|Born||27 May 1947
Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, England
|Died||22 June 2014 (aged 67)
Dorsington, Warwickshire, England
|Residence||Dorsington and Mustique|
|Occupation||Founder of Dennis Publishing|
|Net worth||More than £750m|
Felix Dennis (27 May 1947 – 22 June 2014) was an English publisher, poet, spoken word performer and philanthropist. His company, Dennis Publishing, pioneered computer and hobbyist magazine publishing in the United Kingdom. In more recent times, the company added lifestyle titles such as its flagship brand The Week, which is published in the UK and the United States.
Felix Dennis was born just after midnight, on Tuesday 27 May 1947 in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, the son of a part-time jazz pianist who ran a tobacconist’s shop. He grew up poor in northeast Surrey, for a time living in his grandparents’ tiny terrace house in Thames Ditton, not far from his birthplace, with his mother, Dorothy, and brother Julian. A place with “no electricity, no indoor lavatory or bathroom… no electric light, but gas and candles”.
In 2006 Felix said in interview with The Observer‘s Oliver Marre,
“I was brought up in rather unusual circumstances. When I was three, my father emigrated to Australia and for reasons I’ve never wanted to know, my mother didn’t follow him. Eventually they got divorced, which was incredibly unusual at that time. So I was brought up by a very strong woman who set out to prove that her early failure, which is how she must have seen it, was not going to blight her children’s lives. She went to nightschool, trained as a chartered accountant, and turned us middle- class. Meanwhile, I was the alpha male in the family. When I was about 14, my mother remarried a gentle giant. He was a wonderful man, but for me he was a second alpha male in the house and that meant I left home very early”.
In 1964, Dennis moved into his first bedsit at 13, St Kildas Road, Harrow, earning rent playing in R&B bands and working as a window display artist in department stores. Briefly working as a sign-painter, he blagged a place at Harrow College of Art.
In 1967, Dennis’s career started as a street seller, selling copies of the underground counterculture magazine OZ magazine on the streets of London’s Kings Road. The magazine printed a mixture of left-field stories, discussions of drugs, sex and contentious political stories. He then gained an informal apprenticeship in magazine design with Jon Goodchild, OZ’s first art director, who later moved to Rolling Stone in California.
After passing out at a friend’s party, he woke up in a flat shared by several young women in Walsingham Mansions on the Fulham Road and moved in, paying rent by cleaning the flat. What would become a massive collection of ’60s and ’70s graphic art began in a small way with the posters of Martin Sharp, one of the originators of OZ magazine.
In 1969, Dennis wrote a world exclusive for OZ, the first ever review of Led Zeppelin‘s debut album. He was quickly promoted to co-editor and became involved in the longest conspiracy trial in English history over the infamous “OZ No.28, The Schoolkids Issue“. While Richard Neville was on holiday, Jim Anderson and Dennis had invited 5th and 6th-form kids to edit the issue. They included a sexually explicit Rupert the Bear cartoon strip, which proved too much for the authorities and resulted in the arrest of Anderson, Neville and Dennis, who were charged with “conspiracy to corrupt public morals”. The OZ offices in Princedale Rd, Notting Hill and the homes of its editors were repeatedly raided by Scotland Yard‘s Obscene Publications Squad.
Dennis recorded a single with John Lennon to raise money for a legal defence fund.
At the conclusion of the trial, the ‘OZ Three’, defended by John Mortimer, were found not guilty on the charge of “Conspiracy to deprave and corrupt the Morals of the Young of the Realm”, but were convicted on two lesser offences and sentenced to imprisonment. Dennis received a more lenient sentence than his co-defendants because he was, in the opinion of the judge, “much less intelligent” and therefore less culpable. These convictions were later quashed on appeal. Dennis later told author Jonathan Green that on the night before the appeal was heard, the OZ editors were taken to a secret meeting with the Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, who told them that they would be acquitted if they agreed to give up work on OZ. It is alleged that MPs Tony Benn and Michael Foot had interceded on their behalf.
In 1973, following acquittal by the Court of Appeal, Dennis went on to found his own magazine publishing company. With the rising popularity of martial arts with the film Enter the Dragon, Dennis’s Kung-Fu Monthly became a success just two years after the Oz trial, making over £60,000 in its first year. The small company also managed to break into the US market, with the launch of Computer Shopper – a pioneering magazine whose advertisements for hardware and software may have been more widely read than the editorial. The US magazine was a huge success and was sold eventually to publisher Bill Ziff. Felix Dennis’s success in the US and in building magazines that other companies wanted to buy expensively from him had begun and would be repeated over the following 30 years. One characteristic of Dennis’s UK publishing which flowed directly from his US experiences was his insistence on building up US-like posted subscriptions to his magazines in preference to the news-stand sales which then (as now) dominated UK magazine sales. As a result, the Dennis magazines have been partly insulated from the sharp declines in new stand sales which have wreaked havoc among UK publishers. That establishment of readership databases has similarly helped his company build online revenues.
Dennis was the second publisher of Personal Computer World which he later sold to VNU, and established MacUser which he sold to Ziff Davis Publishing in the mid-eighties. In 1987, he co-founded MicroWarehouse, with Peter Godfrey and Bob Bartner, a company that pioneered direct IT marketing via high quality catalogues. The computer mail order company eventually went public on the NASDAQ in 1992. At the time it had 3500 employees in 13 countries with worldwide sales in 2000 of $2.5 billion. It was sold to a private investment group in January 2000. This created the bulk of Dennis’ personal wealth. Dennis launched further successful IT titles Computer Shopper and PC World.
In 1995, Dennis Publishing created Maxim, a title that began on the back of a beer mat and became the world’s biggest selling men’s lifestyle magazine and global brand. In 1996, Dennis acquired a majority stake in what is now Dennis Publishing’s flagship brand The Week which is published in the UK and US and translates to a global circulation of over 700,000 (ABC audited). Over the following years it purchased the remainder of shares from original founder Joylon Connell and Jeremy O’Grady. 2003 saw the purchase of IFG Limited (I Feel Good) from Loaded founder James Brown. The purchase involved titles Viz, Fortean Times and Bizarre being added to the Dennis Publishing stable. In June 2007, Dennis sold his US magazine operation which published the magazines Blender, Maxim and Stuff to Alpha Media Group for a reported $250 million USD although exact details were never disclosed.
In 2008, Dennis Publishing established digital magazines iGizmo, iMotor and Monkey along with the purchase of The First Post from the Kensington based First Post Group for an undisclosed sum. The award winning online magazine which gained a D&AD nomination for viral marketing was headed-up by former Telegraph editor Mark Law and Evening Standard editor Nigel Horne. This title later morphed into The Week.
In 2013, Dennis remains the sole owner of Dennis Publishing, with offices in both London and New York City. It currently holds over 50 magazine titles, digital magazines, websites and mobile sites in the UK including The Week, Auto Express, PC Pro, CarBuyer and Viz. Its flagship brand The Week continues to be published in the US alongside Mental Floss magazine.
Writing and performance
In 2001, while at hospital, Dennis wrote his first poem on a post-it note. Within a year, he wrote his first book of verse A Glass Half Full, published by Hutchinson in the UK. The launch of this book was accompanied by the first of Dennis’s UK-wide poetry reading tours entitled “Did I Mention the Free Wine?”. Audiences are offered fine French wine from Dennis’s personal cellar whilst watching him perform his poetry on stage. Dennis’s poetry has been featured on radio interviews, in the national press and the subject of two television documentaries in both the UK and US.
In October 2003, Dennis appeared with the Royal Shakespeare Company, along with RSC actors, reading from his work at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. With the second publication of A Glass Half Full, by Random House in the US in 2004, Dennis embarked on a fifteen date coast-to-coast tour of the US (including another RSC performance in New York). The same year Lone Wolf, Dennis’s second book of verse came out, again accompanied by a fourteen-date UK tour.
In 2006, Dennis wrote a best-seller on how he became a multi-millionaire in How to Get Rich. As well as anecdotes from his life, the book describes his crack cocaine addiction and admission to spending over $100 million on drugs and women. 2010 saw the release of Dennis’s follow-up to wealth creation book, 88 The Narrow Road, republished in 2011, as How To Make Money.
Five more poetry books have followed, When Jack Sued Jill: Nursery Rhymes for Modern Times, Island of Dreams, Homeless in my Heart. and Tales From The Woods At the end of 2008, Dennis again toured the UK and Ireland, 12-date tour coinciding with the release of Homeless in my Heart.
Both the 2008 and a further 21-date 2010 Did I Mention the Free Wine? tour were filmed and the footage used by Endemol for a one off documentary Felix Dennis: Millionaire Poet. During production in early 2012, Dennis was diagnosed with throat cancer. As a result, production halted while he underwent treatment. During this time, Dennis compiled Love, Of A Kind, After his operation and radiotherapy Dennis gave a TV interview with broadcaster Jon Snow. This was incorporated into the final cut of Felix Dennis: Millionaire Poet, aired on Sky Arts HD in 2012. In 2013 Dennis launched the 30 date Did I Mention The Free Wine? – The Cut-Throat Tour to support the publication of Love, Of A Kind. The two-part tour covered the UK, Ireland and the continent during the summer and autumn months.
In the media
Dennis is credited with having been the first person to say the word ‘cunt’ on live British television, on 7 November 1970 edition of David Frost’s The Frost Programme. When Frost referred to guest Jerry Rubin as a “reasonable man”, Dennis, sitting in the audience, jokingly shouted out that Rubin was the “most unreasonable cunt I’ve ever known in my life”.
In 2003, Dennis was interviewed by Melvyn Bragg on the South Bank Show, and was the subject of CBS’s 60 Minutes in the US. He has appeared as the guest on BBC Radio 4‘s Desert Island Discs, hosted by Kirsty Young, first broadcast on 12 August 2007.
In an interview with Ginny Dougary published in The Times in 2008 Dennis said that in the early 1980s he had killed a man, who had been abusing a woman he knew, by pushing him off a cliff. Dennis later said he had been talking “a load of hogwash” whilst drunk.
In 2012, Dennis was the subject of Felix Dennis: Millionaire Poet, produced by Endemol UK, and appeared on Sky Arts HD. He appeared on BBC Breakfast television in 2013, to talk about his life and poetry tour.
In 1995 Dennis planted his first small wood near Dorsington, Warwickshire. Subsequently, he conceived the idea of establishing a large native broadleaf forest, and founded The Forest of Dennis Ltd, a registered charity in 2003, which changed its name to The Heart of England Forest Ltd in 2011. Its mission is “the plantation, re-plantation, conservation and establishment of trees for the benefit of the public, together with the education of the public by the promulgation of knowledge and the appreciation of trees”.
The charity at present employs no full-time staff, but owns and manages over 500 acres of woodland, much of it newly planted. Over a thousand acres have been planted; in excess of 1,000,000 saplings have been planted to date. The forest also includes a small percentage of ancient woodland. Trees include native varieties of Oak, Ash, Lime, Beech Hornbeam, Hazel, Field Maple, Aspen, Hawthorn, Willow, Alder, Black Poplar, Holly, Wild Cherry, Rowan and occasional stands of Scots pine, along with numerous shrubs and bushes. Where possible, saplings are sourced from locally collected seed. The planting of saplings will continue indefinitely with the aim of eventually providing between 10,000 and 20,000 acres. Dennis has bequeathed a reported 80% of his fortune to ensure that the project will continue. The forest will eventually be opened to the public along with providing educational facilities for schools as well as provide green burial services to the local area. .
Dennis has one of the largest private collections of original bronze sculpture held in his purpose built Garden of Heroes and Villains. It contains over 40 sculptures, life and a quarter in size, which include, the dawn of man attacking a woolly mammoth, Galileo, Einstein, Winston Churchill, Crick and Watson, and more recent ‘heroes’ such as Stephen Hawking, and is open to the public once a year as part of the National Gardens Scheme.
Awards and accolades
- 1991: Marcus Morris Award in 1991.
- 2002: Fellow of the National Library for the Blind in recognition of his continued support for that charity. Accordingly, many of Dennis’s books are released as talking books and in Braille.
- 2004: Fellow of the Wordsworth Trust.
- 2008: Mark Boxer Lifetime Achievement Award from British Society of Magazines.
- 2009: Belsky Award by Society of Editors & Portrait Sculptors.
- 2010: Made Honorary Consul to his adopted country, St. Vincent and The Grenadines in 2010.
- 2013: Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Media Awards.
- Geoffrey Wansell (2 April 2008). “Billionaire, junkie, and sexual anarchist. But is Felix Dennis a murderer, too?”. Mail Online.
- Oliver Marre (3 December 2006). “What I know about women …”. The Guardian.
- Sean O’Hagan (2 June 2013). “The nine lives of Felix Dennis: “I’ve lived an unbelievable life, even if I did do my best to kill myself””. The Observer.
- “Felix’s Timeline”. Personal website.
- Felix Dennis (19 January 2009). “The OZ trial: John Mortimer’s finest hour”. The First Post.
- “Odes to vice and consequences”. Ted.com. 2004.
- Felix Dennis (2002). A Glass Half Full. Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-179533-8.
- Felix Dennis (2004). Lone Wolf. Hutchinson. ISBN 1-44-813695-4.
- Felix Dennis (2006). How to Get Rich. Ebury Press. ISBN 0-09-191265-2.
- Felix Dennis (2010). 88 The Narrow Road: A Brief Guide to the Getting of Money. Vermilion. ISBN 0-09-193549-0.
- Felix Dennis (2011). How To Make Money. Vermilion. ISBN 1-44-811769-0.
- Felix Dennis (2006). When Jack Sued Jill: Nursery Rhymes for Modern Times. Ebury Publishing. ISBN 0-09-191256-3.
- Felix Dennis (2007). Island of Dreams: 99 Poems from Mustique. Noctua Press. ISBN 0-95-283853-2.
- Felix Dennis (2008). Homeless in my Heart. Ebury Publishing. ISBN 0-09-192800-1.
- Felix Dennis (2010). Tales From The Woods. Ebury Publishing. ISBN 0-09-193767-1.
- Felix Dennis (2013). Love, of a Kind. Ebury Publishing. ISBN 0-09-195184-4.
- Ian Burrell (9 September 2013). “Felix Dennis: The poet inside a Sixties radical turned multimillionaire”. The Independent.
- Felix Dennis appears on the David Frost Programme. YouTube.
- “Radio 4 – Desert Island Discs”. Personal website.
- Ginny Dougary (2 April 2008). “Maxim publisher Felix Dennis: ‘I’ve killed a man'”. The Times Celebrity.
- “Sample entrepreneur and publisher Felix Dennis’s poetry”. BBC Breakfast.
- Felix Dennis on BBC Breakfast 17/6/2013 on YouTube
- “1097110 – The Heart of England Forest Ltd”. Charity Commission.
- Sean Coughlan (20 November 2006). “From parties to poetry”. BBC News Magazine.
- Jessica Aldred (20 September 2013). “Felix Dennis plants his millionth tree”. The Guardian.
- “Garden of Heroes and Villains”. Personal website.
- Felix Dennis dies
- The Week, 23 June 2014
- Twitter @FelixDennis
- Personal website
- Dennis Publishing
- Heart of England Forest project
- Works by or about Felix Dennis in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Access Interviews | Rob McGibbon meets… Felix Dennis Filmed By Yuri Krylov (in December 2007)