Born to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents in New York in 1939, Ed Victor moved to the United Kingdom to attend Cambridge University in 1961. After toiling for a few years as a publishing editor for Weidenfeld and Nicolson (W&N) in London (which then handled the works of Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov), and Alfred A Knopf in the U.S., he made the move towards agent work by founding his own company in the 1970s.
Although back then it was not a particularly well-regarded profession, a series of prominent sales by Victor soon changed the profile—and work—of literary agents. His first ‘coup’ came in 1976, when he sold the book and film rights of Stephen Sheppard’s novel The Four Hundred for US$1.5 million (around UK£1 million). From then on success came easy: he handled Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy throughout the 1980s, Nigella Lawson in the late 1990s, and reportedly sold Eric Clapton’s memoirs for US$4 million in 2005 (UK£3 million), the day after his other client, John Banville, had won the Man Booker Prize.
With a client list that reportedly includes the estate of Iris Murdoch, Joan Collins, David Cameron, Andrew Marr and even U2, Victor became increasingly well-known for his presence in the most glamorous celebrity parties, with a fashionable lifestyle divided between London and the Hamptons. Having stopped a long time ago to accept unsolicited manuscripts, he once famously said, while at the Hay Festival, that you couldn’t sign with him unless you frequented the same parties.
In any case, a small peek at the people paying tribute to Ed Victor should make his importance clear: