Jeremy Lewis

Jeremy Lewis was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1992.

Jeremy Lewis remembered – by Sara Wheeler

Jeremy Lewis was a literary boulevardier with a shelf of well-regarded non-fiction books to his name as well as countless pieces of journalism, introductions to new editions of the classics, reviews, obituaries and all the accoutrements of a career in the world of books. His was not an unexamined life: he produced three volumes of memoirs, such as Playing for Time (1987), all hilariously funny, prone to embellishment and larded with his trademark self-deprecation. Underneath all his work lay a profound awareness of the sad absurdity of life.

Jeremy was born in Salisbury in 1942. He greatly enjoyed his three years as an undergraduate at Trinity College, Dublin, and claimed that in rural Ireland in the 1950s he once found the broken-off head of a toothbrush in a meat pie. His biographical subjects included Cyril Connolly (1997), Tobias Smollett (2003) and Allen Lane (2005), the founder of Penguin. The RSL made him a fellow in 1992; he was editor-at-large of the Literary Review and a stalwart at The Oldie; and he sat on the board of the Royal Literary Fund. He liked to say that he was not a committee man, but to his surprise he relished the latter role. For years he also worked with Alan Ross at the London Magazine. They were like a pair of old women, gossiping across the desk, but were brilliant at nurturing new talent, and Jeremy was always generous with his advice to young writers. Before all that, he had worked as a publisher and an agent, and used to say he had got sacked for hopelessness at these jobs.

He was a large man with a square jaw and hands, as he said, ‘like root vegetables’. In his element at parties, he usually had a glass of red wine in his hand, and you could tell he had had a good night because his lips turned wine-dark, like the Homeric sea. One year, at the now-defunct Poetry Prize lunch in Fitzroy Square, guests witnessed, through the window, Jezzer falling off a bus in an attempt to get back home to East Sheen after the festivities. Not an epicure, he loved the atmosphere of seedy Greek restaurants.

It is hard to think of a more popular man in the book world than Jeremy. For a long period he met with his kindred spirit, the poet and critic Dennis ‘D.J.’ Enright, at half past one every Tuesday in The Marquis, a nasty pub off Trafalgar Square where they were joined by other literary reprobates. Dennis was a Basil Brush fanatic, and Jeremy relished this interest, bringing up the topic whenever he could.

He died on 9 April 2017, survived by his wife, Petra, daughters, Jemima and Hattie, and a brood of grandchildren.

Articles by Jeremy Lewis

Blue Pencil, Blank Page: Diana Athill, Carmen Callil and Jeremy Lewis on editing

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