Simon Master was both Clark Kent and Superman, passionate about books with a penchant for “career threatening” lunches, and possessed of a wicked and irreverent sense of humour. The comments were made at a memorial service for the former Random House group deputy chairman held last Friday (17th April) at St Luke’s Church, Sydney Street, Chelsea.
Eulogies were read by former Random House group finance director Anthony McConnell, former Waterstones managing director Alan Giles, the agent Andrew Nurnberg and current Vintage Publishing managing director Richard Cable. Attendees included Gail Rebuck, chair of Penguin Random House, agent Ed Victor, Pan Macmillan m.d. Anthony Forbes Watson, scout Louise Allen-Jones, former HarperCollins c.e.o. Victoria Barnsley, Curtis Brown chair Jonathan Lloyd, Bloomsbury executive director Richard Charkin, Profile managing director Andrew Franklin, and the Publishers Association’s director of publisher relations Emma House.
Nurnberg said that within his family Master—who wore thick-rimmed glasses—was always known as a Clark Kent—“you could just imagine him vanishing into a phone booth to transform”. Nurnberg described how, when at Pan Books, Master “did everything to push the boundaries of paperback publishing”, which included a memorable trip to the Moscow Book Fair, with Master and Nurnberg first missing the flight to Moscow and then arriving to find that their rooms had been let to other guests. The pair contrived to spend the night in the lobby, before the hotelier was persuaded to offer them an alternative room.
Nurnberg added: “When it came to working together we were blessed by his clarity, generosity, sense of fair play. Negotiations were never long or tortuous: a meeting or a couple of phone calls would lead to a firm handshake. Simplicity, common sense, savoir faire will remain his everlasting hallmark and legacy, and in my book he was the superman.”
Giles described Master as both “highly commercial and forward thinking, and although professional to the hilt was no respecter of corporate orthodoxy”. He said lunches with Master were of “career threatening proportions”, but adding that Master was always kind to booksellers, “frequently dispensing honest advice, unconstrained by politics or sensitivities”. He said his abiding memory of Master, was his “terrific air of detached wit”.
McConnell recalled that Master always believed publishing should be fun, and “fun it was during those golden years at Pan [in the 80s]. There can’t be many people who were there who do not reflect that it was the happiest time of their working lives”. Master, McConnell said, “was deeply serious about the things that mattered to him, and deeply unserious and politically incorrect about the things that did not”.
McConnell remembered one trip to New York where he and Master had gone to present a five-year plan to the publisher’s parent board. On the eve of the presentation, Master made his apologies to McConnell and said he had to attend an author visit with Knopf publisher Sonny Mehta. “It transpired that the author in question was Imran Khan, and the place was Barbados, the occasion was the greatest test match of all time between Pakistan and the West Indies. As far as I know Sonny and Simon watched every ball of it.”
Cable described Master as a “wonderful mentor”, “unfailingly generous with his wisdom, happy to help with whatever problem one brought to his door, always offering a solution”. He was, Cable added, “the ultimate publisher in the broadest sense of the word, the range of his interests was extraordinary, skilled in just about every facet of publishing”.
He said: “A visit to Simon’s office could be memorable, occasionally one would find him lying on his sofa reading a manuscript, or standing by his window smoking, sometimes with a bottle of red open and the cricket on the radio. I can see him now."
The service was followed by a reception at Cadogan Hall attended by many in the trade.