After completing his education as an electrical engineer, Stein volunteered for the Royal Navy during the Second World War. He served mainly on minesweepers, and later moved to the UK to work on the degaussing of ships, a defensive measure against magnetic mines.
Demobbed and married to Jenny Hutt, a Londoner, he returned to South Africa in 1947, where his four children were born. He worked on the Johannesburg Rand Daily Mail as a reporter, and later became editor of Drum magazine.
At this time Stein was a friend and associate of many leading figures in the African National Congress. By 1957, the South African government was beginning to prosecute and imprison political dissenters and Stein, like many others, took the decision to emigrate. Nonetheless, he maintained contact with ANC exiles and helped rejuvenate the party's finances prior to its assumption of power in 1994.
He resumed journalistic work in London, including stints on Reynolds News and the News Chronicle, but soon grew dissatisfied and formed his own publishing company. This company, Stonehart Publications, introduced many innovative newsletters and marketing concepts to the somewhat staid British publishing environment. The company is now part of electricwordplc.com.
Apart from his business interests, Stein has published several books, both fiction and non-fiction. His 1958 novel, Second Class Taxi, was banned in South Africa for more than 20 years.
Stein's book about his time as editor of Drum magazine, Who Killed Mr Drum?, was turned into a play, co-written with Fraser Grace. It opened at the Riverside Studios in September 2005, directed by Paul Robinson, with Sello Maake Ka-Ncube as Can Themba. The title is a reference to the 1957 murder of investigative journalist Henry "Mr Drum" Nxumalo. In 2006 a play co-written with his late colleague, Robert Troop, entitled This is your Captain Speaking, was produced at the Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead.
Stein's other achievements have been in the athletic stadium, where he has won numerous medals in masters athletics events worldwide. At the age of 60 he won a Gold medal in the 200m at the World Masters Athletics championships in Christchurch, New Zealand. He has competed against, among others, US Senator Alan Cranston. In 2003, at the age of 82, he won two gold medals in the British Masters Championships.
Stein was President of the British Masters Federation for a number of years. His publishing work also involved the promotion of athletics and general fitness. At the age of 89 he has a pulse rate of 52, which is 20 points below the national average.
Stein continues to produce well into his ninth decade. Currently he is converting one of his books - 99 Ways to Reach 100 - into a website.
- The Running Guide to Keeping Fit (Corgi, 1986)
- 99 Ways to Reach 100 (Century Hutchinson, 1987)
- Who Killed Mr Drum? (Corvo, 1999)
- Second Class Taxi (Faber, 1958)
- Old Letch (Faber, 1959)
- What the World Owes Me by Mary Bowes (Faber, 1960
- The Bewilderness (House, 1976)
- Sylvester Stein (Biography) South African History Online
- Meg Rosoff recommends Sylvester Stein’s "Second-Class Taxi", The N0eglected Books Page, 14 November 2009.
- Michael Billington, review of Who Killed Mr Drum?, The Guardian, 3 September 2005.
- Steve Barnett, "Sylvester proves that old’uns can be gold’uns", Camden New Journal, 12 June 2003.
- Stein's website
- Author at Corvo Books
- Masters Athletic Federation
- Peak Performance blog
- Veteran sprinter
- "More or less invented newsletters in the UK"
- Octogenarian British publisher still coming up with new ideas.