( This tribute to the legendary literary agent, Gillon Aitken, was posted on 29 October 2016 on Patrick French’s Facebook page. I have reposted the text and accompanying photographs here with his permission. )
Remembering the much-loved Gillon Aitken, who died this week.
He was born in Calcutta in 1938 and sent to boarding school in Darjeeling aged three; he became a spy, a translator of Pushkin and the publisher of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. Forty years ago, he set up as a literary agent, based from home. I wrote about him a bit in The World Is What It Is, describing him as ‘haughty and charming, commercially ruthless but apparently patrician, a lone wolf who relied only on himself.’ He was also clever, emotional and funny. For half a century, he was at the heart of the London publishing world. In Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie describes being accosted by a reporter on his way out of a memorial service on the day of the Ayatollah’s fatwa. He asked for help:
‘Gillon leaned down toward the reporter from his immense height and said, firmly, and in his grandest accent, “Fuck off.”‘
“You can’t talk to me like that,” said the man from the Telegraph. “I’ve been to public school.”
After that there was no more comedy.’
Here are four pictures of Gillon: in Tangiers (1980s); in Wiltshire with his wife Cari and the writer Francis Wyndham (1990s); in Venice; and in Rajasthan with VS Naipaul (2000s).
Rest in peace.
(C) Patrick French
10 November 2016