William Emrys Williams

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Bill Williams (1896–1977) was Editor-in-Chief of Penguin Books from 1936 to 1965 and powerhouse of popular education in the 20th century. [1]

A close collaborator with Allen Lane, Penguin's founder, for over thirty years, he was the cultural force behind Penguin Books' success. Creator of the Pelican imprint, he was devoted to lifelong learning and cultural democracy.

In 1934 he set up the Arts for the People scheme, taking fine art to gallery-less towns.

During the Second World War he insisted - despite controversy - on the right to education for servicemen and women, and ran the Army Bureau of Current Affairs.

In 1940 Williams was instrumental in establishing CEMA, the Committee for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts.

From 1951 to 1963 Williams was Secretary-General of its successor, the Arts Council.

A regular broadcaster, he was talks critic of The Listener, radio critic of The Observer and television critic of the New Statesman.

He gained a CBE and knighthood.

Williams had a turbulent personal life combining a happy marriage to the economist Gertrude Rosenblum and a passionate 15-year relationship with Estrid Bannister - 'the Naughtiest Girl of the Century'. His secretary, Joyce Lyon, burned his memoirs before taking her own life, the night after his death.

According to the back cover of "A Book of English Essays" that he edited: "W. E. Williams, C.B.E., who has edited this selection of English Essays, has had a close connexion with many enterprises in popular education. Thus in 1934 he initiated the 'Art for the People' plan which a few years later stimulated the formation of the Arts Council. During the war he created the Army Bureau of Current Affairs (A B C A) and subsequently under the auspices of the Carnegie Trust, transformed it for peace-time uses into the Bureau of Current Affairs. He was for several years the Radio Critic of The Observer and Television critic of The New Statesman, and, before he took to criticism, was himself a successful broadcaster and televiser. He is now Secretary-General of the Arts Council of Great Britain and a Trustee of the National Gallery." [2]


[1] Sander Meredeen: The Man Who Made Penguins. The Life of Sir William Emrys Williams, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Darien-Jones Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1-902487-03-8. [2] Williams, W. E. (Ed.) 'A Book of English Essays'. A Pelican Book published by Penguin Books. First published 1942. Reprinted 1954.