Bravo Victor: Literary world mourns beloved 'super-agent'
The literary world is grieving at the news that the beloved 'super-agent' Ed Victor, who forged the writing careers of Nigella Lawson, Tina Brown and Eric Clapton, has died. David Sexton and Rosamund Urwin hear tales of a flamboyant mentor and a loyal friend
Ed Victor, who has died of leukaemia aged 77, was not merely the most flamboyant, socially prominent and successful literary agent of his time, he elevated the very status of the job. When he first became an agent, he said, literary agents were regarded as "below the salt" by publishers.
He quite deliberately changed that when he moved from publishing into agency, making the whole role far more important and influential. His client list was enviable: from Nigella Lawson to Iris Murdoch, Frederick Forsyth to Tina Brown, Eric Clapton to John Banville, Sophie Dahl to David Cameron.
His ability to win clients prodigious advances was legendary. He once said the secret of his success was not so much his tireless party-going as being "a killer agent, a shark in the water".
Victor was born in 1939, in the Bronx to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents who ran a photographic store. After graduating from Dartmouth College he attended the University of Cambridge on a Marshall Scholarship in 1961. In 1963, he married writer Michelene (Samuels) Wandor, with whom he had two children, and they moved to London.
He began working in publishing, first for a small Beaverbrook firm, the Oborne Press, then for Weidenfeld and Nicolson, producing coffee-table books. After approaching Lord Weidenfeld in the office toilets - "If you don't ask, you don't get," he said - he was promoted to general editor, working with writers of the calibre of Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov. After launching an unsuccessful counter-culture magazine and the failure of his first marriage, Victor returned to New York to work for Knopf, but in the early Seventies returned to London with his second wife, lawyer Carol Ryan, to be close to his sons.
In 1976, he made his first spectacularly sale as the agent for a thriller called The Four Hundred by Stephen Shephard for $1.5m. The book disappeared, but Victor never looked back. He represented Douglas Adams, and in 2005 sold Eric Clapton's memoirs for $4m.
He never took blind scripts, but made his contacts socially. At one Hay Festival, someone in the audience asked how they could get their book in front of him if they were not on the party circuit and he replied "You don't".
He had his favourites - and used his clout with publishers to get them deals no one else could match. He had tremendous style of his own. Andrew Marr was once surprised to be offered a lift back from Hay by him in a Bentley. Victor told him he had three.
He himself turned author once. Although 6ft 4in tall, he had, living the high life, become a little portly and in 2001, taking advice from celebrity chefs, he shed 40lb in nine months. The book that resulted was called The Obvious Diet - Your Personal Way to Lose Weight without Changing Your Lifestyle.
In December 2015, he was appointed CBE for his services to literature by David Cameron - and in September last year Cameron was reported to have signed with him to write his memoirs. The former prime minister said: "Ed was a wonderful, warm and fun person. My heart goes out to his wife, Carol, and family. He was an absolute titan of the publishing world and his love of books flowed through everything he did. He was at the top of his profession for decades and I was lucky to see at first hand that he was as enthusiastic about what he was doing just a few weeks ago as he was 20 years ago."
More tributes have flooded in. Alastair Campbell commented: "When I heard the news from his amazing wife Carol, who he adored more than anything on Earth, I was devastated even though he had been ill. Ed was so much more than an agent. He was an amazing man and a true friend. He loved his work, he loved books, he loved deals, he loved gossip, he loved intelligent discussion, he loved ideas and he loved the good things in life. The literary world has lost an absolute giant."
Kathy Lette joked: "Ed's only commandment was 'Thou shalt not bore' - and it was a commandment he never broke. Ed was in his anecdotage - he had a brilliantly funny story about everyone. Ed was the Ed-ocet missile of agents - a heat-seeking missile who protected and championed all his authors. He will be dearly missed and deeply mourned by all his writers."
Gyles Brandreth said: "Ed was the literary agent of our time. He had style, humour, charm and an unparalleled understanding of the publishing industry. He was a wonderfully tough negotiator who relished his work and looked after his clients with the zeal of a tigress guarding her cubs. As an agent, he changed my life - he raised my game considerably, made me think internationally, transformed my income. But more than that he was a great friend and a resolute ally. He was also the best company, full of stories from the literary world on both sides of the Atlantic. He loved his work and he loved life."
Chef Ruthie Rogers paid this tribute: "Last week, when I saw Ed in the hospital I suggested he and Carol went to his beloved home in the Hamptons. He couldn't take the plane so I suggested he take the QE2. He said he couldn't possibly. 'If I took the boat, I would be so bored'. For Ed, boredom was a fate he couldn't consider."
Writer Celia Walden remembered: "More than an agent, Ed was a mentor and the very best kind of friend: one whose ability to enjoy life was infectious and unsurpassed - and one who was never afraid to give you a kick up the backside when you needed one. 'Honey', he once frowned when I failed to deliver the first chapter of a new book on time, 'You've been doing warm-up exercises by the pool for far too long'."