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Famed Children’s Book Publisher, Peter Usborne, Dies Aged 85

Peter Usborne CBE, best-known as the co-founder of the satirical magazine Private Eye, as well as the children’s book publisher Usborne, has passed away at the age of 85, according to his publishing house (via The Bookseller). He died “unexpectedly but peacefully”, surrounded by his family, on the morning of the 30th March.

In a statement, his publisher said: “Peter was, in the truest sense of the word, a genius – his brilliance was matched only by his determination to make books accessible to all children.
“This determination was fuelled by his passion for ‘doing things better’ than any other children’s book publisher, matched with a child-like energy and curiosity that made him light up every room he stepped into.

“He was an exceptional publisher, an inspirational leader and a very kind, generous man who will be sorely missed by everyone who was lucky enough to know him.” Usborne is survived by his wife, Wendy, his children, Nicola and Martin, as well as five grandchildren.

His publishing house was founded in 1973, shortly after he discovered he was going to become a parent. He was presented with a CBE earlier this year in February by King Charles III, after being awarded it the previous year by Queen Elizabeth II in the New Year’s Honours List, which coincided with the 50th birthday of Usborne Publishing. He had previously been awarded an MBE in 2011 for his Services to the Publishing Industry, as well as being awarded the London Book Fair Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

Nicola Usborne, managing director and Peter’s daughter, said: “I am heartbroken that my beloved dad died this morning,” said his daughter and Usborne managing director, Nicola Usborne. “We will miss him more than I can say. He was a brilliant, ever curious, ever enthusiastic man – who was also very kind, very generous and honourable and principled to his core. He was the best dad I could imagine.

“He always joked that he intended never to die, and we all hoped he’d have many more years. We take some solace in the fact that he had such a very full life right up until the end. He was so proud to pick up his CBE recently at Windsor Castle; he loved every minute of the Bologna Book Fair and Usborne’s 50th anniversary party with so many long-standing customers; he was thrilled at a recent fiction buy.

“He spent his very last day yesterday in the office in a whole day meeting with HarperCollins US talking about the US trade channel expansion that he was so excited by. He had travelled into his beloved office by Tube – as he always did. He was living his life as he always wanted to. He never ever understood why anyone would want to retire, and he would have been so pleased that he never, even remotely, did.

“My dad was incredibly proud of everyone who works at Usborne, which includes many long-standing members of staff. He made clear that any award he was given was owed to all at Usborne and he read every book cover to cover.

“Dad was also immensely proud of the charity he co-founded, the Usborne Foundation. Giving back was enormously important to him.

“The company and all the staff meant so much to him. Irrespective of length of service my dad was a huge influence on Usborne and we’re all feeling his loss hugely.

“I feel very lucky to have had a number of years learning from my dad about how he felt Usborne should be run. I will do my absolute best to keep his remarkable legacy alive as we take Usborne forward. My dad left very clear, indelible tracks for us to follow. It was his greatest wish that Usborne would keep on pushing forward, even ultimately without him.

“My dad, Peter Usborne, always said that he’d had the absolute best life, and that publishing for children for 50 years was the greatest privilege he could imagine.”

Usborne’s passing has seen a number of high-profile names pay tribute, including the CEO of HarperCollins, who said: “We are all incredibly sad to learn of the death of Peter Usborne, who was a good friend to HarperCollins.

“I first met Peter when I took over HarperCollins in 2013 – I took him for lunch at the Caprice. He was there when I arrived – always punctual – I walked to the table and introduced myself – ’Now I’m not going to sell you my company’, he said. ’I haven’t asked to buy your company’, I replied. ’You will – they all do’, he said with a knowing smile. He was of course right – what a wonderful man and a wonderful company he built.

“The word great is often used too freely – but Peter was one of the greats of publishing – and an exceptionally nice man with it. We will miss him and our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues past and present.”

A statement released by the Independent Publishers Guild read: “We are so sad to hear of Peter’s passing. He was one of the greatest ever independent publishers and a hero and inspiration to so many. We send our condolences to Peter’s family, everyone at Usborne and his countless friends across publishing.”

On Twitter, author Holly Bourne wrote: “This is the most heartbreaking news. Peter Usborne was a publishing pioneer, a unique individual, and a brilliantly warm man. He read every fiction book Usborne published and would always take the time to come and talk to you about yours. Every encounter I had with him was golden.”

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