Martyn Goff, CBE (7 June 1923 – 25 March 2015) was a British literary administrator, author, and bookseller. He made a significant contribution to the organisation and popularity of the Booker Prize for many years, and was involved in efforts to increase literacy and book ownership, particularly among children.
Born in 1923, he grew up in Hampstead, London. His father, Jacob Gulkov, was a Russian fur dealer who had emigrated to Britain and became a supplier to department stores. After studying at Clifton College in Bristol, he won a place at Oxford University to study English. The intervention of World War Two meant he joined the Royal Air Force as a Lancaster bomber wireless operator serving in the Middle East. While there, he edited a magazine that included book and music reviews, and wrote a letter to the poet Siegfried Sassoon. The poet, while writing later to John Maynard Keynes, suggested that this letter was instrumental in the poet's going back to writing after a barren spell of two years. Goff was demobilised in 1946.
In 1948, Goff opened his first bookshop, in St Leonard's-on-Sea, East Sussex, after working unpaid for a period in a bookshop in Charing Cross, London, to gain experience as a bookseller. He later started two more bookshops on the English south coast, and relocated to Sussex in 1950, buying an existing bookshop business in Banstead. After he retired from the Trust in 1988, he returned to bookselling, and became the chairman a specialist seller of antiquarian works in Sackville Street, Piccadilly.
Promotion of literacyEdit
Goff was involved in a number of projects which encouraged people to read, buy, and own books. His main platform was the National Book League (NBL), later renamed the Booktrust, of which he was the director from 1970 to 1988. In 1971, he launched a literary festival in London named the 'Bedford Square Book Bang' which had a large attendance, despite inclement weather. While at the Book Trust, Goff started a tradition of presenting the Queen with a package of books at Balmoral every summer – his intention being to make a public connection between books and a high-profile establishment figure.
The Booker PrizeEdit
He took over the administration of the Booker Prize (later the Man Booker) early in its existence, in 1973. Under Goff's tenure, the Prize became a vehicle for promoting literary reputations, and it became significantly more successful in one of its original aims: increasing book sales. While raising sales had been an objective of the Prize since its inception in 1969, in practice, before his arrival, had only been modestly achieved.
From 1970 to 2006, Goff was responsible for liaising with the media over their coverage of the prize and chose the five judges. Although he sat in on the discussions to decide on the winner, he is said not to have tried to influence the result. He attracted celebrity judges such as actress Joanna Lumley and celebrity chef Nigella Lawson alongside academics and novelists. Goff courted the controversies that often beset the Booker, especially in its early years. John Sutherland, the literary academic, wrote in 2002 that "The current health of English fiction can be explained in two words: Martyn Goff". Sutherland, who chaired the judges in 2005, later remarked that Goff would have done practically anything to publicise the award. His long and enthusiastic association with the Prize meant that he acquired the nickname 'Mr Booker'.
As an author, Goff's non-fiction subjects covered vinyl record-collecting, Victorian and Edwardian Surrey, and Brighton's Royal Pavilion. He also wrote nine novels. His first, The Plaster Fabric, appeared in 1957. It was one of four of his novels (the others being The Youngest Director, Indecent Assault, and Tar and Cement) which dealt with gay themes. At the time, homosexuality in Britain remained a criminal offence. The book received a very positive review from John Betjeman, and it has been argued that the book's reception helped move public opinion towards legal reform after The Wolfenden Report was published in 1959.
In 1999, he edited a collection of works to celebrate the Booker Prize's 30th anniversary.
He was a reviewer of fiction for almost twenty years, first for The Daily Telegraph, then the Evening Standard. He was one of the first to see the merits of the novel The Bone People, by Keri Hulme, a New Zealand Maori, and the 1985 Booker winner. He was a member of several Arts Council committees and a presenter on the British radio channel LBC for five years.
Personal life and honoursEdit
Goff is said to have acquired, and relished, a reputation as a dandy. He had three main interests: literature, music, and the arts, particularly picture collecting. He belonged to several clubs. His partner, Rubio Tapani Lindroos, a Finnish poet who moved to London in 1970, died in 2014.
Goff was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1977 and promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2005. In 2003, Oxford Brookes University awarded him an honorary doctorate.
- "Martyn Goff, Obituary". The Times. 27 March 2015. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
- "Martyn Goff: Author Biography". Valancourt Books. Retrieved 14 April 2015.
- Trewin, Ion (27 March 2015). "Martyn Goff, Obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
- Walsh, John (27 April 2006). "Martyn Goff: Secrets of the Booker King". The Independent. Retrieved 14 April 2015.
- Sutherland, John (13 October 2002). "Fiction man". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
- "Martyn Goff dies". The Bookseller. 26 March 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.