Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Life and Adventures of a Dedicated Publisher

As Chairman of Quartet Books, I was invited to speak to the British Lebanese Association about my ‘adventures’ as a publisher. What follows is a transcript of my talk. 

My love of the written word goes back to my early years in Palestine in the days of the British Mandate. I was fortunate to be taught lovingly by nuns in a convent close by our home. This gave me three languages at my disposal: Arabic, French and English.

My father had not been so fortunate in his education. He was sent to a German school in Jerusalem whose strict, authoritarian methods fostered a rigidity of mind that in a sense crippled him throughout his life. His admiration for all things German focused on what we’d see as the more negative qualities today.

This made for a difficult father and son relationship, as he combined a tyrannical style of ruling the household with erratic mood-swings and a heightened over-protectiveness based on a fear of the threats posed by the outside world. I was a sickly child and as a result felt as if I was spending much of my childhood shut in a cage, my freedom often restricted.

In my small bedroom I became engrossed in books and also with starting to produce writings of my own. Without any prompting, I began to produce a weekly paper in Arabic. I was editor, reporter and commentator rolled into one.  Its distribution was limited to family and friends, but they were kind with their praises. At least it signalled the start of a lifelong love affair with the printed word.

When I was about fifteen, my father’s nervousness of the growing disquiet on the streets of Haifa prompted him to send me away to stay with my grandmother and her sister in the relative safety of Nazareth. It was another escape to freedom. I sat under a pine tree in their garden and read any books I could lay my hands on. I came to love George Bernard Shaw for his worldly humour and revelled in the wit of Oscar Wilde. I took on Shakespeare, though in his case I needed to keep a dictionary close to hand.

My ambitions to enter journalism grew, but my father would have none of it. He saw it as a hazardous occupation in the context of the Middle East, where resentments were often settled with a gun. When I therefore finally came to England, it was on condition that I study the practical field of engineering.

As it happened, I was never able to complete my course because my father could no longer pay the fees due to altered foreign-exchange rules in the new Israeli state. To survive I took up jobs that seem bizarre in retrospect. I was a fitter on the shop floor of English Electric’s components factory, then successively a steeplejack, a hospital porter and, believe it or not, a bouncer in a Soho jazz club.

Eventually, when my landing restrictions were relaxed by the Home Office, I moved into banking, an occupation in which I could exploit a certain nimbleness of mind, and continued to deal with the hard realities of money for many years – though that is another story.

By the 1970s I had a range of business interests, including the luxury goods market and an association with Asprey. These involved strong links with the Middle East. As a result I became involved in helping to plan a Yorkshire Television trilogy of programmes on the theme of The Arab Experience. A spin-off was a book of the series, and to publish this I hastily set up a new company, Namara Publications, in association with a young publishing firm, Quartet Books. My life’s trajectory had therefore brought me back to the world of books in a way that simply happened.

Quartet were a lively, radical outfit, who proudly proclaimed they were ‘a socialist company’ with a theme of ‘quality without elitism’. Their innovative flair was shown in their concept of the ‘Midway’ edition, something halfway between a hardback and a paperback. It has become a commonplace, but was then ahead of its time and not readily accepted by the conservative book retailing trade. Quartet’s boldly adventurous policies meant that, over their first few years, they built up an extraordinarily wide-ranging catalogue of cutting-edge fiction and social documentary.

At the point where I came on the scene they were in a difficult period where they had exhausted their capital and needed new funding. I did not underrate the problems, but could see real future possibilities, and became chairman of the company with eighty-five per cent of the stock.

Quartet’s championship of the underdog held a particular appeal for me. As a Palestinian Arab, I was acutely aware that the Israeli cause received high-profile attention, while dispossession and disadvantage of the Palestinian people was little understood. I felt I would have the opportunity of developing a counterweight to  such a powerful publishing figure as Lord Weidenfeld, the founder of Weidenfeld & Nicolson. We soon managed to stir a major row in 1979 with the publication of Jonathan Dimbleby’s The Palestinians, with powerful photographs by Don McCullin.

It was exactly the sort of book I had long wanted to publish, one to draw attention to the plight of the Palestinians.  Jonathan had already dealt with many of the issues as a television journalist with known liberal views, and his intention to put both sides of the argument was perfectly clear. Nevertheless, in no time the book ran into the propagandist phenomenon that brands any criticism of Israel or Zionist aspirations as anti-Semitic, the very thing that has for decades made rational discourse on this aspect of the Middle East situation all but impossible. A press conference at the Institute of Contemporary Arts swiftly descended into uproar.

Out of the publication of The Palestinians, however, came something that has heartened me ever since, a long letter from Moshe Menuhin, the father of the virtuoso violinist and great liberal spirit, Yehudi Menuhin.

Moshe said it was high time someone stuck up for the Palestinian Arabs and presented their point of view. He also sent me a tape of his recollections of how in 1904, as a child of eleven, he was a migrant to Palestine, his family being among the groups of Jewish refugees fleeing Russia to escape the pogroms. Among the Arabs he then met he found nothing but friendliness and kindness, the main notes of discord he encountered coming from his Zionist teachers. They attempted to inculcate their students with a hatred of Arabs and Arab culture, urging them to have no dealings with Arab merchants or shopkeepers or doctors. ‘For five years,’ said Moshe, ‘they were pumping into me this Jewish nationalism, Zionism, happily unsuccessfully – happily for me as a civilised being who belongs to the civilised world and not to any nationalist group.’

One day he was going through the old city of Jerusalem with a terrible toothache, when he saw a sign for an Arab dentist down a side alley. The dentist could see he was in pain and took him into his surgery, where he was horrified by the state of Moshe’s teeth. He suggested he came to the surgery at the same time each day till he had put things right, adding that he’d expect no payment. Once the treatment was finished, Moshe said that perhaps the day would come when he could repay the debt. The dentist simply replied: ‘Ask your people not to stir up trouble, so we can live side by side and share the land of our forefathers.’

Many years later, in old age in California, Moshe visited a dentist who was astounded at the good state of his teeth. So he told him the story of the ‘the kind and wonderful Palestinian dentist who had looked after my teeth as a boy in Palestine, and treated them with such love and dedication’.

‘That is the reason why,’ Moshe added, ‘I find it always traumatic to watch pictures on the television of scenes in the Palestinian refugee camps and the misery surrounding them, wondering whether any descendants of my noble dentist benefactor languish there with no hope of ever seeing their land again.’

In 1983 an even greater furore erupted over a book called God Cried. It came to us in the wake of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. The text was by Tony Clifton, a respected Newsweek reporter, and its illustrations were by Catherine LeRoy, a renowned French war photographer. It was harrowing in its details of the violence of the assault and the terrible consequences of the shelling and bombing of West Beirut.

At that time I was proprietor of the Literary Review, and at a party met the children’s author Roald Dahl, who told me about his time as a fighter pilot in Palestine. I at once conceived the idea of getting him to write a notice of God Cried for the Review. Dahl refused point blank, but we got a copy to him and he promptly and dramatically changed his mind. Within a week he’d sent his review, even saying he’d not require payment. I was thrilled – until I started to read it.

Dahl could be notoriously abrasive and in what he wrote he made no concessions to the arts of diplomacy and gentle censure. He was unrelentingly scathing in his condemnation of Israel’s military incursion. We showed his piece to our lawyer Michael Rubinstein, who was Jewish and liberal, and to our surprise Michael approved of it. After editing out a few of the more intemperate statements, his advice was, ‘Publish and be damned!’ We published, and we were damned indeed.

The establishment Zionist Jewish press erupted in a frenzy of counter-attack but, more than that, matters snowballed into a situation where it seemed the press in general and various public figures were rounding on the Literary Review and Quartet Books with ever more outrageous accusations of anti-Semitism. Roald Dahl revelled in the furore and stoked the fires with responses in kind.

The uproar lasted many weeks, completely out of control, but when the book was published in the United States there was a different response entirely. The American media ignored it utterly, treating it as if it had no existence.

It fell to another Jewish writer, the critic and blues historian Nat Hentoff, to put the whole affair back into a more rational perspective. ‘Have you forgotten that summer in Beirut so soon?’ he asked in a headline to an article published in The Voice in 1984. He was referring to the massacres of Palestinians  by Christian Phalangists in the camps of Sabra and Chatila. ‘All atrocities should be written about with rage,’ he wrote. ‘I am Jewish and feel kinship with those in Israel who do not want Jews, anywhere, to forget what happened in Lebanon in the summer of 1982. Lest it happen again under Jewish auspices, including the support of American Jews.’

These were serious issues, but there was no lack of fun in Quartet’s approach to publishing. At the time when Margaret Thatcher was in the ascendant as the Conservative’s new charismatic leader, we published Mrs Thatcher’s Bag, the idea for it being dreamed up in a pub one lunchtime.

It contained such items as a Mrs Thatcher mask and a Mrs Thatcher cut-out cardboard doll with outfits for various occasions that could be coloured in, and a hairstyle for every day of the week, each one exactly the same. A portrait poster showed her wearing a string of her ‘pearls of wisdom’, including:  ‘Rudyard Kipling once said the female of the species is more deadly. You might keep that in mind.’ As well as, ‘We are all unequal. We believe everyone has the right to be unequal.’

All hell broke loose as soon as the kit was released. The Conservative party lost whatever shreds of a sense of humour it retained, but the Bag by and large did nothing to harm my reputation. ‘The Tory-bashing “Bag”,’ wrote the Evening News, ‘shows that Palestinian-born Attallah is no propagandist for any particular viewpoint. Indeed, Quartet’s list is one of the most diverse in publishing.’

The feminist imprint Virago started out with an association with Quartet but then went its independent way. This left a gap in the market for a new ‘women’s interest’ list, so I encouraged a brilliant young woman publisher to  set up The Women’s Press, with a steam iron for a logo carrying the connotations of ‘press’, ‘full steam ahead’ and ‘don’t be oppressed’. Feminism appealed to me as a pioneering area and The Women’s Press soon had an expanding, successful list.

There were sometimes tensions when the feminist contingent felt some of Quartet’s projects were pandering to male chauvinist tastes. Certainly some of the items on our list of cutting-edge photographic titles caused disquiet, including White Women, the first ever collection of Helmut Newton’s photographs. Newton is well known today for having subverted the conventions of fashion-plate photography with dark undercurrents of fetishism and the ambiguity of sexual roles.

We were on safer ground with Norman Parkinson’s Sisters under the Skin, which was not nearly so controversial, but paid tribute to his innovative career with portrait photographs of noted women ranging from the Queen Mother to Twiggy, from Barbara Cartland to Diana Vreeland, and including sneaked informal shots of Garbo on the street in New York.

The only Arab woman in the book was Princess Dina Abdel Hamid, a descendant of the Hashemite dynasty, who was briefly married to King Hussein of Jordan. Later she remarried to Salah Ta’amari, the charismatic leader among the Palestinians who helped to organise the Palestinian defence during the Israeli assault on Beirut in 1982. Salah was captured and became a high-profile prisoner in Israel’s notorious desert prison camp of Ansar. We published Princess Dina’s book, Duet for Freedom, which told in her own words the extraordinary story of how she initiated and drove through negotiations to gain Salah’s release, along with several thousand other prisoners, both Palestinian and Lebanese.

There is no doubt that Quartet helped to glamourise publishing in the 1980s. Our publication-day parties set a new standard for such occasions – colourful and lively and held in imaginatively chosen locations. Hitherto, as often as not, such celebrations had been rather dowdy affairs in a company boardroom over glasses of sherry. Our style offered much fodder for the press and gossip columns.

Although the Second World War had been over for more than fifty years when the time came round for Leni Riefensthal‘s ninetieth birthday, her memoirs, The Sieve of Time, were still a source of controversy. Her status as a film-maker was unassailable, and she had a very keen sense of her own worth, yet was in denial of the way her films, The Triumph of the Will, showing the Nuremberg rallies of 1934, and Olympia, premièred for Hitler’s birthday in 1938, had served the interests of the Third Reich. But she was an artist, she claimed, and politics was not her business.

However much she might protest, the aesthetic of the unforgettable power of the imagery in those two films meant they were destined never to be disentangled from Nazi political polemics. It is still a problem for those who watch them today. Leni’s purpose in writing the book, however, was ‘to clear up misunderstandings’, and certainly not to apologise. Appropriately for its importance as a piece of film and social history, Quartet gave a launch party at the Museum of the Moving Image on London’s South Bank on Leni’s ninetieth birthday. For the most part, however, the press stayed away in a conspicuous boycott.

The review coverage, on the other hand, was phenomenal. Helena Pinkerton in the Jewish Observer asked why, if she so abhorred the excesses of the Nazis, she ‘never jumped ship’. Hers may have been ‘an independent artistic vision’, but she had allowed ‘her art to serve an evil master, and for that she must take the rap’.

‘She was certainly not heroic. But how many were?’

Quartet’s publication of The Sieve of Time  brought all such important questions and arguments into the foreground for open discussion, and it was often the unpredictability of its publishing programme that won it a high share of public attention.

Jazz books were an important strand in Quartet’s list from the earliest days, with back-list titles that earned their keep. One that took an ironic backward look was Mike Zwerin’s entertaining La Tristesse de Saint Louis: Swing under the Nazis, which charted the fortunes and ambiguities of jazz in Paris under the German occupation. It was a form of music the Third Reich officially despised and sought to ban as a manifestation of racially inferior decadence. Regardless of Dr Goebbels’s doctrines, however, the SS loved the music when they went to relax in their time off in the Parisian night clubs. Their favoured musicians, some of them Jewish, were protected from deportation. So even with the jazz list we challenged stereotypes.

The Literary Review had a special history of its own. It began in Edinburgh as an idiosyncratic, rather offbeat literary magazine with a broad coverage, qualities that earned it a loyal following. It was then brought to London, but the founding editor departed abruptly in a huff, leaving the editor’s chair vacant and a major row thundering as she tried to assert her moral right to the magazine’s title.

The press, including Private Eye, was fed with assertions that I had worked to impress a pro-Palestinian imbalance on editorial content. This was nothing but a plausible myth, yet a deluge of slurs and stirred-up partisan accusations continued for weeks and months. I found myself portrayed as an enemy of culture who had purloined the magazine for my own profit. The idea that there was any profit in it was itself absurd. I was never under any such delusions. In fact over the years of my proprietorship I supported its losses to the tune of £2.5 million. My only motive was that it should continue in its individual way as an alternative literary platform. Happily it has done so.

In time Auberon Waugh, known as Bron to all his friends and associates, accepted the editorial chair. His arrival opened a new chapter in my life, and created another literary stir. When the news broke of his resignation from his long-term association with Private Eye, the press invented tales of dramatic rifts between him and the Eye’s editor Richard Ingrams; but according to Bron, all Richard said to him was that he was stupid to ‘go and work for Naim’ who was ‘a madman’.

My suggestion had come at a point in Bron’s life when he was ready for a change. Apologetically, I offered a salary that was ridiculously modest, but he brushed the figure away, saying it was far too high and ought to be reduced by a third. Bron was a generous spirit who kept his asperities for those he thought to be fair game. His opinions were definite and sometimes eccentric, and they set an indelible style for the Literary Review that continued to win it readers who warmed to its lack of received opinion and attract reviewers with status and positive views to express.

Quartet has never neglected its duties to literature. The Encounters list of books had its beginnings back in 1985, its objective being to publish twentieth-century European authors in translation, with forewords from distinguished British or foreign academics. At the start, we called it our ‘Encounter series’. Our first six titles were prepared and launched and the concept was highly praised. Then an injunction arrived from Melvin J. Lasky, editor of the prestigious journal Encounter, objecting to what he saw as an exploitation of his title. The case went to court and a minor semantic issue was resolved on a compromise judgment that we must use the term ‘Encounters’.

It was hard to see what all the fuss was about, but we didn’t know then that Encounter had for years been backed with undercover finance from the CIA to encourage it in an anti-Soviet stance. This only emerged later. Meanwhile it had landed us with legal costs and 10,000 copies of the books in stock, each one of which would need to have a sticky label affixed by hand to correct the series title before it could be marketed.

After this start in life, the Encounters list grew to over 100 titles, ranging from Giorgio Bassani’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis to Eugene Ionesco’s Fragments of a Journal, from Herman Broch’s The Sleepwalkers to Bruno Walter’s memoir, Gustav Mahler. The main architect of the list was Stephen Pickles, who liked to be known as Pickles. He was formidable in the breadth of his knowledge and reading and he endlessly trawled through the spaces of forgotten or undiscovered European authors and intellects. This had a considerable impact on the character of the Quartet Encounters, and although the list was seldom a money-spinner, its prestige was considerable. It made the cream of translated literature available within the British market in a way perhaps only rivalled by Penguin Modern Classics.

This may make it sound as if publishing can be not only a hazardous occupation but also a quixotic one. It is a world where hunches are backed and things can never entirely fit into the neat expectations of accountants. Publishing is always a learning curve, but my whole life has been spent on a learning curve through my experience in other fields, where each one has fed into the others, mistakes have been learned from and insights gained.

Apart from my earlier life as a banker and my parallel life in the luxury goods market, I have also been an impresario, promoting live theatre and other events, including film-making; a proprietor of several magazines and an interviewer.

As a film-maker, I produced the film The Slipper and the Rose in association with David Frost. It was a lavish adaptation of the Cinderella story and starred Gemma Craven and Richard Chamberlain in a cast that also included Kenneth More, Margaret Lockwood and Dame Edith Evans. It was selected to be the Royal Command Performance film for 1976. The Queen Mother attended with Princess Margaret. As I stood in the glittering line-up waiting to be presented, I reflected on how far I had come since I was first married, when my wife and I lived in a small flat that didn’t even have its own bathroom. The press hailed the film as a glamorous example of what the British film industry could achieve given the chance.

As an interviewer, I first discovered myself with a book called Women. The seed of this came about through a chance mischievous remark Pickles made that, if I was so keen on women and wanted to write a book, then I ought to write one about women. The idea took root and I set about the initial task of interviewing some fifty women. In the end, the number grew to three hundred and eighteen. They came from a wide variety of backgrounds, and from different generations, and each one had made her mark in the world.

Each was also highly individual in her views, the interesting thing being that there were few signs of pre-set agendas emerging, feminist or otherwise. The result was an enormous mass of taped material that needed a lot of work from an editorial team, but the function of the interviewer, in drawing out the replies through our conversations, was mine alone.

The intention  behind the book was quite simple: to convey the views of many women from various walks of life in answer to my questions on such important topics as early influences, feminism, sexuality, motherhood, creativity, relationships and gender differences. I was aware of being inexperienced in the interviewing mode, but sensed that my interviewees appreciated the fact that I was not one of those hard-boiled journalists with whom they needed to be on their guard.

The book itself, running to well over one thousand pages, was published, and then the paradox began. One the one hand, the press were falling over each other to obtain serial rights. On the other, the literary critics, with some exceptions, sharpened their axes to set about a demolition job.

I continue to be perplexed to account for so much hostile reaction, but it did nothing to dent the book’s commercial success. Women might have been dismissed as a sort of fluke, but, quite undaunted, I continued to hone my skills as an interviewer, aiming for self-effacement and a conversational approach to coax out confidences. Two years on came my second collection, Singular Encounters, which threw light on twenty-nine male subjects by building pictures of them in their own words. I braced myself to take another beating from the critics, but this time the reviews were complimentary, leaving aside the odd cynical outburst. I had won a niche as an established interviewer, and my interviews were published in various magazines and journals and provided the material for several more anthologies.

The important thing about taking knocks from the media is to maintain a sense of humour. This was especially so with all the mockery I received over the years from Private Eye, who early on settled on me as a sitting target. Their first assault followed the première of The Slipper and the Rose, when they lampooned me as ‘the grinning Palestinian’ in the line-up presented to the Queen Mother.

‘Now,’ they wrote, ‘visitors to his opulent Wellington Court, Knightsbridge, home are shown the picture of him with our sovereign’s mother. Alas, it hangs on a wall next to another picture: that of a young woman displaying naked buttocks. And the nauseating Naim likes to indicate the latter picture to visiting Arabs – “My friend the Queen Mother.” Needless to say many of the daft desert folk believe it to be true.’

This completely scurrilous invention, with its obvious overtones of racism, made me so angered that I phoned Michael Rubinstein to ask his opinion on taking a libel action. He said one could well succeed, but added, ‘Don’t you see, if they’re attacking you it means you’ve made it! They wouldn’t be bothering with you if they thought you were a nobody.’

So however severe the provocation, in the end it is a sense of humour that helps to keep things in proportion. The response to Singular Encounters I remember best was a skit, in lieu of a review, penned by the late Humphrey Carpenter for the Sunday Times.

I loved it for what it was: a little gem encapsulating the English sense of humour at its best. I wrote to Humphrey to tell him how brilliant I thought his piece was. It thrilled him that I had taken no offence at his ribbing. I continue to admire the piece to this day, but to enjoy it means it must be taken in its entirety, so if I may I will read it out.

Hallowed Be Thy Naim

1.   And the Lord created Naim Attallah and sent him from Palestine to         London to be chairman of Quartet Books. And the Lord God said to his         servant Naim, Increase and multiply.
2.   And Naim Attallah published The Joy of Sex and More Joy of Sex, and         showed his balance sheet to the Lord, and said, Lord, I have increased and     multiplied, and done thy bidding. And the Lord God said that was not quite what I had in mind.
3.   And the Lord God said unto Naim Attallah, if thou art going to be a         prominent London publisher, then thou wilt have to get thyself a lot of         women, so that people will talk about thee. And Naim said unto the Lord, Lord, I will do thy bidding.
4.   And Naim Attallah went into the highways and byways of Sloane         Square, and hired a lot of young women with double-barreled names to work for him, and said Lord, I have done Thy bidding. And the Lord God said, That was not quite what I had in mind.
5.   And the Lord God said unto Naim Attallah, If people are are going to         talk about thee, and if thou art going to make the gossip columns, thou wilt have to become intimate with a lot of successful members of the opposite sex. And Naim Attallah said unto the Lord, Lord, I understand, and will do Thy bidding.
6.   And Naim Attallah went into the highways and byways and found three hundred and eighteen remarkable women whose common denominator was achievement. And Naim Attallah published the interviews in a book called Women, and said unto the Lord, Lord, I have done Thy bidding. And the Lord God sighed and said, That was not quite what I had in mind.
7.   And Naim Attallah said unto the Lord, Lord, I am bored and dejected         now that the excitement of publishing my book Women is over, so I will go and publish a book on men. And the Lord God said, Naim, my servant, why on earth do you suppose anyone wants to read a book about men?
8.   And Naim, the servant of the Lord, said Lord, I will call it Singular Encounters, because then some people will suppose it to be a sequel to More Joy of Sex, but actually, Lord, it will be a book of interviews with twenty-nine remarkable men whose common denominator is achievement.
9.   And the Lord said, Naim, didst thou say twenty-nine? Why hast thou not interviewed three hundred and eighteen like last time? And Naim said, Lord, I am not as young as I was, and anyway, I do not like men as much as women, because I was not at an English public school.
10.   And anyway, went on Naim, it was very difficult to persuade even twenty-nine men to take part. Most of those I approached, Lord (as I say in my introduction) were over-cautious. But then Richard Ingrams said yes, and encouraged some others, and soon Auberon Waugh agreed too.
11.   And the Lord God said, Who is this Richard Ingrams and this Auberon Waugh? And Naim said, Lord, Ingrams is a man whose daughter works for one of my companies, and Waugh is the editor of the Literary Review, of which I am the proprietor. And the Lord God hid a smile and said, I see, I see.
12.   And the Lord God said unto Naim his servant, Naim, who are the other twenty-seven that thou hast persuaded to take part? And Naim said, Lord, there is Willie Rushton, Nigel Dempster and A. N. Wilson. And the Lord God said, Who are these people? And Naim said, They have all written for Private Eye, as have Ingrams and Waugh. And the Lord God said, Naim, thou dost not appear to have a very big circle of friends.
13.    And Naim said, Lord, there is also Sir Harold Acton and Monsignor Alfred Gilbey. And the Lord God said, Who are they? And Naim said, Acton was a friend of Waugh’s father and Gilbey is well known unto Wilson. And the Lord God said, That leaves twenty-two to go. Thou hast not covered much ground yet.
14.   And Naim, the servant of the Lord, said, Lord, there is also Michael Aspel, J. K. Galbraith, Yehudi Menuhin and Lord Rees-Mogg. And the Lord God said, And what made you choose these men? And Naim the servant of the Lord said, Lord, they all great and famous men. And the Lord God said, I see. I was beginning to think they were just chaps you happen to have met at dinner-parties.
15.   And the Lord God said, Naim, what questions hast thou asked? And Naim said, I have asked two of my interviewees whether it is true they have long-running feuds with Gore Vidal. And I have asked Willie Rushton whether he has opened a lot of fêtes. And I have asked the Warden of St Anthony’s College, Oxford, what is the secret of his charm. And I have asked…
16.   And the Lord God interrupted Naim and said, Naim, how on earth did you think of such daft questions? And Naim not listening went on, And I have asked André Deutsch about his disagreement with Tom Rosenthal and I have asked Lord Lambton why young journalists find Margaret Thatcher sexually attractive. And the Lord God said, I do not believe this.
17.   And Naim, the servant of the Lord, smiled and said, Maybe, Lord, but I have featured in magazines and have made the front page of the Style section of the Sunday Times, and I have never had such coverage before in my life. So maybe, Lord, I know what I am doing after all.
18.   And the Lord God nodded, and said, Naim, my servant, maybe you do.

Much of the stir in the gossip columns about my publishing activities certainly centred on what Bron decorously called my ‘seraglio’, the attractive, well-connected young women who at various times worked in Quartet and Namara, learning the ropes about the world of books and often going on to achieve distinguished careers in other parts of the media. In effect Quartet and Namara had been for them a sort of finishing school.

Quartet Books started out on 1st May 1972. It has generally speaking held to its course, discovering new young authors who stand little chance of being noticed in the corporate jungle that the publishing industry has become. The value of the small independent publisher is that it can bridge the gap in the market and ensure that authors of talent and originality are there for the future. It can also pick up on unconsidered manuscripts that slip through the sieve of corporate myopia and ensure they see the light of day. So many of Quartet’s bestsellers were originally rejected by the big names.

We have held true to those original principles through thick and thin, and continue to do so when the book trade is more full of changes, upheavals and uncertainties than at any other time in living memory and the future of the book continues to be debated.

Times are hard, but just now we have another bestseller on our hands, which has won a great deal of press coverage, in the shape of Brian Sewell’s autobiography, Outsider. It is candid, controversial and gossipy in the informed way that people love to read, and a second volume is being written and will be eagerly awaited.

You can certainly say that publishing is a hazardous occupation, but it also offers rewards that cannot be matched in any other line of business or measured merely by the conventional signs of success.


Anne Dunhill was interviewed in yesterday’s Evening Standard. Here is my speech from the launch party of her new book, Anita, which took place last week at the Phoenix Artist Club.

Anne Dunhill has asked me to say a few words to introduce her to you and speak briefly about her book, Anita.  Even though I find it daunting to face such a distinguished audience as this one, I could hardly have refused her request. After all, is this not part of my duty as her publisher?  I promise not to bore you and will guarantee the brevity of my address.

Anne and I became friends on Facebook about a year ago, and it was through this medium that an introduction was forged. She told me about her manuscript and I invited her to show it to me. I read it over one weekend and rang her on the Monday to say how pleased I would be to publish it.

Anita is basically a memoir of a beautiful and beloved daughter lost in the prime of her life to cancer, though it also tells Anne’s unusual story.

Back in 1969 she was a twenty-two-year-old with a successful modelling career, in flight from a marriage to a violent husband, but taken under the wing of her Aunt Dorothy, who bundled her off on a cruise ship to relieve the pressure. When the ship docked in Venice, she was introduced to Count Roberto Ferruzzi, a renowned Venetian artist, nineteen years her senior. He offered her protection and a refuge. They were together for six years and had two children, Ingo and Anita.

So on one level the book charts Anne’s life as a wife who in many ways experienced difficult marriages, yet managed to bring up two separate families whilst living her life to the full in the glittering Venetian social scene. Surprisingly, and much to her credit, she managed to cope with the vicissitudes life dealt out to her and  a frequently changing environment, showing great tenacity yet bereft of any bitterness.

It is, however, her daughter, Anita, who is the undoubted heroine and focus of the book. In the way of mother and daughter relationships, theirs was sometimes  problematic and often tempestuous, but over time they moved through their parallels and differences to arrive at harmony and reconciliation.

At this point, with a cruel irony, the diagnosis of Anita’s illness struck like a thunder clap and she died only six weeks later in 2009.

This is a book that took immense courage to write as a tribute to the daughter Anne lost through their rifts, and found again, but then lost forever. She deals with the whole tragedy and its traumas with a heart-breaking emotion that is unforgettable. Her story is deftly told and utterly moving. The pain is unconcealed, and no one can deny the triumph of having been able to write it down.

To quote her own words:

‘Shortly before going into hospital, Anita asked me almost playfully what I’d do if she died. Taken aback, I allowed myself for once to be spontaneous. Oh, it would be the end of me, I cried. At this she got very distressed and made me promise I’d keep going after her death. So of course I did. Since she died, I have sometimes asked what on earth the point is of me remaining here once my child has gone, but my thoughts always come back to this conversation, and I feel I should stick around as promised, even if I don’t know why.’

It is certainly a story to bring tears to the eyes of the most hardened reader, and I urge every one of you assembled here to buy more than one copy of Anita as a tribute to Anne’s account, which has all the honesty and dignity that the loss of a greatly loved daughter truly merits. However, we are not here this evening to mourn, but to celebrate the publication of Anne’s book with the support of as much joyous warmth as we can give her.