Robin Hyman, who has died aged 85, was one of the most influential independent book publishers of the 20th century, publishing the 11-volume, unabridged Diary of Samuel Pepys as well as JRR Tolkien’s celebrated Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. He was also an active member of Alyth Gardens Reform Synagogue for over 70 years.
He lent his expertise as a publisher to several areas of the British Jewish community. Not only was he a founder and stalwart supporter of Jewish Book Week, but also a keen member of the Jewish Historical Society, contributing his own papers and aiding their publishing needs. He was also part of the advisory group to the Jewish Quarterly and advised on the creation of the 1977 Reform Movement siddur, Forms of Prayer.
Hyman’s love of books derived from his father Leonard, an antiquarian bookseller. He studied English at Birmingham University, where he edited its student magazine Mermaid, and began his publishing career at Evans Brothers, working his way up over 22 years to the position of Managing Director, which he held from 1972 to 1977.
In 1977, Hyman raised the revenue to buy the well regarded but ailing publisher George Bell and Sons. The new company Bell and Hyman expanded rapidly through such acquisitions as the celebrated feminist imprint, Pandora Press, Mills and Boon (non-fiction), Evans, University Tutorial Press and finally, Allen and Unwin, with Hyman becoming Chairman and Chief Executive of the new company, Unwin Hyman. It was eventually sold to Harper Collins, but rather than opting for a quiet retirement he became President of the Publisher’s Association just as major issues of freedom of speech over Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses were challenged, and when the Director General of Fair Trading had just launched an investigation into the Net Book Agreement that prevented books being discounted. Between 1991 and 2004 he also returned to a publishing role as Chairman of the art book publisher Laurence King.
Hyman was also a successful author. His Dictionary of Famous Quotations, first published in 1962 is still in print. The mammoth task of putting together 25,000 entries saw Hyman rising at four or five a.m to work on the dictionary before his day job. He wrote many children’s books with his wife Inge Neufeld, whom he married in 1966, including a highly successful children’s dictionary.
Hyman’s humour, enthusiasm, empathy and wide interests touched many lives. His strong belief in social justice led him and Inge to set up a charitable trust supporting Jewish and non-Jewish causes.
He is survived by Inge, their children, James, Peter and Philippa and their partners Claire, Corinna and Julian, eight grandchildren, and his brother David.