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Last Updated: Friday, 2 May, 2003, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Famed publisher rescued
Peter Mayer
Mr Mayer left Penguin in 1998 to devote more time to Overlook

Duckworth, the independent publisher that printed books by Virginia Woolf and John Bayley's memoir of wife Iris Murdoch, has been sold to a former head of Penguin Books.

Peter Mayer has bought the assets and goodwill of the company from its liquidators after it went into administration in March.

He is buying it in association with his New York-based publishing house, The Overlook Press, which he founded with his father in 1970.

Mr Mayer, a former chief executive of Penguin Books, plans to keep the company's 10 staff and move it from its HQ in Soho, central London into new premises.

He also plans to make money available for a new publishing programme, and some of Overlook's backers are also interested in funding the new Duckworth operation.

The publisher was set up in 1898 by Virginia Woolf's half-brother Gerard, and was widely regarded as one of the last great independent names in English publishing.

Iris Murdoch
Duckworth published John Bayley's best-selling memoir of Iris Murdoch (pictured)

"This is a very exciting development for all involved," Mr Mayer said.

"The combination of Duckworth in the UK and Overlook in the US will greatly enhance the opportunities for both companies."

He emphasised that Overlook would not be swallowing up the British independent outfit, whose emblem is a duck.

"Both the Overlook staff in New York and the Duckworth staff in London believe it might be just a tad easier to get a duck to fly than it has been for Overlook's elephant to take wing," he said, referring to Overlook's winged elephant logo.

"Do not imagine the duck will just sit quietly on the elephant's head."

In 1998, Duckworth celebrated a centenary at London's Dorchester Hotel with a lavish lunch attended by Iris Murdoch.

In that year the company fired its managing director, Robin Baird-Smith, and attracted a Hollywood producer to try and market its books to major picture studios.

But the strategy failed, and the company quickly found itself in difficulty.

Mr Mayer added: "Duckworth has strong editorial traditions in respect of the classics, and there are to this day inspirational echoes of such authors as Virginia Woolf, Anthony Powell, John Galsworthy, D H Lawrence, Alice Thomas Ellis and Beryl Bainbridge.

"I think the past need not be the dead past. If we get it right, with new books, the past can be a beacon for the future."

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23 Mar 01  |  UK News

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