David Elliott, the éminence grise of Quartet Books, who is retiring officially on the 1st of January, is much too young and perky to enjoy the serenity of Anno Domini.
There is still some spur left in the old devil to make waves in the publishing world, which I am sure he will miss and be missed by given the alacrity of his mind and his lifelong preoccupation with books.
I first met David in 1976, a few months after I acquired Quartet. He was then the managing director of Words and Music, a chain of bookshops quite dominant in the London area. He was for some reason itching to make a radical change and I was looking for someone who had more experience in the book trade than I could muster.
In his first book, which was published in 1992 entitled A Trade of Charms, David recalls vividly our first meeting in my office in Knightsbridge: ‘We talked for less than an hour. He gave me the impression very early on in the interview that the job was mine. I told him that I knew nothing about publishing, and he told me that was fine since the people who did say that they knew about it told him very crazy things. Very often, he believed, people who claimed to know could not adopt flexible creative attitudes. He told me that when he was a young man a French banker had taken him to work as a foreign exchange dealer because he had known nothing about banking. He talked with an energy and enthusiasm that I found irresistible. I liked him instantly and agreed to join Quartet.’
The omens were good. We became very close and had a lot of fun together, since the pair of us were as mad as they come and had no regard for the Establishment and what it stood for. The publishing fraternity were stunned by our antics and we published books that withstood the vicissitudes of time to become collectors’ items. We glamorised publishing and others followed suit. Our parties became legendary and attracted the good, the bad and the mighty.
Our Frankfurt sojourn at the book fair was equally eventful and had a certain idiosyncratic niche about it. We were never short of publicity and Quartet became the hub referred to as the finishing school for beautiful young women, who were glamorous as well as endowed with a good lineage. They became our true ambassadors, who spread the word about Quartet and made sure that the gossip columns of the media were always alerted to the books we published.
David and I became soulmates despite our differences, which occurred from time to time. Our bond was such that it was impenetrable from the outside. Even when David left for a period of time to flutter his wings, it did not diminish our closeness – nor did it affect the willingness of the one to support the other. I always knew that he would come home again, and that he did.
His official retirement is but another way to get a breathing break, to feel free to catch up on things he believed he missed, but not to distance himself from Quartet – which will always remain an important part of his life.
This is not the last we’ll see of him. His aura will nonetheless haunt us in perpetuity.