MARTIN BAX (1933-2024)

Martin Bax was probably best known in the literary world as the editor of Ambit, the long-running magazine which featured poems, short stories, reviews, and illustrations from a wide variety of contributors. This isn’t the place to name them all, but J.G. Ballard, William Burroughs, Carol Ann Duffy, Eduardo Paolozzi, Jeff Nuttall, Peter Porter, Edwin Brock, Fleur Adcock, Alexander Trocchi and Alan Brownjohn are a few that spring to mind. But they don’t really represent everything that the magazine stood for. Martin had eclectic tastes and each issue had work from new writers, poets, and illustrators alongside the established ones. Ambit was one of the first magazines I appeared in. That was in 1963 and I had a fifty year relationship with it until Martin retired as editor in 2013.

As well as editing Ambit Martin  wrote short stories and novels, including The Hospital Ship, published in 1976 and very much in the spirit of that time. But the title – Two Lives to Lead: The Early Years - of a short memoir he wrote towards the end of his life takes us to the fact that Martin was also a highly-respected consultant paediatrician and editor of Development Medicine and Child Neurology. It always amazed me that the amiable and relaxed man I knew somehow found the time to edit both publications and write. He published medical text books as well as his literary work.

Martin and his wife Judy were very hospitable, and I forget how many times I stayed with them over the years. I wasn’t alone and their house in Highgate often seemed like a second home for poets visiting London. Some had their eccentricities but neither Martin nor Judy appeared fazed by them. Likewise at the parties where the book-filled house attracted numerous writers, artists and others all busy drinking and, as they always do, exchanging the latest gossip. There were occasional sightings of their three sons who, like their parents, were seemingly happy with the bohemian atmosphere.

The Ambit readings were popular and were not just limited to London. I recall reading in York, Glasgow, Manchester, and other locations around the country. And, as with the magazine, Martin liked to use new poets alongside the better-known ones. They could be lively affairs, especially when one or two of the participants had spent too much time at the bar.

I thought of Martin as a friend as well as the editor of Ambit. And I owed him a lot for the encouragement and advice he gave me over the years. It was always a pleasure to visit the house in Highgate. I remember being amused years ago when I read “We All Begin in a Little Magazine”. a short story by the Canadian writer, Norman Levine, in which the narrator, visiting London, stays in a doctor’s house. It was so obviously Martin and Judy’s home, and I’m glad that a record of it exists in print.

Writers too often forget how important a good editor is. Martin kept Ambit going over the years, often at no small cost to himself in terms of both time and money. It was always lively and never became just another little magazine. He made a contribution we should value.

Jim Burns