoted as saying that if he ever received a royalty statement with a cheque attached, he would be insulted. In reality, he was much more of an agent who cared for the whole publishing process rather than just the money.
Unusually for one of our tribe, he was adored not just by his clients but also by the publishers. They recognised his genuine love and enthusiasm for the book he was selling, and accepted that, in the main, he was right as to its potential.
As [Hachette UK c.e.o.] Tim Hely Hutchinson said, Ed was the very definition of a literary agent. Indeed, I would further say that he gave agents (almost) respectability. Certainly, with his public profile there was an increased realisation by authors that they should have an agent, and that if they couldn’t have Ed, then at the very least they should not go it alone.
But even more than this, it is not just the great and the good who are mourning his loss. So many people have called or emailed me to tell of a time when Ed gave them advice, or lunch, or both, when they were down or out of a job. And young editors recall that it was often Ed who first phoned when they had been promoted.
Some years ago, he asked me to be his agent as he was planning to write The Obvious Diet. He said he wanted to experience what it was like to be an author and a client. The truth, of course, is that I learnt more from him about being an agent, Ed style. As the money went up, Ed started to get nervous and in the end told me to stop any more bidding. We then went to a beauty contest. Not surprisingly, it was won by Gail Rebuck [then chair and chief executive of Random House] and her Ebury team, all wearing black The Obvious Diet t-shirts. What impressed Ed, let alone me, was that Gail herself met us in reception to take us up to the meeting. The book wasn’t a huge success and I couldn’t help teasing him every six months at the size of his unearned advance and apologising that it must be the smallest he had ever experienced.
At our many lunches together (when we agreed that, with the intention of splitting the bill at the end, we therefore deserved to have a bottle of wine twice as good) we discussed the merits of big and small agencies and later shared many confidences about staff, clients and publishers. I loved his dignified charm, his enormous intelligence, his ability to do business across the world. I loved the way he somehow knew everyone, the power of his anecdotes, his ability to keep a secret and his self-deprecating humour. When asked, “How many people work for you?”, he loved to reply, “Do you mean worldwide?”
His last two emails to me summarised how open and honest he was, and how brave. “News not so good. The cancer has returned. My spirits are high. I beat this thing last time and with the love, help and support of friends like you, I will beat it again.” And then - and this was another reason why we loved him - “All this said, I am planning to have a quiet dinner with Jonathan Burnham on Saturday. Would you be able to join us? Love Ed.”
Finally, another sad email but still another mention about lunch. “Bad news, I’m afraid. I was rushed into hospital with pneumonia, so sadly I can’t have lunch with you tomorrow. Bummer.” As Andrew Marr wrote in a piece in the Sunday Times, we would all give so much for just one more lunch. In Cuba, there is a table kept empty in Ernest Hemingway’s favourite restaurant. I love the idea of all the great restaurants of the world that Ed favoured doing the same.
What is certain is that we all will look up at parties and wonder why he is not there before turning in tears, as we remember he has a date elsewhere. There will never be another Ed Victor.
It is the end of an era, but we are all blessed by the memories of the most uber of all uber-agents.
Jonathan Lloyd is chairman of Curtis Brown.