Papers of Colin MacLean, publishing director of Aberdeen University Press (Publishing), 1979 - 1990

Scope and Content

This collection comprises personal papers of Colin MacLean relating to Aberdeen University Press (Publishing) in the years 1979 onwards, during its period of ownership by Robert Maxwell. The papers contain correspondence from customers, employees and other individuals connected with the Press, and form a detailed and insightful account of its operations and history at this time. Named files in the collection relate to the following publications undertaken by the Press during this period: Pocket Scots Dictionary, Scots Thesaurus, Concise Scots Dictionary, Scottish National Dictionary, Dictionary of Older Scottish Tongue and Oceanography. Other files contain details of production costs, 1979 - ; internal memos and board reports, 1979 - ; analysis of performance, 1979 - , and AUP catalogues and related advertising material. Colin MacLean has also prepared detailed written notes on events occurring at the Press prior to the collapse of the Maxwell group, including details of its internal organisation and of its relationships with customers and rivals. Owing to the sensitive nature of the material the collection remains closed until 2015.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Aberdeen University Press (hereafter AUP) registered as a Public Company in 1900, although its history dates back to 1840, when brothers, George and Robert King founded a printing and publishing firm in Diamond Street, Aberdeen. By the late nineteenth century their company was producing much of Aberdeen University's printing and also establishing a reputation among London publishers. During the twentieth century it specialised in diverse and difficult type-settings, including foreign language, mathematical and technical work, and by the early 1970s approximately 50 percent of the business of the Press consisted of printing educational books and journals, and 50 percent of general printing and bookbinding. The firm's interest in publishing was marginal, being limited to a few books of specialist or local interest.

The company was taken over by the British Bank of Commerce in 1970, of which John Milne, The Central Press (Aberdeen) Ltd, also became a wholly-owned subsidiary, as did G. Cornwall and Sons Ltd and its subsidiary, The White Heather Publishing Co. Ltd, in 1972. A subsequent take-over by Robert Maxwell of Permagon Press, Oxford in 1978, prompted a major change of direction at the Press, when it adopted a new policy to develop the publishing side of its activities. In the same year a new Publishing Director, Colin MacLean, was appointed to pursue this policy and the company's publishing activities developed rapidly thereafter.

Eventually, in 1988, the printing and publishing activities of the press were formally separated and taken up by two different companies. The publishing activities continued under the same name, The Aberdeen University Press Ltd. The printing side of the company became a subsidiary of BPCC Ltd, and traded under a new name, BPCC - AUP Aberdeen Ltd. Sadly the fortunes of the publishing company AUP Ltd became enmeshed with the collapse of Robert Maxwell's publishing empire, following his death in 1992. It was discovered that the AUP owed debts of £1.1 million, mainly to its holding company Maxwell Communications Corporation, which was, itself, in severe financial difficulty. As a consequence, early in 1992, AUP was put into administration and ceased trading. TAUPIA Ltd (The Aberdeen University Press in Administration) was created in 1993. The company went into formal liquidation in 1993, and was finally wound up in 1996.

Colin MacLean, Publishing Director of AUP, 1979 - 1990, graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 1950 and entered a career in journalism with Glasgow based publication, The Bulletin. He subsequently moved to London, where he worked for The Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, and later The Times. He was founding editor of the Times Educational Supplement Scotland, in which position he remained from 1965 until 1977, when he joined Edinburgh publishers, W. and R. Chambers as general and education editor. In 1979 he was approached by Robert Maxwell and began working for the AUP in March of that year.


None observed - listing in process

Access Information

The collection is closed until 2015, although requests for access may be considered on individual merit prior to this date.

Acquisition Information

Gifted to the University in Jul 1994 by Colin MacLean

Other Finding Aids

Very brief collection level description available on Aberdeen University Library Catalogue, accessible online

Alternative Form Available

No copies known

Conditions Governing Use

Subject to the condition of the original, copies may be supplied for private research use only on receipt of a signed undertaking to comply with current copyright legislation.

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Head of Special Libraries and Archives (e-mail: and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. Where possible, assistance will be given in identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with normal procedures


No accruals expected

Related Material

Records of Aberdeen University Press, 1869 - 1996 (GB 231 MS 3233). A separate collection level description is available on the Archives Hub.


No known publications using this material

Additional Information

This material is original