The memorial service for publisher Peter Owen, which took place yesterday (15th June) at Golders Green Crematorium in London, honoured the “remarkable, flamboyant, clever man” with tributes, song and poems from family and friends.
The ceremony was a humanist one, following Owen's instructions for his funeral to include "no religious crap of any kind". Owen’s elder daughter Antonia Owen, who is publisher at the Peter Owen publishing company, gave tribute to her father, speaking of his “flamboyant” nature and “exuberant” attire which included embroidered shirts, a snakeskin trimmed leather jacket and snakeskin ties.
Owen's son Benedict read from the first scene of William Shakespeare's "Richard II" and said: “[Peter Owen's] smiles were expensive but he gave a lot of pleasure to those who knew him and almost all his friends have entertaining anecdotes to tell. Peter didn’t suffer fools gladly, nor was he what you might call a ‘people person’, although his manner softened according to his mood and the amount of alcohol he had imbibed.”
Benedict also spoke of his father's political leanings, saying: "Recently, although somewhat undecided about the advantages of being a member of the European Union, he confided to me that he had decided to vote to remain, when he saw the ‘creeps’ - as he put it - who were advocating for Brexit."
At the close of the service Celebrant Chris Gowdridge said: “How could you forget Peter Owen? There are people you remember your whole life and he’s going to be one of them. How could he ever die? Despite the enormous unfillable Peter Owen shaped hole in your life, the publishing company he founded goes on and it will continue to go on and he will continue to live in your hearts, still wearing the familiar tie, the checked shirt, still refusing to smile for a camera, still eating good food and drinking strange cocktails and red wine.
"He knew most of the leading writers and leaders of our time: he knew Salvador Dali, Francis Bacon, and published 10 Nobel Prize winners. He was particularly pleased that when he was awarded the OBE it was for services to literature."
Among the 40-or-so people in attendance at the memorial were Nick Kent, m.d. of Peter Owen Publishers, and poet Jeremy Reed, who recited a poem during the service about a day in the life of being Owen's carer called "Caring".
Also in attendance was author and journalist, Duncan Fallowell, who told The Bookseller: “What I loved and admired about Peter Owen was that he was not philistine. British publishing today – London publishing particularly – is banal, formulaic and terribly philistine, but he was on the side of what I would call the literary adventure, which is the most marvellous and perhaps the only marvellous thing for a publisher to do. The rest is just numbers. But he was on the side of writers, and literature as a magnificent human adventure. And he was one of the last, I can’t think of anybody in London, to replace him. He was the last one of that great age of supporting the art and adventure of literature."
Owen died peacefully on 31st May, at the age of 89.