In Memoriam: Robert Sutherland

Posted by Kelvyn Gardner on February 26, 2018

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Last week we received the sad news of the death of Robert Sutherland, Chairman of Redan Publishing and a major player in the UK kid’s comics business for many decades.

Robert was regarded by virtually everyone he met as one of the true gentlemen of licensing. His no-nonsense approach to comics and the licensing thereof was not entirely orthodox but was all the more charming for it. It was typically of his down-to-earth attitude that when he formed his own business in 1990, rather than study in-depth and at great length pithy titles for a kids’ publishing brand, he simply looked out of the window and called it ‘Redan’ – the name of the street in which the first office was rented.

I was fortunate enough to meet him early in my licensing career when he was head of the UK division of Marvel Comics in the 1980s. As head of marketing for Panini at that time, I worked with him and his team on a number of promotions, cover-mounting our stickers and albums on a variety of Marvel titles. Marvel here was already very different from its US parent. Yes, they published the classic characters – Spider Man, Hulk, Fantastic Four – but Robert moved them into third-party licenses, with titles like Ghostbusters and, a clue to his long-term direction, Thomas the Tank Engine (as it was known). Robert worked wonders with the Marvel business here, so much so that, on the first occasion when he announced his intention to leave to set up his own operation, they tempted him to stay with a big pay rise and an upgrade from a diesel saloon to a Jaguar XJS sports car.

Over the years we became firm friends. He was very kind to me personally and in business. He would invite me to dinners during New York Toy Fair as ‘he knew I would provide stimulating conversation’. When I started my own venture (Merlin Publishing) – just a year before Redan – we found collaborations that went beyond mere commercial tie-ins. When we published a Rosie & Jim collection, Robert allowed us to use his own educational brand ‘Fun to Learn’ on our product at no charge. My family enjoyed a wonderful weekend with Robert and Betty at their listed old manor house in Shrewsbury, an occasion my much grown-up kids recall to this day. Redan prospered and became a major force in UK (and US – through the subscriptions business) licensing with many of the most successful kids’ titles, specialising in pre-school. Many of the key staff that Robert leaves behind have been with the company for many years, a tribute to the family atmosphere. I can still hear his unique chuckle as he contemplated the vagaries of a life in the rollercoaster world of licensing. I am not the only one who will miss him a great deal.