Beloved children’s book publisher – and the “driving force” behind Private Eye – Peter Usborne has died “suddenly but peacefully” aged 85.
Hailed as a “genius” with “child-like energy and curiosity” by his company, the gentle mastermind who produced the ‘Usborne Book of’ series passed away surrounded by his devastated family, it was announced on Friday (31.03.23) night – prompting an immediate flood of tributes including from Private Eye magazine, of which he was the first managing director when it was founded in 1961.
Usborne Publishing stated: “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.”
Peter’s grief-stricken daughter Nicola Usborne – who is managing director of her late dad’s firm – added in a statement she was “heartbroken” by the death of her dad, whose business produced titles including the series ‘Billy and the Mini Monsters’, ‘Puzzle Adventure’ and ‘Farmyard Tales Poppy and Sam’.
She added about Peter – who earlier this year received his CBE for Services to Literature during an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle, after being made an MBE in 2011 for his services to the publishing industry – that he was a “brilliant, ever curious, ever enthusiastic man”, who was also “very kind, very generous and honourable and principled to his core”.
Nicola said: “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.”
Peter, who this year celebrated the 50th anniversary of Usborne Publishing and who had bonded with Camilla before she was made Queen Consort over their shared love of books, had a “whole day meeting” with publishing titan HarperCollins US during his “very last day”, according to Nicola.
She added: “He never ever understood why anyone would want to retire, and he would have been so pleased that he never, even remotely, did.”
Private Eye hailed Peter “the driving force” behind the satirical title, as well as a “proud and involved shareholder”.
It said: “Usborne wasn’t just about business: it was also he who, while putting together a student mag at the end of the 1950s, introduced John Wells to Richard Ingrams and cartoonist Willie Rushton.”
The publication also posted a quote from its first editor Christopher Booker, who died in July 2019 at the age of 81, which said: “The key man was Peter Usborne. He was the man who said, ‘An end to pub talk, let’s make it a proposition.’ “Without him, Private Eye would never have got going. He was the one that tied the knot.”
Along with Nicola, Peter is survived by his wife Wendy, son Martin and five grandchildren.