Obituary: Ed Victor

The legendary literary agent lived his life at high octane and with tremendous style, writes Baroness Gail Rebuck


I first met Ed Victor over 40 years ago when I was a junior publisher and he was already the legendary uber agent, described as the Mr Big of publishing.

He was then, and continued to be, curious about new entrants to the industry, generous with his time and full of great advice. He also pitched me a book, which I thought a great honour and a rite of passage in publishing. 

This was a far cry from the young boy from the Bronx, born on September 9 1939, who grew up in Queens, of Russian Jewish descent and was so clever that after Dartmouth College, he won a Marshall scholarship to study at Pembroke College, Cambridge.  He remained in the UK after graduation, married his first wife Micheline Samuels (later Wandor) and had two sons, Adam and Ivan. 

His first publishing job was at Weidenfeld and Nicholson, where he famously cornered Lord Weidenfeld in the gents and got himself out of illustrated books and into the fiction department and the company of Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov. But by 1970, as his marriage was failing, and in an uncharacteristic counter-culture move, he joined Richard Neville and Felix Dennis to found the magazine Ink, which collapsed soon after and Ed returned to New York to work for Alfred A. Knopf publishers.

Ed described his enabling parents as helping him grow up, "perceiving life as a long highway littered with green lights" so this turning point was an unusual set back in a stellar career and also a watershed moment. In New York, he met a film lawyer Carol Ryan, who became the love of his life and second wife in 1972.

Eventually, in 1976, Ed came back to the UK to be near his young sons and set up as a literary agent with the style and pizzazz of Swifty Lazar but  with his feet firmly in the literary world rather than Hollywood. 

He famously sold a first novel and film rights to The Four Hundred by Stephen Sheppard for $1.5m, unheard of in those days and he became - according to Tatler – the second most sought after guest at parties after Elton John, ranking above Mick Jagger.  His most famous moment was October 2005 when his client, John Banville won the Booker Prize and he sold Eric Clapton’s memoirs for $4m the next day!

Ed moved into a magnificent apartment overlooking Regent’s Park and built an amazing home in the Hamptons created out of two 17th century English barns. He would divide his life between London, New York and later Palm Beach, constantly in touch with his authors, doing deals in every time zone.  His clients included, amongst others, Frederick Forsyth, Douglas Adams, Iris Murdoch, John Banville, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Nigella Lawson, Ruth Rogers, Tina Brown, Carl Bernstein, Johanna Basford, Alastair Campbell, David Cameron and Andrew Marr.

Every conversation I had with Ed would begin with a fascinating glimpse of his social life from the day before, stellar names dropped, parties attended, dinners consumed. In fact, Carol was always grateful when I would visit the Hamptons as I could accompany Ed on his rounds of socialising before we met for dinner. But, this ceaseless party-going where Ed would work a room in record time, towering above the other guests, attracting the great and the good like a beacon, was always combined with ferociously hard work. I would wake up at Two Barns the next morning and Ed was always at his computer, answering emails or making deals, even at 6am on a Sunday.

Ed lived his life at high octane, with tremendous style and was especially delighted to be awarded a CBE in 2016.  He drove a vintage Bentley on both sides of the Atlantic and was on first name terms with all the top restaurant owners.

We became even closer when my husband Philip Gould was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer as Ed had been in remission from Leukaemia since 2002. He sadly welcomed Philip to the "planet of the ill" as he would call it, with empathy and insight, and he encouraged him to write and became his agent.

When Ed started getting bronchitis a few years ago, I asked him to slow down and take more care of himself. But Ed had an insatiable appetite for life. He turned a marathon into a permanent sprint and planned to go on forever as he told us at his 40th celebration party for Ed Victor Ltd, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, a few months ago.

Sadly, that was not to be and this amazing man, the best read agent, best raconteur, best deal maker, best friend, died on June 7 2017.  He leaves all of us who loved him in the book industry bereft but privileged to have known him. His much loved wife Carol survives him and their son Ryan, as well as Ed’s sons from his first marriage. He lived life to the brim and that is how I will remember him.

Ed Victor: born September 9 1939. 
Died June 7, 2017

Baroness Gail Rebuck is a director of Penguin Random House and formerly chair and CEO of Random House UK, 1991-2013.

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