Obituary: Philip Evans

Obituary: Philip Evans

Philip Evans

Born 4th April 1943
Died 31st October 2021

Author Harriet Evans remembers her late father, the publisher and author Philip Evans

My father, Philip Evans pictured right, was a remarkable man who lived an extraordinary life. He was a wonderful father to me and my sister Caroline, and husband to my mother Linda, but he has also frequently been called the finest paperback publisher of his generation who, among other achievements, helped set up the Coronet imprint and was responsible for some of the biggest bestsellers of the 1970s. In addition, he was a novelist, journalist and the author of several football books and restaurant guides. All of the above was accomplished before and after a car accident in 1975 which nearly killed him, leaving him with catastrophic injuries and leading him to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

He was born in Colombo in Sri Lanka in 1943. My grandmother Elsie had been on board a ship from Liverpool to what was then Ceylon, on her way to join my grandfather, a Methodist minister with a mission in southern India. Phil grew up in Tamil Nadu, and retained a deep love for the country.

In 1953 he was sent back to England to go to boarding school and eventually was rejoined by his parents, spending his school holidays wherever home was, depending on his father’s ministry: Cornwall, Guernsey, Crewe, Kendal and Barnsley. This peripatetic holidaying gave him an easy adaptability and instinctive understanding of what the British public up and down the country wanted to read, so often lacking in London-centric publishing.

He went to Oxford’s New College to read history in 1963 and after university was chosen for Hodder & Stoughton’s graduate trainee programme. The venerable publishing house, then merely 90-odd years old, was still owned by the Attenborough and Hodder-Williams families, and Dad often told us about the time Blackwell’s in Oxford, despairing of payment from him for the books and records he had acquired on credit, sent their bill to Bedford Square with a note requesting settlement, care of Philip Attenborough. Dad was called to the boardroom and asked to explain himself.

After a stint in rights, Phil moved to editorial; he was such a success he stayed there, learning a huge amount from various industry titans such as George Greenfield, Robin Denniston and Paul Hodder-Williams. He married my mother, Linda (later a successful publisher at Transworld in her own right) in 1969, and took time off from work to write two thrillers, Next Time You’ll Wake Up Dead and The Bodyguard Man. Publishing called again when he was headhunted in 1972 to run the Coronet list. The old established publishing houses saw that they had to set up their own paperback lists and retain these important rights, and for a few years Dad was at the vanguard of this trend. It is where his huge talent for commercial fiction—the idea that good books are for everyone—reaped the greatest rewards. He published authors as varied as Delia Smith, George V Higgins and Jan Morris before his greatest hit, David Niven’s now-classic memoir The Moon’s a Balloon. Dad and “Niv” got on extremely well. When my father lay in a coma for months after his accident, Niven sent him chatty cassette recordings from Switzerland to be played to him in hospital.

My father’s car accident in 1975, minutes from home as he was returning from another successful trip to New York, cut short a career that would have gone on to greater heights. He was in a coma for several months, having suffered major head trauma, and lost the use of one side of his body. But though he nearly died, it did not cut short his life and while there was a difficult period of adjustment, I only remember him in latter years being a constant source of warmth, wisdom and light. 

He carried on writing and editing from home, giving advice and support to his daughters, his wife and his many publishing friends and colleagues, who hugely enjoyed his company. He wrote five World Cup guides over three decades, several quiz books and was the editor of the Gault-Millau restaurant guides for a number of years (which he loved as it meant lunching, his great passion, for work). He also published another thriller, Playing the Wild Card (1988). All these books were typed with one finger of one hand.

The last five years of Dad’s life were marked by illness: he survived a bout of sepsis which led to his moving into a nursing home, but his grace and charm meant he had more visitors than anyone else in the home, and was beloved by the nurses.

When he died in the autumn, it was immensely sad but a release for him, and also a chance for his many friends and family to pause and remember quite what an amazing man he was, and how very lucky we were to have him for so long.