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Leo Cooper


Born: March 25, 1934 Died: November 29, 2013

Leo Cooper, who has died aged 79, was a publisher of military books but he was just as famous for being the husband of the novelist Jilly Cooper. They were married for more than 50 years.

He was born in Yorkshire, the eldest of three children, and was educated at Radley College. He completed his national service in Kenya, where he was attached to the 70th East African Brigade.

Physically, he was not entirely suited to life in the military (he was deaf in one ear) but emotionally it was perfect for him and his time with the 70th began a love for, and interest in, the army life that would form the centre of his career as a publisher.

On his return from Kenya, he married his first wife Diana and had a daughter but they separated soon afterwards.

He then met Jilly Sallitt at a dinner party and they hit it off. Cooper was a columnist with the Sunday Times but soon began writing romance novels.

Her first was Emily in 1975, and by the 1980s they were selling millions; among the most famous are Riders, Rivals, and The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous.

Cooper was always relaxed about the fact that the fame and success of his wife eclipsed his and Jilly often wrote about the happiness of their marriage.

It survived an affair which Cooper had, and a notorious column in The Guardian which the mistress, Sarah Johnson, wrote criticising Cooper and his wife.

By the 1990s, Cooper's reputation as a leading publisher of military titles was well established. After the war, he had looked around for a job in publishing and started in a lowly position with Longmans, before moving to Andre Deutsch.

He was not happy there and moved again to Hamish Hamilton, where he handled publicity and started his own series of regimental histories called Famous Regiments.

By the later 1960s, he had decided to set up his own company, Leo Cooper Ltd, and took the Famous Regiments imprint with him.

Perhaps its most successful title was the eight-volume history of the British cavalry written by the Marquess of Anglesey. There were also a number of titles on Scottish regiments, which Cooper always said sold best.

In the 1970s, Cooper's firm merged with Seeley Service and by the 1990s he was working under the umbrella of Pen and Sword Books.

He retired in 1999 and spent his time at his home in Gloucestershire. In 2001, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and was nursed by his wife. In 2005, he published his memoirs All My Friends Will Buy It.

He is survived by his wife, their two adopted children and his daughter from his first marriage.

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