Thompson, Edward (publisher)

Reference: MS 4056Date: 1946-1990Extent: 10 boxes

Edward Thompson was born in 1917 in Surrey, the youngest of five children of a builder.

Educated at Sutton Grammar School, Edward left at 17 and became a clerk, working for a short time as a rent collector for a London estate agent, before joining his father’s firm in Birchington, Kent to keep the books. After two years Edward found another job in London as a clerk for a firm of car and motorcycle dealers. The move gave him more opportunities to expand his social life and continue his theatre-going.

At the outbreak of war Edward registered as a Conscientious Objector. His pacifism dated back at least to his schooldays when he refused to join the Army Cadet Corps. After his Tribunal in 1940 Edward decided to leave and work on the land. He became a pupil on a farm in Shropshire for a year and then joined the Land Army. At the same time he took the opportunity to read a great deal and to join WEA classes to extend his education. He was greatly influenced by his teachers, particularly Elsie Green, who taught drama and in 1943 started the Epsom Drama Group for which Edward acted several leading roles.

Edward became ill with chronic back pain, eventually diagnosed as Ankylosing Spondylitis. After two years his condition improved. He decided to try to become a professional actor and had successfully auditioned for Basil Dean’s company when his back trouble returned, and he remained bedridden for six months. Edward wanted to work in the field of literature and grasped an opportunity which arose to work for the publishers Heinemann.

Joining the firm in London in 1945, in 1946 Edward was asked to become assistant to Alan Hill, the director of Heinemann Educational Books, and was given the job of creating its drama list. Among the first authors that he secured were John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave, and Michel Saint-Denis. Edward later discovered Robert Bolt after seeing a performance of his Flowering Cherry and arranged for its immediate publication. Although Edward’s ill-health continued the firm accommodated him, moving the headquarters of Heinemann Educational Books out of London to Kingswood in Surrey, and he repaid them with his taste and enthusiasm for his authors, many of whom became personal friends, and for new writing.

In the early 1970s Edward moved to Hove, partly because of the annual Brighton Festival with which he was closely associated. He joined the Brighton Campaign for Homosexual Equality, and later the Gay Community Organisation, becoming a focus for Brighton’s gay culture.

In 1982 Edward retired from Heinemann and in his retirement continued to be a patron of the arts. He died in 2001 at the age of 84.

The collection contains notes by Muriel St Clare Byrne for an unpublished edition of Kate Terry Gielgud’s A Victorian Playgoer; correspondence between Edward Thompson as editor of Heinemann Educational Books and various authors including letters from Robert Bolt (68 letters), John Gielgud (28 letters), Tyrone Guthrie (1 letter), James Reeves (56 letters) and Elmer Rice (10 letters); correspondence relating to Theatre Arts Books acting as U.S. distributors of Heinemann Drama Library Series; copy of First Meetings and After, or the pleasures of publishing, an autobiography by Edward Thompson.

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