John Hitchin dies at 88

John Hitchin dies at 88

Former publisher and bookseller John Hitchin, one-time Penguin marketing director and a president of the Booksellers Association, has died at the age of 88.

Hitchin passed away peacefully in his sleep at the weekend.

Born in Finchley, London, in 1933, Hitchin left school at 16 and did national service in the navy, before training as a retailer at Harrods and at the College of Distributive Trades. He joined Penguin Books in 1959 and remained there for 31 years, starting in the publicity department and then becoming its first European rep.

He was made publicity manager in 1962, where he was responsible for innovations including the display dumpbin, and became the first educational marketing manager in 1967, launching Penguin Education. In 1973 he was made development director, launching the Puffin School Book Club.

After a stint in New York as vice-president of Penguin Books USA, with a brief to reorganise sales and marketing, he returned to the UK in 1976, becoming marketing director. He opened the first Penguin Bookshop in Covent Garden in 1980, followed by a further nine shops, becoming retail director in the process. 

In 1990 he organised a management buyout from Penguin, forming Phoenix Bookshops Ltd, of which he was chief executive. Two further bookshops were opened in Lincoln and Hull, before the sale of the shops in 1995.

Hitchin was appointed to the council of the Booksellers Association and served as its president from 1992-94, as well as being a director of Book Tokens. He was a prime mover in introducing World Book Day to the UK and became an honorary life member of both the BA and the International Booksellers Federation. 

He was president of the European Booksellers Federation from 1993-99, with an office in Brussels, where he made regular visits to meet with officials of the European Commission, MEPs and the Council of Europe.

In retirement he remained active, including campaigning for a new library for Hereford, where he was based.

He leaves behind Ute, to whom he was married for 59 years, as well as children Martin and Megan, and three grandchildren.

Former Booksellers Association chief executive Tim Godfray said: "He was passionate about books, and loved the book trade. He felt he was so fortunate to have been in an industry which had so many interesting people and fabulous books. He wanted to give something back, hence the time he devoted to the BA and EBF. The Brits aren’t renowned for their language skills, so it was such a pleasure to see John conversing with European Commissioners and other EU officials in German and French. 

"He had that really valuable trait of being able to see things as a publisher and also as a bookseller. I got to know him really well and he became a personal friend. On the night John died he had four books by his bedside: the Odes of Horace, The Palliser Novels by Trollope, People, Power and Profits by Joseph Stieglitz, and Keats’ Selected Poems. Typical John."  

The funeral will be held privately, but condolences and letters of appreciation would be gladly received by daughter Megan Hitchin at

A full obituary will follow in The Bookseller at a later date.