Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hugh Price - Publisher and Humanitarian

Hugh Price, Publisher
Edited by Beverley Randell and Roger Steele.
Steele Roberts

Hugh Price loved books from an early age, and his belief that literacy itself was a civil liberty underpinned his career as a publisher.
Many insightful stories were told about Hugh at the commemoration of his life, held in Wellington on 5 January 2010. The speeches from this occasion and the tributes that flowed in the following days and weeks have been compiled into this book.
Also included here are Hugh’s own engaging memoir of a life in print, and a detailed timeline of his achievements — as a ground breaking publisher, a champion of civil liberties, a family man and a great New Zealander.

Many years ago, early 1970's,  when I was a young bookseller in Napier, and was a member of the  board of the Booksellers Association, Hugh Price extended me a most generous favour. I wasn't able to catch a plane to Wellington in time for the morning board meetings of the BA, they didn't offer overnight accommodation back in those days, and the fledgling Beattie & Forbes Bookshop couldn't afford to pay it so I faced an impasse. Hugh Price came to my rescue by offering me free overnight accommodation in Price Milburn's offices which were housed in Book House. So several times a year for three years I over-nighted in the reception area of Price Milburn Publishers and merely had to walk up two flights of stairs for the morning meetings.Hugh and I didn't have a lot to do with one another, (although in those days I used to sell hundreds of copies of the little PM readers - largely written by Beverley Randell- to local Napier schools), but whenever we met he treated me as a friend an an equal.I was always grateful to him and I admired him enormously. I devoured these two books with gusto yesterday (Anzac Day) and what do you know but Hugh even mentions my staying in their offices! The books not only provide a close look at the fascinating life of Hugh they also comprise valuable a valuable resource on the history of book publishing in New Zealand. They gave me a real burst of nostalgia.

Hugh Price, Publisher is a companion volume to his daughter Susan’s story of Hugh’s childhood, A Mind of His Own (see comments below). They published in hardcover and are presented in a handsome gift box. They are not sold separately - rrp $49.99 - a bargain.

About the editors:
Beverley Randell met Hugh Price at Wellington Teachers’ College in 1950. They married in 1959 and she worked as a writer and editor for Price Milburn. Beverley was the founding author of the PM Story Books that have been in print since 1963, and she collaborated with Hugh on many projects throughout their life together.
Roger Steele has been a publisher since 1996. Steele Roberts published four of Hugh’s books, and Roger and Hugh were colleagues and friends for the last decade of Hugh’s life.

A Mind of His Own — The childhood of Hugh Price
Susan Price,
Steele Roberts

Publisher Hugh Price (1929–2009) was born with club feet, which his mother had to massage every day, reading to him as she did so. He became hooked on books at a very early age. Hugh grew up in the country town of Masterton, and in 1957, four years after gaining his MA in history from Victoria University, Wellington, he co-founded the publishing firm Price Milburn.

In A Mind of His Own his daughter Susan — a book person and historian like her father — tells the story of his childhood. For over twenty-five years Susan built up a rich archive of memories, jotting down details whenever her father told an anecdote. She noticed the permeating influence the First World War had on the lives of the children of her father’s generation. It haunted the thoughts of their parents and teachers, and some adults were obsessed by it.

Hugh’s aversion to war and violence came out of this environment and he lived his adult life as a quiet campaigner for human dignity. A Mind of His Own captures the experiences that formed him.

About the author:
Susan Price, born in Wellington in 1960, was the co-author of Charles and Annie Aller and their Six Daughters, the story of her paternal grandmother’s English family who came to New Zealand in 1920. In 1991 Susan wrote Books for Life about her collection of quality children’s books; it now comprises over twenty thousand titles. The Susan Price Collection has been donated to the National Library of New Zealand.
Susan and her father Hugh collaborated in 2008 to produce Old Wellington in Colour, a book about pictorial postcards printed before the First World War.
These two books should be in every public library in the land. Well done to the editors, author and publisher - you have delivered us a couple of real treasures.

And below Wellington writer Pippa Werry writes about the book launch, how I wish I had been there.

A great crowd of Wellingtonians gathered at Unity Books on the evening of Monday 23rd April - writers, librarians, booksellers, publishers, editors, academics and many friends, including old school friends of Susan's - for the launch of two books celebrating the life of Hugh Price, publisher and bookman extraordinaire.

Hugh died in December 2009 aged 80, and Hugh Price, Publisher includes tributes paid at the time, along with his own brief memoir and a timeline of his achievements. The accompanying book, A mind of his own, is Susan Price's record of her father's childhood.

Susan's warm relationship with Hugh shone through her speech in which she talked about some of the influences on him up to the age of 20. He was born with club feet and endured a series of operations up until the age of 13, a fact that she was sure many in the audience who knew him would have been totally unaware of, as he never referred to it himself. His early schooling was blighted by a "horrible" headmaster who was bigoted, racist and intolerant - all qualities that Hugh eschewed for the rest of his life. The title of the book comes from Hugh's realisation, sitting in a school assembly at age 8, that he didn't have to believe all the rubbish being spouted out by this man - and from then on, he always had a "mind of his own." Susan said that that his childhood stammer vanished within two days of leaving college, but his earlier unpleasant schooling experiences never blighted his sunny personality and she had never known him in a bad mood.

The book had been easy to write, Susan said, because it had Hugh at its heart, but it was undoubtedly helped by the fact that she had been assiduously taking notes for years, grabbing pen and paper whenever he started a new anecdote, and occoasionally having to resort to Hugh's chequebook if she had no paper on hand.  

The whole evening was a heartfelt tribute to a man who was only 5' 4'' in height but huge in spirit, someone I never met but now wish I had. 

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