George Weidenfeld was the most enterprising publisher of his day, an absolute phenomenon in the rather stagnant literary and social life of London these last decades. His combination of flair, curiosity, and courage turned him from a teenage refugee escaping Hitler’s Vienna into a successful promoter of everything humane. George was always on the look-out for ideas and arguments, speculating about who believed what, and why. Once at a memorial service, he eyed the congregation and whispered to me that here was a particular subsection of the English class structure, and a perfect subject for a book. The telephone would ring, and there was George suggesting quick-fire some book I ought to be writing already. “Not that?” he would go on, “Then what about this?” And out would pour good reasons for commitments and contracts, followed by invitations to breakfast with some visiting dignitary or dinner with the author of the moment.
I became a Weidenfeld author when Longmans Green, a well-established publishing house, withdrew their offer of an advance on the grounds that the book I was proposing to write about Israel would offend their Arab market. A lifelong Zionist, George gave me a much larger advance for this first of the 17 books of mine that he has published. One critic (actually the disgraced politician Anthony Lambton) campaigned to punish me for writing the biography of Hitler-worshipping Unity Mitford, and George for publishing it. George never flinched, not even when the lawyers came on the scene. So I am in the throng with Paul Johnson, Martin Gilbert, Antonia Fraser, Edna O’Brien, Michael Grant, and many more whose careers have rested on his unqualified support.
A huge party of guests from all over the world was given to celebrate George’s 90th birthday, and in a speech he asked us to note in our diaries the date for his 100th birthday. Alas, he has died at only 96. R.I.P.