An Anniversary

Aug 8, 2007

Today is a significant day in my history.  8th August 1983 was the day I started working at Andre Deutsch.  Publishing seems like a different age compared to then – Andre still ran Andre Deutsch, Gollancz still ran Gollancz, Macmillan ran Macmillan (who had recently installed the ‘revolutionary’ Vista system in their warehouse), the Chapmans were running Collins, the Cheethams were running Century, the Attenboroughs were running Hodder and Stoughton, Paul Hamlyn and Robert Maxwell were ‘dabbling in acquisitions’ and the talent which went on to form Bloomsbury was still employed at Jonathan Cape.  Michael Joseph and Hamish Hamilton were still independent publishers, and most of publishing lived within a square mile of  Bedford Square, which was perceived as the epicentre (Chatto, Bodley Head & Cape, Hodder, Michael Joseph, The Publishers Association, Book Marketing, even Heinemann Educational hadn’t yet moved out to Oxford).  I could go on and on, and name some more of the significant publishing names which were not yet absorbed – Sphere, Metheun, George Allen & Unwin, Secker & Warburg; but it seems like a lifetime ago.  It was before the ‘accountants’ had taken over, a time when ‘personnel’ was handled by the Managing Directors Secretary (they hadn’t invented the term ‘PA’), and the quickest way to make a book a flop was to tie it in to a television programme – I kid you not.  Bookselling seemed fresh and invigorated by a man who had opened about 6 new stores under his own name – Tim Waterstone, and names like Claude Gill, Dillons, Books Etc, Sherratt & Hughes, Mowbrays, Ancient House, James Thin, Hammicks and Volume One, were around and about.

I was a young, enthusiastic office junior, who had a love of books and was chuffed to be working for the publishers of two of my childhood favourites – Riddles, Rhymes and Rigmaroles by John Cunliffe and Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.  I was in awe of “Mr Deutsch” and throughout the first 6 of my 7 years within his employment I always addressed him as thus.  The top floor of the building was known as ‘the flat’ and was decorated with Bemelman’s original Artwork from My Life in Art.  It was where Mr Deutsch’s chef, Piero, would cook delightful meals on a meagre budget to entertain Andre’s guests.  The wine served with meals was often referred to by those ‘in the know’ as ‘headache wine’.

My first task was to photocopy the manuscript of Leon Uris’s The Haj.  It was 1009 pages long and they need 6 copies in time for a meeting.  The equipment for this task was a 1974 Rank Xerox photocopier which was situated in the basement of the building and kept company with a few cockroaches.  The copier had no sorter and no feeder – every sheet of paper had to be placed on the glass individually. It was a task that took me 3 whole days, but I loved every minute. 

I feel thankful that 24 years on I am still in love with an industry that is almost unrecognisable from the above. Regardless of who owns what, I still feel the hairs on the back of my neck rise when I hear an editor or author talk to me about their latest passion; I’ve acquired the ‘production habit’ of sniffing a new book which has come to me straight from the printers; I still love hearing or deciding on the sales and marketing pitch for the book; I still scream out “Yes!” every time I conclude a deal; and I still feel a strange level of excitement when I open a book that has been recommended to me for the first time.  It goes without saying, that I still love the people that work in publishing. I hope that you are passionate and fulfilled within your job today as the day you first started, and if not, how are you going to rekindle your passion?  Whilst you think about that, I’ll locate a bottle of  ‘headache wine’.  At some point today I will raise a glass for you all.