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Former AJ editor Leslie Fairweather dies aged 88

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Former AJ editor Peter Carolin remembers his predecessor Leslie Fairweather who edited the magazine for 11 years from 1973

Leslie Fairweather, AJ editor from 1973 to 1984, has died, aged 88. The AJ Metric Handbook, which he edited with Jan Sliwa, was for years the indispensable handbook in every architect’s office. Published in 1968, in advance of UK metrication, this book became the all-time Architectural Press bestseller. He was a man of many parts and, when awarded the OBE in 2004, it was ‘for services to Architecture, HM Prison Service and to the community in West Sussex’.

In 1957, after qualifying, Fairweather worked at two practices before setting up on his own and undertaking the extension of John Christie’s Glyndebourne Opera House. In 1962, he was appointed AJ Research Fellow to oversee the production of the AJ/SfB design guide programme. This mammoth undertaking made a significant impact on the profession as, week after week, Fairweather and his small team published the latest parts of this structured technical library.

In 1969, Fairweather was appointed technical editor of the AJ, and then in 1973 was promoted to editor. In contrast to his predecessor, Colin Boyne, Fairweather saw himself as a ‘low profile’ editor, ‘leading from a broad consensus’. But the circumstances were difficult – circulation had declined from the heady early days of the AJ design guide library, and weekly post-mortems with Boyne present could be bruising affairs. In 1984, promoted again, Fairweather became managing director of the Architectural Press, the AJs publisher.

Here, he transformed what had been a badly run, demoralised company into a successful and confident group, winning many major publishing awards, introducing new titles and innovating on many fronts. Turnover increased and, at last, profits were made. Some who worked for him at that time regarded it as a happy and productive period. Others, unaware of the difficulties he faced and dismissive of his style, were less appreciative.

Unfortunately, those difficulties multiplied when the company was subjected to two horrendous takeovers within the space of 15 months – the second by Robert Maxwell. Fairweather stayed on as managing director, playing a heroic role, protecting the staff and the publications from the depredations threatened by the new owners. Following Fairweather’s retirement, the excellent company pension scheme was taken over and pillaged by Maxwell, resulting in some very worrying years for Fairweather and other retired employees.

Fairweather achieved international distinction as a specialist in penal architecture. He had won the 1957 RIBA Ashpitel Prize for his dissertation on the design of penal and correctional institutions. In 1961, together with John Madge, he initiated the first-ever conference on prison design as well as editing the first major book on the subject.

Undertaken on behalf of the United Nations, it was greeted with considerable acclaim. The project went far beyond the publication itself, and Fairweather remained in touch with a wide group of contacts in governments, international organisations, the architectural profession, universities and other interested parties. From time to time he carried out visits of inspection (including to Eastern Europe before the fall of Communism), spoke at conferences and published articles on the subject. In 1977 and again in 1998/9, he took a leading hand in international conferences on prison architecture, co-editing, with Sean McConville, two significant publications.

After retirement from the Architectural Press, Fairweather worked for a period as a consultant and as director of the RIBA Clients Advisory Service before concentrating on his work as an independent county councillor. He and his wife, Anne (who ran a local nursery school), lived in Balcombe, West Sussex, for many years. There, he served on the parish council, was chair of the governors of the local primary school, wrote a book about the village, organised the VE Day and Millennium celebrations and acted as surveyor for local churches.

Leslie Fairweather was an immensely modest man; always ready to praise and support others but never promoting himself. As an architect-editor and managing director, he made a significant but unsung (and now almost forgotten) contribution to the architectural profession.

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