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Ampersands, anecdotes and the much-loved Jeremy Lewis

Blog | By Deborah Maby | Apr 19, 2017

Our much-loved deputy editor, Jeremy Lewis, died on the 9th of April. One of his duties was to read and correct all page proofs. He had a passion for the ampersand, which he was convinced might die out if he didn’t keep it going. So he would always notice if David & Charles had become David and Charles, or Weidenfeld & Nicolson Weidenfeld and Nicolson. He was also a stickler for ‘whom’, on the same grounds. I am rather keen on whom myself, mainly because I speak German, so am aware of case endings. I can often tell whether it should be whom or not, by translating it into German in my head. If Jeremy had spotted a ‘who’ that should have been a ‘whom’, I was always rather mortified. He was essentially a writer and publisher, rather than a production journalist, and he could never remember what a standfirst was called. ‘That thing at the top in big type, what’s it called – the stand-fast or something,’ he’d say. 

Jeremy also wrote a monthly column for us. I must have subbed about forty of these over the years, and every one was a joy. He had a wonderfully easy writing style, and he was always funny and entertaining, in that very English self-deprecating way, dredging up lovely bits of old publishing and writing anecdotes alongside more current concerns. Despite being a writer and publisher rather than, strictly speaking, a journalist, he could turn copy around incredibly quickly. He’d say to me sometimes on a Monday morning, ‘Oh, isn’t my copy due this week – I’d better get on to it,’ and, an hour or so later, he’d file (this is pretty good going for a monthly). Alexander Chancellor, our equally much-loved editor, who died in January (help, will it be me, next?) had a similarly mellifluous and deeply attractive writing style but, oddly, I don’t think writing came very easily to him. His writing READ as if it was produced quickly and seamlessly, but I know he struggled slightly with it because he would sometimes come in on a Monday morning and say, ‘Whatever you do, don’t speak to me as I haven’t written my Spectator column.’ Alexander was a journalist through and through, and maybe this was the problem. He simply had deadline mentality, and couldn’t get down to it until it became urgent. So he would always leave it till the last minute, needing to get in a slight panic in order to produce his calm and fluid prose.

DEBORAH MABY, @deborahmaby.