Caroline Raphael obituary

Other lives: Former editor in chief of The Good Hotel Guide, who worked on every edition from 1978 to 2022

Caroline Raphael, who has died of Parkinson’s disease aged 85, was for 20 years editor-in-chief of The Good Hotel Guide. She had worked on every edition from the first, in 1978, until her retirement in 2021, when the 2022 edition had gone to press.

The Guide was launched by the literary agent Hilary Rubinstein, on the model of Raymond Postgate’s Good Food Guide. When Rubinstein invited Caroline, a neighbour, to become involved, she could not have guessed that it would become a consuming interest for the next 45 years.

Caroline was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, where her father, Ray Ellis, was assistant editor and, from 1941 to 1953, editor of the Rand Daily Mail, a newspaper known for its outspoken opposition to apartheid.

She attended Roedean school for girls in Johannesburg, where she flourished academically but hated the petty rules. She studied French at the University of Cape Town, where her mother, Gwen (nee MacRobert), had been one of the first female students, and, after a brief interlude in the hat department at Liberty’s in London, travelled to Paris, to attend the Sorbonne.

Caroline joined BBC TV News in London and in the late 1960s she transferred to the New York office. Alistair Cooke would come in once a week to record his Letter from America, and it was through him that Caroline met his Guardian colleague Adam Raphael, in Houston, Texas, where they were covering the Apollo 10 space shot. They were married in 1970.

A son, Tom, was born in Washington, where Adam was based, before the Raphaels relocated to South Africa. A daughter, Anna, was born on their return to London, where they lived a few doors from the Rubinsteins. From doing “a bit of editing” for the new Good Hotel Guide, Caroline would soon become its mainstay, valued for her judgment and her eagle eye for errors.

The Guide quickly established a reputation for fierce independence and eclecticism, and for championing, as Rubinstein wrote, “the personal and idiosyncratic”, over the sort of “boring hotel that insulates the guests from their environment”. Entry choices were informed by recommendations from an army of loyal readers, with follow-up by strictly anonymous inspectors. The first edition featured just 320 hotels. By 2022 that number had risen to 650, and there is no doubt that the Guide helped to drive the vast improvement in UK hotels over four and a half decades.

In 1999 the Guide was acquired by Adam and Caroline, and, from 2003, when he left the Economist, they worked together as joint editors. I wrote for them from 2015. Editorial meetings, conducted over lunch around the kitchen table in the basement of their home in west London, were convivial and productive. It was an oasis of civility and bonhomie.

Caroline is survived by Adam, Tom, Anna, and six grandchildren.

Rose Shepherd

The GuardianTramp

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