Gillon Aitken dies

Gillon Aitken dies

Literary agent Gillon Aitken of Aitken Alexander Associates has died.

Aitken died peacefully on Friday morning (28th October) after a period of ill health.

Clare Alexander said: "A towering figure in so many of our lives, publishing has lost a great agent from a brilliant generation. He was a wise counsel, a true intellectual and an irreplaceable friend."

She added: "I am sure he would wish to be remembered in the words of some of the many authors who valued his guidance deeply and who came to love him so much."

Novelist Sebastian Faulks said: "Gillon was one of my closest friends. He was also my literary agent for 30 years. He was a wonderful mixture of the grand and the modest: lofty, amusing, well-connected but warm in friendship and with little personal pride. The way he lived his last years after the loss of his beloved only child, Charlotte, was a lesson in stoicism and dignity that I shall never forget. As an agent, he was creative, mischievous and drove a hard bargain; but he was also realistic. For my wife and for me, there was no one like Gillon – and there never will be again."

Wild Swans author Jung Chang and her husband, the historian Jon Haliday, paid tribute: "Gillon was a man of great wisdom and great sensitivity.  He was supremely well-read, with an unusually broad culture, encompassing not least a rare knowledge of Russia, its mores and language; among his achievements was a distinguished translation of Pushkin. He was not only an ideal agent, but also a great gentleman, and terrific fun, with an ever-observant eye for the pretentious and the absurd. He took immense, and discriminating, care in everything he did.  To know how much he cared, and that we could always rely on his judgement, in all things, gave us both a much-treasured sense of tranquillity not just in our work, but in our lives. We have lost a great friend."

Bridget Jones creator Helen Fielding said: "Gillon Aitken was the quintessential British gentleman. His decency, dazzlingly dry wit, stoicism, wisdom, erudition, kindness, elegance and huge sense of fun represented the best of traditional British values. Gillon has been my guide and protector since I first walked into his office  with a few chapters of a first novel and, throughout the  Bridget Jones journey, my rock and moral touchstone. I will miss him terribly. He was a rare and irreplaceable treasure in the literary world."

Writer and historian A N Wilson contributed: "Gillon Aitken was a superb, decisive, kind agent. He knew the publishing business through and through. He loved books. (Not all publishers or agents do!)  He was a bit of a legend, and he enjoyed that. Evelyn Waugh wrote his last letter to Gillon, who was the great man’s editor at Chapman and Hall. He subsequently looked after, either as publisher or agent, a galaxy of wonderful writers, all of whom recognized his prodigious intelligence, and benefitted from his wit and friendship. About most of these authors, Gillon had some perceptive memory, or anecdote, not always kind, but always astute. Publishers feared his silences, when their offers were inadequate. His silence was the most eloquent silence of any human being I knew.  He kept silent, too, for the most part, about the many deep griefs in his life, above all, grief for his beloved daughter Charlotte, without whom, one suspects, his life was scarcely endurable.  If I saw in my pocket diary that a meeting with Gillon loomed – usually a lunch  - my heart always soared.  After he developed cancer, he dwelt more upon his past – his childhood, his time in the Intelligence services, and his triumphs and sorrows as an agent; there was always much laughter, even when he had become so very ill. To all his authors and colleagues, he was a unique friend, a role model of dignity and courage in the last sad years, and he is simply irreplaceable."

Novelist Edward St Aubyn commented: "If I'd asked Gillon's advice about whether to write something flattering about him, he would have said, with a short laugh, 'I wouldn't bother if I were you.' He was against excessive marketing and excessive displays of emotion, but there is nothing excessive in saying that he was a brilliant agent and a steadfast friend who guided me from the very beginning of my career until a few weeks ago.

"As a friend he was a rare combination of deep reserve and deep sympathy, of great clarity and wit that far from showing off, he went to some trouble to disguise: an extraordinary person who I loved and already miss."

Born in 1938, Aitken's early career was in publishing, latterly as managing director for Hamish Hamilton, which he left in the mid-1970s, founding the Gillon Aitken literary agency in 1976. For a decade from 1986 it was run as Wylie, Aitken & Stone before Andrew Wylie left in 1996 to set up his own agency. Clare Alexander became a literary agent in 1998 and the agency became Aitken Alexander Associates.

Aitken's stellar list of authors also includes novelist Pat Barker, historian David Gilmour and feminist writer Germaine Greer. 

There will be a private family funeral, but a memorial service will be announced in due course.