Former Hachette UK c.e.o. Tim Hely Hutchinson has paid tribute to Headline’s Jane Morpeth, who died at the weekend from complications due to motor neurone disease.
He spoke to The Bookseller of Morpeth's influence following the death of Morpeth, formerly Headline chair and m.d.
“Jane joined Headline just weeks after the house was established and funded in 1986," Hely Hutchinson said. "It was immediately apparent not only that she was an exceptionally nice and hardworking person, but also that she had impeccable literary and commercial taste. I quickly learned to trust her judgement; if Jane said a novel was a potential bestseller, it definitely was.
“I remember Jane coming to me with the novel Watchers by Dean Koontz. The author had a solid but not starry track record but Jane said the book was amazing and would break him out on both sides of the Atlantic. I hadn’t had time to read the book at the point of being asked to commit something close to 10% of the whole company’s assets, but I am glad that I trusted Jane, who was also supported by Sue Fletcher, because she was right. I liked the book myself and it was a huge bestseller and the beginning of a long relationship with the author. Dean Koontz, alongside Ellis Peters and soon afterwards Martina Cole, provided the financial and reputational cornerstone of Headline’s success.
“What I could not know in 1986 was that Jane would prove herself as incredibly tenacious and loyal as she turned out to be. She loved Headline and everything it stands for and stayed with the house for the whole of her outstanding career. She equally loved her authors and her colleagues and was adored in return.”
Hely Hutchinson (pictured right), who retired in 2017 after first leading when Hachette was set up in 2004, added: “Jane’s judgement, together with her commitment to her authors made her an outstanding publisher. Although she could be tough when necessary, she was the most genuine person and was famously quick to tears - fortunately usually tears of joy.
“The author whose success made her cry most memorably in my presence, in addition to those I have already named, was Andrea Levy, whose Small Island - championed by Jane - won the Orange Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Whitbread Prize and was adapted for television. It was a huge bestseller, changing perceptions of the kind of books that the reading public find most satisfying in today’s world."
He acknowledged Morpeth’s impact across the industry “I have only given you here a glimpse of the remarkable person and a tiny part of the very long list of successes for which Jane was responsible. I am sure others will fill in the many gaps.”
Hely Hutchinson concluded: “I am terribly sad as I write this, and I know there is shock throughout the industry. Jane was the last person whose life should have been cut short. She will for a very long time be warmly remembered and sorely missed as a very special person and professional.”
Current Hachette UK c.e.o. David Shelley has also been among those paying tribute to the former publisher.