Lord Weidenfeld, publisher and founder of Weidenfeld & Nicolson, has died in London at the age of 96.
Weidenfeld co-founded the publishing firm Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1949 with Nigel Nicolson, and early successes included Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Isaiah Berlin’s The Hedgehog and the Fox and James Watson’s The Double Helix. W&N is now part of Orion, owned by the French group Hachette.
Weidenfeld continued to be heavily involved in his publishing business, which last year was named Imprint of the Year at The Bookseller Industry Awards. In 2009, he told The Bookseller: “I couldn’t just be playing golf. I would go mad. I have five or six major projects on the go and I would like to see them out. I have a three-year plan, and if the chairman of the board upstairs gives me another three years, I think I will.”
A statement from Hachette UK described him "as an inspiration to everyone he worked with, always supportive and enthusiastic about new writers and always wise, and encouraging of younger members of staff."
Reacting to news of his death, Tim Hely Hutchinson, chief executive of Hachette UK, said: “I first met George Weidenfeld in the 1980s and came to know him well and admire him enormously since that time. He was a brilliant publisher, a driving force in the careers of the many distinguished authors he published, taking a delight in ideas, and applying his boundless energy to the issues of the day. We will miss his wise counsel, his generosity, his brilliant publishing instinct and his great insight but there is consolation in the fact that he lived a long, wonderful and constructive life.”
W&N publisher Alan Samson added: “I shall miss George more than I can say. Not only his publishing genius, but his kindness, his boundless curiosity and passion for books. He was an inspiration to so many of us. I first met George when I was a 21-year-old trainee at Weidenfeld & Nicolson’s offices in Clapham and he continued to be the most wonderful mentor to the end.”
Weidenfeld, who became a British citizen in 1947, was knighted in 1969 and created a life peer on 25th June 1976, taking the title Baron Weidenfeld of Chelsea in the County of Greater London. Born in Vienna in September 1919, George Weidenfeld emigrated to London, after the Nazi annexation of Austria. He initially worked for the BBC, before he founded W&N.
In November, he helped fund 2,000 Christian Syrians fleeing ISIS, to repay a personal debt, as he explained it, having been helped as a young man to escape Nazi persecution by the Quakers and Plymouth Brethren.