Swashbuckling publisher Jocelyn Stevens dies

Sir Jocelyn Stevens, who died on Sunday aged 82, could have been a character in an Evelyn Waugh novel.

He was the nephew of Sir Edward Hulton who owned the famous British magazine Picture Post in the 1930s, which no doubt helped him embark on a swashbuckling career as a publisher.

Sir-Jocelyn-StevensAlthough he didn’t have serious money of his own he moved in gilded circles; marrying Princess Margaret’s lady-in-waiting Jane Sheffield (model Cara Delevingne is his granddaughter) and he later took up with heiress Vivien Duffield, daughter of famed 1950s tycoon Charles Clore, who owned Selfridges among other businesses.

His first big publishing venture was Queen magazine, which he tried to change from a society mag to a trendy sixties-style Vanity Fair lookalike. It later became part of Hearst’s Harpers & Queen. He then enjoyed a spell as managing director of Express Newspapers, although not many other people did. Under Stevens, who used to roar around town in a chauffeur-driven souped-up black Ford Escort, the once-mighty Daily Express’s decline accelerated as he burned through a series of editors.

I came across him when, while editor of Marketing Week, he shipped up out of nowhere as a shareholder in owner Marketing Week Communications. Most of the hacks were horrified at this seeming combination of Bertie Wooster and Genghis Khan crossing the threshold but we were reassured that he wouldn’t be seen on the premises, not a chance. Two days later he turned up at a hastily-convened party.

True to form, Jocelyn proved to be a commercial disaster; launching a glossy giveaway called The Magazine which hoovered up the company’s limited funds. Editors came and went too. I returned from a long weekend in Bangkok (don’t ask) with the then editor Nick Monson. “I’m going to be fired when I get back,” Nick told me as we approached Heathrow. “Don’t be daft,” I said, “You’ve only just got the job.” Fired he duly was.

But, amazingly, Jocelyn landed on his feet. Marketing Week Communications boss Graham Sherren (member of another publishing dynasty) found a US private equity backer and the company was eventually floated as Centaur Communications. And Jocelyn’s shareholding proved worth millions despite his debatable contribution to the company’s fortunes.

He went on to be chairman of English Heritage (in an earlier life he’d probably have knocked most of the stately homes down) during which time he was knighted. Not quite sure what for but it may not have been services to publishing.

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