Friday, 14 March 2008


I have not found it easy to hate Napoleon since I learned he shot a publisher. Chap named Palme and I must say I found the symbolism of an outstretched palm, peculiarly apt.

Stitching words onto paper has been a lifetime activity for me and with very rare exceptions I have not warmed to the publishing industry (which is the last word I should use to describe them). One publisher took ten years to publish a book he had commissioned; another has been six years and I am still waiting.

The worst moment was when I wrote for a publishing house run by two partners. One said of my manuscript, “I thought the first half was vivid and exciting but the last half completely lost me. Can you have another go at it?” His partner wrote in the same post, “I thought the conclusion of your book was dramatic and superb but I am afraid the first half needs extensively rewriting.”
I had my copy retyped without alteration and sent it to them and they both congratulated me on a much improved narrative.

When I started writing books nearly half a century ago the thing publishers did best was have lunch. At that they were expert. Usually their lunches lasted for four hours. One publisher would read his mail before lunch and answer it in the brief space between returning from lunch and going home. By that time he had forgotten what the original letter was about so his replies never made sense.

I have had two publishers sell my books to American publishers without telling me. Another took my books on a sales trip to the U.S. When he returned he rang me to say what hell it had all been: meetings, meetings, meetings. Unfortunately his wife was a well known newspaper columnist and I had just read her column in which she talked of the twenty-seven parties they had attended in a three-day visit to the States.

There used to be a tradition in the industry of paper accounting, a term which described the figures you got scrawled on the back of an envelope when you asked about royalties, and as works of fiction qualified for the Booker Prize. Much more sophisticated nowadays. Random House owes me royalties on books of mine which they put on tape and published in the States. They say they cannot pay me until I get an import certificate. I cannot get an import certificate without a valid passport and I do not have a passport in case my wife tries to lure me abroad.

Apart from nepotism, the best qualification for getting a book published is celebrity. I had no difficulty getting twenty-two of my books published but now that I am no longer a celebrity I have acquired a bushel or so of rejection slips for the last four, which include two of the best books I have ever written.

There has only been one exception.

Twenty-five years ago I wrote a comic biography “Forgive Us Our Press Passes”. It was a literary success. I read it on Radio 4 and BBC Wales; it was twice repeated on the World Service and had the highest listening figure of any book read on air that year. The Daily Post said flatteringly that I was the successor to Tom Sharpe and my friend and favourite actor Ian Carmichael described it as a comic masterpiece. You can buy a copy on the internet. A friend tells me that one is offered at £17.99, the next £74.86, another £75.07 and the last one £76.06.

Under the circumstances I would have thought the publishers, Gomer Press, could have managed to sell more than 200 copies.
Bored out of my skull a year ago, I asked my chum Revel Barker, for many years a Head Honcho in the Mirror Group and a fine reporter, how to launch a blog. In gratitude for his help I sent him a copy of “Forgive Us” and the mss of its sequel “Forgive Us More Press Passes” which had been rejected by several publishers.

Something of a polymath and, I fancy, a little bored with retirement in Malta, he suggested he might have a go at publishing the two books in an omnibus edition. That was in December. This Friday, barely three months later, the book was published and I am prouder of it than any I have ever done. New and splendid art work, designed by his wife Paula; very professional publicity material, with pictures, sent to every media outlet in Chester, Liverpool, Leeds, North Wales and East Anglia. A wonder to behold. I expect any day now Revel will mount a takeover for Random House.

I must say that Age Concern was right when it urged pensioners to put down their memories as a pleasant task in old age. My life has been a series of comic disasters with a star cast including Hugh Cudlipp, Charlie Chaplin, President Eisenhower, Harold Macmillan, the Queen and a number of my Lordly Friends. It includes my inglorious military memoirs, my downwards hurl, the Drowning of Flook as recounted by my chum the Great Vince Mulchrone.

Revel has even fixed the booksellers. You can buy it for £9.95 (and that includes the one that would otherwise cost you up to £70). He has even given me the Waterstones website and they are offering it post free.

My Noble Friend had some interesting relations, in one of whom I refused to believe. His Lordship said he had a cousin who was a Show Girl on the West End stage in the Twenties. During the run of one show she was conscious of the same man, in the same seat of the orchestra stalls, at every performance. Eventually at a party she met him.

“What a coincidence,” she said.

“No coincidence,” he told her. “I have been going to every party in London where I might conceivably meet you.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because I am madly in love with you and I want to marry you.”

“Marry me? You don’t know me.”

“Doesn’t matter. But there is no hurry. Will you at least have lunch with me? I will send my car.”

On the appointed day a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce drew up at her flat. Her swain handed her in but she noticed with alarm they were speeding out of London.

“Where are we going?” she cried in alarm.

“To my home, of course. Where else would I entertain my future bride?”

They drew up outside an imposing country house. The staff was lined up before the Portico and her host introduced her.
“This is the lady who will one day be your mistress,“ he said.

During an exquisite luncheon, served by the butler, her host proposed three times. “Oh all right,” she said finally, “I will marry you if you buy me an aeroplane.”

He didn’t propose again and the girl thought that was the end of it. But in her dressing room that evening there appeared a bouquet of roses and the keys to a light aircraft.

Years later I was a guest at the Lord’s second wedding in Buckingham Palace Gate. “There is someone I want you to meet,” he said.

It was the show girl. Alas, the world of high society and highballs had dealt hardly with her. She still looked like a Queen. But it was Tenniel’s Queen of Spades.


My Dangerous Cuttings

(Not mine but collected by Donald Sinden from the Whitley Bay Guardian about a British Rail clerk who failed in love and death).

“At 7.30 I had a drink and walked into the sea, but it was so wet I turned my back, went home and by 9.15 I had wired up an easy chair to the mains. However, each time I threw the switch the power fused. Following this I broke my mirror and tried to cut my wrists, yet somehow the slashes were not deep enough. After that I tried to hang myself from the banisters, unfortunately the knot was improperly tied. Finally I surrounded myself with cushions and set them on fire. This method was too hot. So I jumped out of the window and telephoned the Samaritans but they were constantly engaged……………………”

1 comment:

I.P.A. Manning said...

Wonderful, wonderful stuff. Thank you.