Obituary: Terry Kitson

Obituary: Terry Kitson

Terry Kitson started his publishing career as a paperback sales rep in south Wales for Corgi, and ended it as c.e.o. of HarperCollins.

He left Corgi when he was poached by Alewyn Birch to join Granada as paperback sales manager; he was later a director. During the 1970s he enjoyed a fierce rivalry with legendary paperback sales directors Raymond Poynton of Fontana and Bob Williams of Pan. They were the feared but well-respected gods of the industry, which was just starting to take paperbacks seriously. Up until then, they were considered “not real books”. At the time, hardback reps drove Ford Cortinas while paperback reps had Ford Escorts. But by the late ‘70s, paperback sales had become the power of the trade.

It was during this time that Terry built his reputation. He was a great communicator and very efficient, an amazing salesman and a born leader. Unsurprisingly, he was promoted to m.d. of Granada paperbacks and in 1983, when it was sold to Collins, he became m.d. of the renamed Grafton Books. There he built the team into the most successful division of the group, but he also had to learn how to deal with authors.

His direct approach could be unsettling: some were slightly taken aback when he asked them, “are you good enough for Grafton?” He was acutely short-sighted and used to peer at financial documents from inches away, and ask the person who had worked hard for hours preparing the figures, “Remind me why we employed you?”

Although he could be terrifying— probably due as much to his Welsh accent as his poker face—he was much loved and an inspiration to his staff and supporters. He provided vision and direction, establishing good organisation culture, communicating openly and maintaining good relationships.

In 1986 he was asked to head Collins’ Australian and NZ companies, and moved to Sydney. He subsequently said this had always been his dream appointment. But in 1989 c.e.o. Sonia Land left the company unexpectedly and Terry was tasked with the additional responsibility of succeeding her. So at the age of 55, Terry had to commute each month between Sydney and London. He retired in 1994, and spent the next 22 years living in Perth.

Terry was a highly respected member of the publishing industry, appreciated by countless authors for his love of good books and his drive to sell them, and by colleagues for his ability to build successful businesses and for his deep compassion for people.

His genuine interest in people went far beyond the dollar sign. He understood the value of the people who passed through his life and, more than anything, was enormously proud of his sons Jim and Mick; of his grandchildren; of his nephew Richard (now commercial director of Hachette); of his family in Wales; and of his partner Barby, the wider family they had together and of all their achievements.

There will be a memorial party in London later in the year.