Publisher and journalist

Born: July 22, 1948;

Died: May 24, 2018

PAUL Anthony Harris, who has died aged 69, was a book publisher and journalist who was a central figure in the formation of the Scottish General Publishers Association. He was also a war correspondent, reporting from the frontline in Yugoslavia when war broke out there in 1991.

He was born at Bexley Heath in Kent. His father, Desmond, worked for Customs and Excise and, with his wife Rita, moved to Elgin where Paul attended Elgin Academy. A fellow pupil remembers him as a highly intelligent person, who was good and interesting company. It was here that he acquired the nickname ‘Polaris’. He completed his education at Aberdeen University in 1970 with an honours degree in politics and international relations.

Following a period working as a disc jockey on a pirate radio ship, he wrote up his experiences and approached Clive Bingley, a London publisher, who did not want the book but offered to show him how to publish it himself. Harris took up the challenge and, registering the imprint Impulse Publications, published When Pirates Ruled the Waves. He went on to publish ten other books in Aberdeen.

Paul Harris was one of the publishers who met in 1973 to discuss the formation of a publishers association in Scotland and after the formation of the Scottish General Publishers Association in 1974, was elected the second chairman.

During a coal miners’ strike there was a shortage of candles. Mr Harris made a deal with a German manufacturer and a shipload of candles arrived in Aberdeen. He promptly sold them to a wholesaler. However, when the candles were unpacked they were found to be birthday cake candles.

When Impulse Publications ran out of capital, Mr Harris found employment with Charles Skilton in Edinburgh who had acquired the Albyn Press and was keen to expand it.

In 1975 Mr Harris established his own company again with Paul Harris Publishing Ltd working from his home in Edinburgh. The first title published was about the Scottish architect Sir James Gowans by Duncan McAra. There was then a steady flow of publications largely devoted to the arts. He then moved to a larger house in York Place with an ambitious list of books to publish.

It is often said that Paul Harris had nine lives. In 1976 when we shared a room at the Montreal Book Fair we travelled in by train each day. One morning as we were running down steps in the station, Paul lost his footing and fell, head first, landing heavily with the contents of his brief case scattered across the platform as a train disgorged scores of passengers. We were almost trampled as we tried to collect his bits and pieces. Paul was in a bad state of shock but insisted we carry on to the fair. Nothing broken! It seemed a miracle.

Visiting New York in 1981, we were staying at The Players Club in Gramercy Park. One night there was a disturbance in the street and I could see youths stealing a car. Just then the police arrived and there was a chase. An interesting incident for me, but Paul, who had been watching from his room next door wrote it up and sold his account to several newspapers.

Paul Harris met Carol Smith who had completed the publishing course at Napier College. They married in 1982. It seemed the perfect match.

In 1985 his expansion plans for his publishing business included a share flotation but the exercise failed and he had to ask his bank to appoint receivers. He lost the house in York Place.

Charles Skilton purchased Whittinghame House in East Lothian and Mr Harris undertook to oversee the renovation in exchange for one of the flats at a reduced price. He also represented a printing company in Yugoslavia where he became trapped when war broke out on 26 June 1991. Never one to miss an opportunity, he started sending in reports to the UK press. He was soon recognised as a reliable correspondent as he started reporting from various war zones. Carol was left to fend for herself, the only occupant of Whittinghame House. They divorced in September 1991.

Paul Harris contracted a serious infection in Bosnia and was air ambulanced back to Edinburgh with a gaping sore on his thigh. He was awarded the David Blundy Award certificate for work in Croatia and Bosnia at the 1992 British Press Awards.

In 2002 he met Yumei Sun, known as ‘Sulee’ in Sri Lanka and they married in China. Their daughter Lucy was born in 2004.

In recent years the family have lived in Coldingham in Berwickshire where they have a gallery specialising in Chinese art. In 2017 Mr Harris started an auction house. Another of his ambitious projects was to convert Greenlaw Town Hall into the UK’s largest Chinese art museum with 5,000 sq ft of exhibits. Alas it was not to be. He was diagnosed with brain tumours two weeks ago and declined quickly.

He is survived by his wife Sulee, his daughter Lucy and his mother, Rita.