“Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’” was among the musical tributes in Wednesday’s celebration of the life of Ion Trewin, author, publisher and literary director of the Man Booker Prizes. And indeed it was, the sun streaming through Shirazeh Houshiary’s “Warped Window” in St Martin-in-the-Fields, dappling the church’s own choir and the Central School of Speech and Drama Chorus whose combined contributions went some way toward summing up the breadth of Trewin’s life and interests.
The congregants – family, friends, thespians, writers, publishers – having sung lustily along to “Jerusalem” processed out to “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life”. Blake and Monty Python, separated only by the Reverend Richard Carter’s final blessing: Ann Widdecombe, who argued with her editor over the use of the subjunctive, surely disapproved of such a juxtaposition.
In his welcome, the Reverend Carter described Trewin as “one of the great publishers of his generation”, a man whose “insight, imagination and intuition” nourished and nurtured so many. Judi Dench, whose tribute was read my author John Miller, recalled his “impeccable judgment” and Ronald Harwood (his tribute read by Booker’s Jonathan Taylor) “a reassuring presence”.
Thomas Keneally’s winning of the Booker Prize with the novel born as Schindler’s Ark was an early triumph for Trewin, whose career began in journalism. The author’s recorded tribute was a high-point of the service. The publisher was what Antipodeans – “the great unwashed of the English-speaking world” - call “a good Pom”, one who introduced Keneally to “the netherworld of British culture”. That night in 1982, Trewin caught wind of the impending triumph which resulted in Keneally drinking his editor’s brandy as well as his own. The moment “sealed our friendship”.
It was to Sue who suggested to her husband that he solicit from Julian Fellowes a novel. Fresh from the triumph of "Gosford Park", Fellowes was busy but explained over a Garrick lunch that he had a rejected manuscript in his bottom drawer. He dispatched it as instructed, feeling he’d “unloaded a plate of rotten fish” on to Trewin, who agreed that it needed “a bit of work”. The result was Snobs, a bestseller. Fellowes came to see him as part editor, part Sigmund Freud.
Sue Perkins first encountered Trewin at Cheltenham, a Father Christmas lookalike who quizzed her on her reading habits and then invited her to be a Man Booker judge. She was “utterly over-awed” but succumbed to his blandishments. “Ion taught me that I have a right to an opinion.”
As to diarist Michael Palin, he learned “when to get the scissors out”. A “master of the footnote,” Trewin would arrive at his Kentish Town home for editing sessions carrying “a sagging Marks & Spencer’s plastic bag” and looking like “an escaped German emperor”. Their “modest” working lunch would involve polishing off the contents of Palin’s fridge while the question as to libation was answered with two words: “Pouilly Fuisse”.
With the exception of Widdecombe who perhaps doesn’t indulge, every speaker recalled Trewin’s love of “upmarket gossip” – meat and drink to journalists and publishers alike – conveyed over the sort of lunches that are these days ancient history. More’s the pity.
*A collection following the service raised the first funds for a bursary for a young editor. Known as ‘the Ion’, it will be administered by the SYP.