17th January: Peter Usborne

After National Service in Tanzania, Peter Usborne’s publishing career began at Oxford University, where he started a funny magazine called Mesopotamia. When he left Oxford, he started satirical magazine Private Eye, where he was Managing Director for three years. He then spent a year at a French business school and a year as a management consultant before ending up back in publishing as ‘special assistant’ to the chairman of the BPC Publishing Group.

One Friday afternoon, his wife telephoned him at work to tell him he was about to become a father. He immediately asked his boss whether he could change jobs to something having to do with children, and he was sent down two floors to try to find himself a job in BPC’s educational publishing department, Macdonald Educational. There, he devised a highly successful series of school books for beginning readers, Macdonald Starters, and eventually became Publishing Director. One day, he found himself in the gents’ loo with his former boss who asked him what he hoped to do next. Peter’s answer was that he’d really like to start his own publishing company, upon which his boss offered to lend him the money to do just that.

That was the birth of Usborne Publishing, which quickly made a name for itself producing highly entertaining and colourful non-fiction books for children. In the forty years since then, Usborne has grown to become one of the world’s leading publishers of children’s books of every kind and for every age, publishing books under its own name in English and in six foreign languages, with Editions Usborne in France being the first and the biggest of the foreign language imprints. Usborne books have been successful almost everywhere, having by now been translated into over 100 foreign languages in total.

All Usborne books share a common ‘quali-pop’ philosophy – very high quality allied to very high popularity – are strikingly designed, and are not difficult to recognise in a crowd.

Peter Usborne has two children, Nicola and Martin. Nicola has worked in films and publishing and has three children. Martin is a photographer. Peter recently married Wendy Browning and lives in North London. He was awarded an MBE for services to the publishing industry in 2011 and, with his two children, is trustee of The Usborne Foundation which supports charities working in the area of early literacy, and is developing a suite of free online games for early readers called 'Teach Your Monster to Read'.