who died aged 77, published the work of Soviet-Jewish refuseniks, a biography of the American entertainer Sophie Tucker and the scripts of the Goon Show.
When he wasn’t putting the case for the Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, he was bidding for a publishing contract from Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, which he won. He published an almost daily supply of learned journals, and although not fit enough to serve in the armed forces, produced more military journals than anyone else in the business.
But though a prolific and eclectic publisher, Cass preferred a cup of tea with friends to the cocktail party circuit, or wooing authors or academia.
He did not go to university, and although he left his grammar school at 18, most of his schooling was interrupted by a combination of rheumatic illness and second world war evacuation to south Wales. What he did have in common with other publishers was a love of books. The youngest of three children of a north London cabinetmaker and his wife of Polish stock, he learnt to read from his mother before he started elementary school.
At the age of 11, he won a scholarship to the Grocers’ Company school, a nursery of academic brilliance that went on to become Hackney Downs grammar school.
Cass knew that he wanted to spend his life surrounded by reading material, so selling books seemed to be the answer. His first job, at the age of 19, was at the Economist Bookshop in Bloomsbury. In 1953 he started his own shop – largely because a sign fell on his foot as he was tying up his shoelaces, outside the Bedford Hotel, Southampton Row. He went inside and did a deal with the lessee, for £3 a week. Soon after that a customer asked if the shop stocked an obscure volume about 16th- and 17th-century British industry. It didn’t, but Cass knew that if this book was wanted by one man, there might well be other academics who would require it. He found a copy that had been out of print for 30 years, and reprinted it.
He then reprinted a book of African history in 1960, which sold moderately well. But when President John F Kennedy ruled that black studies had to be taught at every American university, it was a godsend. By then he had a list of 300 different titles on the subject, and they found a market.
At the same time, he began publishing new volumes under two distinct imprints: the Woburn Press, a small house for literary works, and Frank Cass, which became a repository for academic volumes and later for biographies, military works and the journals for which he was developing an international reputation, notably on Middle East studies, peacekeeping, and intelligence and national security.
Cass never operated from smart buildings. In 1963, he had a small office surrounded by piles of paper. An article about him in the Guardian at the time described his operation as “publishing a la Steptoe and Son”.
In the 1970s, he bought the prestigious Jewish imprint Vallentine Mitchell, which had been owned by the Jewish Chronicle, and which had become famous for two things: it discovered Anne Frank’s Diary, which it published in its first edition, and employed an energetic young salesman who tried to talk them out of the project. His name was Robert Maxwell, but he had gone on to bigger things by the time that Cass bought the company.
In the 1980s, Cass bought the library of the Irish University Press, which now became the Irish Academic Press. It included the rights to 1,000 volumes of British Parliamentary Papers, 1801-1901, which the Guinness Book of Records listed as the largest “book” ever published.
Perhaps the books that gave him most fun were the scripts of the Goon Shows, which he published in 1972. He knew that the Prince of Wales was a Goons fan and invited him to the launch, along with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe. They all came – the prince drove from his ship in Portsmouth to be there, and the resultant publicity meant that the book became an instant bestseller.
In 2003, Cass sold all his publishing interests for £15m, except those of Vallentine Mitchell and the Irish press. Both were “babies” of his, and he particularly enjoyed his role as unofficial publisher to the Anglo-Jewish community, which fitted very well alongside the love he felt for his local synagogue and for Jewish organisations.
In 1958, he married Audrey Steele. Their son and daughter followed him into the business.