Jeremy Lewis

Passion For Print

The Man Who Made Penguins: The Life of Sir William Emrys Williams Editor-in-Chief, Penguin Books 1936–1965

By

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In the prelims of his book, under a brooding photograph of his hero, Sander Meredeen quotes Richard Holmes to the effect that ‘one of the jobs of biography is to bring back the lost or the forgotten, or people to whom justice has not been done’. Despite his flamboyant and convivial personality, Sir William Emrys Williams was the ultimate éminence grise, a sure-footed and sometimes ruthless denizen of the corridors of power, and as such he had a far greater influence on the cultural life of this country than many more famous names; but it is in the nature of éminences grises to be shadowy figures in their lifetimes and forgotten thereafter, and the affable, quick-witted Bill Williams was no exception. Although I am, as it turns out, one of his traducers, I share to the full Meredeen’s impassioned belief that Williams was ‘a man who deserves to be better remembered’.

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