‘Genius’ children’s publisher Peter Usborne dies aged 85

Children’s publisher Peter Usborne has died at the age of 85 (Tim Whitby/PA) (PA Archive)
Children’s publisher Peter Usborne has died at the age of 85 (Tim Whitby/PA) (PA Archive)

Children’s publisher Peter Usborne has died at the age of 85, his publishing company has announced.

Mr Usborne, described as a “genius” who had a “child-like energy and curiosity”, was also the first managing director of Private Eye when the satirical magazine was founded in 1961.

He then went on to start his own business, with Billy And The Mini Monsters, Puzzle Adventure and Farmyard Tales Poppy And Sam book series among its titles.

Usborne Publishing said their founder and chairman died on Thursday “suddenly but peacefully” surrounded by family.

The company added: “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. ”

Mr Usborne was made a CBE for services to literature during an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle this year, after being made an MBE in 2011 for his services to the publishing industry.

He also celebrated the 50th anniversary of Usborne Publishing this year.

His daughter Nicola Usborne, managing director of Usborne Publishing, said she was “heartbroken” by the death of her father, who she described as a “brilliant, ever curious, ever enthusiastic man, who was also very kind, very generous and honourable and principled to his core”.

Her statement added: “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.”

She said Mr Usborne had a “whole day meeting” with HarperCollins US during his “very last day”.

Ms Usborne 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 said on Twitter that Mr Usborne “was the driving force” as well as a “proud and involved shareholder”.

“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 post added.

The magazine also posted a quote from Christopher Booker, the first editor of Private Eye, who died in July 2019 at the age of 81.

Mr Booker said Mr Usborne was the “key 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.”

Ian Hislop, a regular panellist on BBC comedy news show Have I Got News For You, is the current editor of Private Eye.

Mr Usborne leaves a wife, Wendy, children Nicola and Martin, and five grandchildren.