Obituary: Paul Scherer, publisher

Paul Scherer: The Scot behind the success of Transworld Publishing
Paul Scherer: The Scot behind the success of Transworld Publishing
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Born: 28 December, 1933, in Glasgow. Died: 28 October, 2013, in Sussex, aged 79

Paul Scherer was the eminent managing director of Transworld Publishing and greatly respected by his colleagues and authors. He had an infectious personality and an unfailing nose for a successful writer. His personal dynamism and sheer hard work transformed the fortunes of a paperback business and built a stable of best-selling authors.

Larry Finlay, the current managing director of Transworld, has said: “Paul was both highly respected professionally and much loved by those who worked with him.

“I said to him recently we are, all of us, in many ways still living his legacy and owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.”

Paul Joseph Scherer, whose Swiss father had emigrated to the UK after the First World War, arrived as a penniless refugee. He worked as a porter at the Grand Hotel in Brighton and was soon promoted to the post of head waiter at Gleneagles in the summer and, in the winter, Glasgow’s Central Hotel.

He later bought the Royal British Hotel in Edinburgh in 1936 and after that the Loch Rannoch Hotel in Perthshire.

Scherer’s education started in Perth but after the family moved south he attended Stonyhurst. He did not take up his place to read history at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, and after National Service with the Royal East Kent Regiment (the Buffs) he entered the world of publishing.

After some menial posts he slowly worked his way up the publishing ladder to be sales manager at Penguin. His appointment coincided with the firm’s historic publication in 1960 of DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

It was a runaway best seller and when the book was prosecuted in the High Court for obscenity the sales rocketed. It re-established Penguin as a major international publishing house and Scherer as a canny operator in the business.

Scherer had reservations about the book: he considered it “a not very riveting tale”.

Scherer left Penguin in 1963 and was appointed to senior posts at Paul Hamlyn, William Collins’ and as president of Collins World & USA in Ohio.

In 1977 he returned to the UK as managing director of Mills & Boon – the publisher of romantic fiction.

Scherer was assured by the board that he did not have to read all their books. Early on he was approached by a clearly nervous member of the Boon family as he felt a book “was a touch racy for us. I found two nipples in the first chapter.” Scherer read the book and counted three nipples. He ensured the book was published.

His commercial acumen enhanced his reputation and few colleagues were surprised when he was offered in 1982 the post of managing director of Transworld – the UK subsidiary of the US publishers Bantam.

The company was not in a financially strong position and only published paperbacks, so Scherer’s experience at Penguin would prove vital. An early decision was to publish both paper and hardbacks and recruit a whole band of best-selling authors.

Scherer turned it into a house of imagination and invention and published both hardbacks and paperbacks. He attracted best-selling authors such as Jilly Cooper, Catherine Cookson, Joanna Trollope and Frederick Forsyth and upgraded the selling methods and publicity.

But it was his acute skill as a manager that turned Transworld into a hugely profitable organisation. During the 1960s its Corgi Books division had enjoyed a phenomenal success with such works as Catch 22 and The Naked Ape. By the 1980s the business was on the wane and Scherer completely rethought the company’s format.

Scherer used to ring Cookson at least once a week to discuss publication dates and cover pictures.

She had left Heinemann after Scherer had negotiated an astute deal offering her £4 million for her next nine novels.

Forsyth considered Scherer “everything an author might look for in a publisher, and above all a man of his word”. The irrepressible Jilly Cooper said: “Paul is terribly kind and even gives the impression that he had read one’s books.”

Scherer retired in 1995 and acted as a non-executive director of Bloomsbury Publishing. He was a devout Catholic and was much involved with publishing institutions such as the British Library and the Book Marketing Council. He was actively involved in many charities, notably Whizz-Kidz, which helps disabled children.

Scherer was an admired colleague. In Who’s Who he said his recreation was “laughing at my own jokes”.

He is survived by his wife, Mary, whom he married in 1959, a son and three daughters.