Entertainment & Arts

Publisher Lord Weidenfeld dies in London at the age of 96

Lord Weidenfeld in 2010 Image copyright EPA

The publisher Lord Weidenfeld has died in London at the age of 96.

He founded publishing company Weidenfeld & Nicolson with Nigel Nicolson in 1949, after working for the BBC, and remained its chairman.

Their early successes included Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, Isaiah Berlin's The Hedgehog and the Fox and James Watson's The Double Helix.

Lord Weidenfeld emigrated to London after fleeing the Nazis in Austria and later became a British citizen.

Having arrived in Britain with only a rudimentary knowledge of English, George Weidenfeld became one of the country's leading social and intellectual figures.

He joined the BBC World Service as a wartime political commentator, working there from 1939 - 1946.

'Publishing genius'

Weidenfeld & Nicolson became part of Orion Publishing Group in 1992, which became part of Hachette UK.

Up until his death, he remained actively involved in his company and often visited its offices, and was said by the company to have taken "great delight in the celebrations when Weidenfeld & Nicolson was announced as imprint of the year at the Bookseller Awards in 2015".

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Media captionLady Antonia Fraser speaks to BBC Radio 4's Front Row about Lord Weidenfeld

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."

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Lord Weidenfeld, pictured with wife Annabelle in 2010, remained chairman of his publishing company until his death

Weidenfeld & Nicolson publisher Alan Samson said: "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."

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Media captionThe late Lord Weidenfeld in his own words

Culture minister Ed Vaizey wrote on Twitter: "Very sad to hear about the death of George Weidenfeld, an absolutely extraordinary and remarkable man who did so much good in the world."

Weidenfeld & Nicolson published the memoirs of a host of world leaders, including Charles de Gaulle and Lyndon Johnson, and Pope John Paul II.

'Unique and powerful'

Lord Weidenfeld recently set up a scheme, Operation Safe Havens, to help Syrian Christians fleeing violence in the Middle East.

He told BBC Hard Talk last October that he had done so partly to repay a debt of gratitude to the British family who took him in as a teenager.

"I feel very grateful to Christians who saved my life when I had to leave Nazi Austria as a 19-year-old, and a family of evangelical Christians took me in as a son," he said.

He said he felt "inadequate help" was being given to those fleeing so-called Islamic State and had said to himself: "I must do something about it".

Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, said: 'Lord Weidenfeld was a man who epitomised community service and leadership whilst his perception of the new challenges facing Europe was both unique and powerful.

"One of Lord Weidenfeld's last acts, rescuing Christian families from Syria and Iraq and resettling them elsewhere exemplifies the legacy of a man we should all endeavour to replicate."

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