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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Eyre, Frank (1910–1988)

by David F. Elder

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Frank Eyre (1910-1988), publisher, is believed to have been born on 21 November 1910 at Manchester, England. He was reticent about his early life but claimed to be the son of Stanley Eyre, army officer, and his wife Berenice. Following a public school education, Frank bowed to paternal pressure to become an articled law clerk; as soon as he qualified, however, he ran off to London to be a poet, supporting himself as a freelance journalist and researcher. In 1935 he published The Naiad and Other Poems, the first of several collections to his name. He joined the London Auxiliary Fire Service in 1938 and next year was conscripted into the National Fire Service. With E. C. R. Hadfield he wrote The Fire Service Today (1944) and English Rivers and Canals (1945), a guide reflecting his enthusiasm for long-distance canoeing. In 1942 Eyre was recruited by Oxford University Press and in 1945, after demobilisation, he joined its children’s book department as editor, soon becoming manager. He greatly improved editorial and production standards. At the register office, Hampstead, on 28 August 1948, he married Muriel Erskine Hatfield Cribb, a production assistant at OUP.

In 1949 Eyre was sent to Melbourne as editorial manager (general manager, 1952-75) for OUP’s Australian branch, with responsibility for developing the local publishing component of what was, until then, primarily a sales office. When in 1951 OUP decided to terminate its representation of other British publishers in Australia, Eyre skilfully managed the transition. He started to train editors and, with his wife, herself a skilled typographer and book designer, built a strong team that brought, and demanded of printers and paper manufacturers, new standards in Australian book production.

As recalled in his Oxford in Australia 1890-1978 (1978), Eyre’s innovative approach forged enduring links with academic and arts communities. He built up a list of significant books on Australian subjects, among them Alexandra Hasluck’s Portrait with Background (1955), Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend (1958), Judith Wright’s The Generations of Men (1959) and Bernard Smith’s Australian Painting (1962). His love of poetry was revealed in anthologies such as Wright’s A Book of Australian Verse (1956) and James McAuley’s A Map of Australian Verse (1975). The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary (1976, edited by Grahame Johnston) was the first OUP dictionary to appear in a local edition and a major undertaking reflecting Eyre’s close personal support. He was also responsible for the fourteen-volume Oxford English Course for Papua and New Guinea (1954), produced with the guidance of the Territory’s director of education, William Groves.

Eyre quickly became a leading figure in the Australian book trade, serving as Victorian vice-president (1952-63) and national president (1961–63) of the Australian Book Publishers Association, and foundation chairman (1955-59) of the Publishers Association Committee in Australia. He proved an effective negotiator between the English Publishers Association and the Australian Booksellers Association over the importation of British books. Committed to increasing the professionalism of Australian publishing, he encouraged young artists to become designers and illustrators, played a leading part in establishing (1952) the ABPA’s Book Design award, and gave lectures to the (Royal) Melbourne Technical College printing department and at the Caulfield Institute of Technology on copy editing. He was a member of the committee that produced the Australian government’s Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers (1966).

Children’s literature remained Eyre’s special interest. He served as president (1964-67) of the Victorian branch of the Children’s Book Council of Australia and as vice-president (1960-66) and president (1966-68) of the national body, and published award-winning books by Australian authors, among them Nan Chauncy, Eleanor Spence and H. F. Brinsmead. A small survey that he had made in 1952 was expanded into British Children’s Books in the Twentieth Century (1971).

In the 1950s Eyre participated frequently in Australian Broadcasting Commission talks programs and became the witty chairman of the popular radio (later television) forum `Any Questions’. He also chaired (1968-70) the ABC’s Victorian State advisory committee. In 1974 he was awarded an honorary MA by the University of Oxford. After he left OUP the following year, he established an editorial and publishing consultancy service. He was chairman (1976) of the Plain English Committee, which produced a style manual for the Victorian government, and lay observer (1981) to Victoria’s solicitors’ and barristers’ disciplinary tribunals.

Strong, energetic and forthright, Frank Eyre was an exacting master. Some thought him too demanding, some abrupt. As the Age noted, he `personified the image of the tall English gentleman, taking great pride in the English language’. He belonged to the Melbourne and the Beef and Burgundy clubs, and enjoyed reading and writing poetry and listening to music. Yachting was an enduring passion. On 6 March 1988 Eyre died on board his boat Pegasus in Port Phillip Bay; he was cremated. He was survived by his wife (d.2001) and their son and daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Nicholson and D. Thorpe, A Life of Books (2000)
  • Age (Melbourne), 27 Dec 1975, p 12
  • 9 Mar 1988, p 20
  • Frank Eyre papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

David F. Elder, 'Eyre, Frank (1910–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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