War  |  Memory  |  Gratitude

Gordon Graham: Obituary

The Bookseller 21 May 2015

Exceptional service in the Second World War was a prologue to a publishing career at two influential global groups for Gordon Graham, who is remembered by former publishing analyst Eric de Bellaigue.

Gordon Graham, who died on 24th April 2015 aged 94, was a past president of the Publishers Association and a member of the Council of the British Library. In 1993 he received an honorary doctorate from Stirling University.

Born in Glasgow, he was educated at Hutchesons' Grammar School and at the University of Glasgow, where he read Classics and was awarded an MA in 1940. This left him with an enduring affection for language and gave him considerable fluency, whether spoken or written.

Early in the Second World War, he enlisted in the army and was commissioned in the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders regiment in 1941. He saw service in India and Burma, emerging with a Military Cross and Bar, and by the time of his demobilisation in 1946 Gordon had attained the rank of lieutenant colonel, aged 26. His participation in 1944's Battle of Kohima – one of the climactic events in the Burma Campaign, which was a crucial setback to the Japanese advance towards India – was the subject of his book that bears the haunting title The Trees are all Young on Garrison Hill, published in 2005.

During his first ten years as a civilian, he worked as a correspondent for the Times of India and as a publisher's representative in Asia, In 1956 he became international sales manager of the McGraw-Hill Book Company in New York. His return to England in 1964 was as managing director of McGraw-Hill's UK-run operations encompassing, broadly speaking, much of the Commonwealth. The next major move came in 1974, to the post of chairman and chief executive of the legal and scientific publishing house Butterworth, owned by Reed International.

Gordon occupied these positions through to his retirement in 1990, by which time he had 34 years of corporate experience working for two major publishing groups. It can be said that the international character of these two groups will have suited him down to the ground: a common enough feature at that time for the larger British publishers but highly unusual among American firms, which felt much more comfortable devoting themselves to the domestic market. For anybody wishing to peer into the convoluted history of a long-established professional publisher, a reading of Gordon's biography of Butterworth is recommended.


Retirement enabled Gordon to fulfil a long-held ambition with the founding of an innovative, non profit quarterly journal serving the international book community, appropriately named Logos. It set out to cater to the interests of authors, publishers, retailers, indexers, librarians, designers, agents, and over 20 years it built up some 700 articles, covering publishing in more than 50 countries,

In the words taken from the founder's prospectus, the objective was to cover issues, typically in depth, rather than events. While circulation never exceeded 400, readership was a multiple of that figure, with academic institutions accounting for the bulk. In January 2009, Logos was bought by Brill, the oldest publishing house in Holland, which had just celebrated its 325th anniversary. The forthcoming issue of Logos will include a commemorative article by Gordon, published posthumously.

Two other important publishing links in Gordon's life were the photographic Kraszna Kraus Foundation, as trustee/chairman over ten years; and the Polish scientific publisher Poiskie Wydawnietwo Naukowe, as non-executive director for twelve years.

Gordon's retirement from Butterworth also marked the start of his increasing exploration of the history of the Burma Campaign and its aftermath. This was to become all-absorbing in the last ten years of his life. The enterprise that can be said to have been closest to his heart relates to the creation of the Kohima Educational Trust, set up as a charity in 2004. He saw it as partial recognition of the huge sacrifices made by the Nagas — the local population who acted as guides, spies, porters, stretcher bearers and combatants — in the Battle of Kohima.

Gordon was indefatigable in his fundraising. As of today, the total raised from all sources approaches £500,000. Since January of this year (2015), Gordon's youngest daughter Sylvia May has filled the post of chief executive.

Over a long and eventful life, many will have their own special memories of Gordon, but what they must surely have in common is recognition of his extraordinary capacity for friendship. He is survived by his wife, Betty, and his two daughters, Fiona Garcia and Sylvia May.

Eric de Bellaigue
May 2015

Read more

80th Anniversary Remembrance for the Royal Norfolks
Service at St Saviour’s Chapel, Norwich Cathedral, 28th April 2024
Remembrance for the Battle of the Lion Box
80th Anniversary service of remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum on Sunday 7th April 2024
Kohima 80th Anniversary Commemoration Service 2024
Thursday 4th July 2024 at 11.00am
We need your help. Donate today.

Consider donating a KET scholarship

Find out more