The recent death of the ‘old school’ Labour MP and Quartet author, Brian Sedgemore, reminded me of a time in the 1980s when our books and the parties that announced their publication attracted politicians of all persuasions.
Brian was a bruiser, left-wing to his boots and a fierce fighter for a working class which then would have spat in Nigel Farage’s face if UKIP had dared stand anywhere near them. He was a giant, towering over most men, but was kind, gentle and often very funny.
He wrote two novels for Quartet: Mr Secretary of State and Power Failure.
But such was his reputation that in a slight furore about another book I instigated, Brian’s name was taken in vain.
The whole incident was covered in my book Fulfilment & Betrayal.
As a memory of Brian and of a more interesting time, here’s an extract…
There had been mutterings in the press about a forthcoming Quartet photographic book called Naked London. It was not planned to come out till later in 1987, but speculation was already rife over which celebrities were likely to appear nude in its pages. The photographer was Katya Grenfell, described by Private Eye as a ‘lissom young photographer with the right connections’. Peter Hillmore in Punch that November was being more speculative than most when he said the MP Brian Sedgemore was to be one of the subjects to be seen in the book. He asked readers to note he did not say ‘heard’ but ‘seen’, in the ‘first book that ought to carry a Government Health Warning’. As a publisher, he said, Naim Attallah was proud to subscribe to some loony ideas, ‘but this could be one of the looniest – a book of celebrated figures in the nude’. He had once seen a politician naked – Edward Heath in the sauna at Grosvenor House – and vouched for the fact it was ‘not a particularly pleasant sight’.
Jubby Ingrams, the Standard reported, had nervously informed her father Richard that she and her brother Fred would be appearing nude in the book. ‘I did it for fun,’ she said. ‘I have never posed naked before, but I enjoyed it very much. It is all very tasteful. You do not see any naughty bits, but I suppose you do see my boobs. My dad didn’t say much about it. He just grunted and said, “Do what you like.” ’ The Standard then went on to gild the lily somewhat by claiming I had been persuaded to strip for a family pose with my wife and son. Had I been blessed with the perfect torso, I would not have hesitated. As things were, there was no question of my exposing myself in this fashion. Katya meanwhile was getting on with her project of photographing the up-and-coming young men and women on the quirkier side of London society, together with some downright eccentrics, all in a state of undress. She was looking for those who were willing to pose in the nude, or nearly so, in attitudes that reflected their personality. Many volunteered, but then got cold feet when put to the test.
Meanwhile, I was worried that Jubby’s inclusion in the book could lead me into crossing swords with her father, who as editor of Private Eye was already causing me problems with his attacks in the magazine. There was a danger that any further stirring of the pot might finally make life intolerable. But nothing could persuade her to change her mind. Eventually, when I saw how resolved she was, I withdrew any objections and resigned myself to facing whatever consequences of my folly emerged. Samantha Baring, of the banking dynasty, was another attractive young women, barely nineteen years old, who not only expressed a desire to be in the book but insisted she must feature on the cover.
Samantha was a somewhat crazy character, full of energy and verve but perhaps a little highly strung. She had arrived at Namara House to deputize temporarily for my secretary while she was on holiday and somehow managed to stay on afterwards. Chaos and disruption spread in her wake through Namara House and unsettled all the other female staff. Samantha became highly protective, trying to distance me from the other girls and assuming the role of my assistant without ever having been asked. Her remarkable nerve endeared her to me to the extent that I actually bought her a Vespa to facilitate her getting to work. I must have been as loony as Peter Hillmore implied in Punch. I even asked Katya to include Samantha in the book on the grounds that she was a real character with immaculate breeding and really quite pretty and youthful. Katya was happy to oblige and arrange a photo shoot at dawn (to avoid a crowd of onlookers gathering) on the Chelsea Embankment, close to the Albert Bridge. The result was unsuccessful for some odd reason and the whole idea of using Samantha fell by the wayside. The bravado that was her trademark must have deserted her on the day and the photographs bore witness to it.
The ripples of publicity continued, Publishing News taking up where the Standard had left off with the additional titbit that Jubby Ingrams’s colleague, Anna Groundwater, had also been invited to appear, but ‘decided against it for professional reasons. “I felt I couldn’t publicize the book properly if I was too close to it,” she declared.’
In March the Evening News reported the development of a change of author for the ‘much touted tome’:
the ‘international name-dropper and professional Greek, Taki Theodoracopulos, having been signed up to take over. The choice of Taki as wordsmith is a piquant one. For two of the book’s subjects are children of Private Eye chairman Richard Ingrams, whom Taki despises. He has threatened in print, after being insulted in Private Eye, to visit Ingrams’s Berkshire manor armed with a baseball bat. Perhaps he will find a subtler method of revenge when he has to describe Fred and Jubby Ingrams.
Following this, Private Eye in ‘Grovel’ fired off its own salvo of shots the same month:
I am told that an unseemly disagreement has arisen between the seedy Palestinian parfumier and publisher Naim Ayatollah and the world’s most famous cottager Adrian Woodhouse . . . Woodhouse apparently accepted gelt from Naim to write the text for a book of soft-porn photographs featuring London’s glitterati in their naked glory . . . But as . . . no words sprung forth from Woodhouse’s pen, [the] camel herder has resorted to employing the glue-sniffing dope smuggler Taki Theodoracopulos to write the text instead.
In April ‘Grovel’ was expounding on the story, announcing the further difficulties he heard the ‘seedy Palestinian publisher’ was having with ‘his absurd book’. Meanwhile ‘the book is proving to be a disaster. Unfortunately several so-called celebrities have decided to withdraw their pictures at the last minute, including Margaux Hemingway, Samantha Baring and even Oliver Gilmour – Katya Grenfell’s husband. In desperation, therefore, Katya has had to persuade cadaverous wino Jeff Bernard to lend her his body. Thankfully, his vitals were ‘draped’ with a racing-form book.’
The last word on Naked London went to the Literary Review of March 1988, in which Bron printed a lampooning letter of legal advice to Henry Root of the Bookseller, who was given to printing disparaging remarks about my publishing activities. It concerned an imagined review of the book and purported to come from Susan Grabbit of the firm of Sue Grabbit and Run in Grays Inn. The following are extracts from what was a sustained burst of wit:
3. You suggest that the book’s publisher, Mr Naim Attallah, is a personal friend of yours. Such an assertion certainly defames Mr Attallah. The fact that you have, as you put it, ‘twice lunched with him without ejaculation, the plovers’ eggs and the choice of wine on each occasion being served by pretty girls with double-barrelled names and unearned incomes’ would be no defence. He might have thought you were someone else, you could have been there as a bet or an editorial joke, or to make the other guests appear less common…
5. I do not understand your reference to Mr Dai Llewellyn, the Welsh nightclub greeter, as Princess Margaret’s walker-in-law. I further notice that you refer to all the naked men in this book either as ‘flower arrangers’ or ‘a friend of Princess Margaret’. I am familiar with the expression ‘a friend of Dorothy’. Has this been replaced by ‘a friend of Princess Margaret’? I am aware, of course, that both Mr Kenny Everett and Mr Elton John are welcome at Kensington Palace…
7. You say that Mr Taki, the little Greek, recently visited a Turkish bath. He took off all his clothes and waited in a queue for the attention of a Nubian masseur. When the steam cleared he found he was in a fish and chip shop. ‘I’ll have sixpennyworth of that,’ said the man standing next to him, ‘but go easy on the vinegar.’ Is this true? I do not think Mr Taki would sue, but he looks formidable still in the upper arm and has a reputation for settling legal disputes with a display of Eastern fighting techniques up alleys. I would advise caution.
8. Your description of the art dealer in high-heels as a ‘a floppy-bottomed fairy’ is dangerous. ‘Floppy-bottomed’ can no longer be predicated of a person since the actress Charlotte Cornwall called Miss Nina Myskow ‘a floppy-bottomed journalist’, the latter receiving substantial damages on appeal. I suggest you substitute ‘theatrical’ for ‘floppy-bottomed’ and‘angel’ for ‘fairy’ . . . fairy’ is dangerous. ‘Floppy-bottomed’ can no longer be predicated of a person since the actress Charlotte Cornwall called Miss Nina Myskow ‘a floppy-bottomed journalist’, the latter receiving substantial damages on appeal. I suggest you substitute ‘theatrical’ for ‘floppy-bottomed’ and ‘angel’ for ‘fairy’…
9. You say that Miss Emma Freud, the talkative TV person, is a pretty lass but that she recently confused her KY Jelly with a tube of industrial putty with the result that all her windows fell out. I don’t understandthis. Further, the claim that you recently ejected her father, Lord Freud,from your flat because he gave your cats asthma is possibly defamatory.
10. I am unhappy with your description of the two girls on page 5 as ‘being joined at the G-spot in a sapphic embrace’. ‘The G-spot,’ you say, ‘was discovered in 1980 by Dr Theodore Whipple as a result of experiments carried out at the San Diego Institute of Advanced Sexological Research. The G-spot lies directly behind the pubic bone on the anterior wall of the uterus. Imagine a small clock inside the uteral tube with 12 o’clock pointing towards the navel. Most women will find their G-spots at approximately 12.25 a.m. Alternatively imagine a street map of London with St Pancras on the navel. Go up Pont Street and turn left into Hans Place – the G-spot is just behind Harrods where the old Jacaranda Club used to be.’ I would be unhappy with the inclusion of this passage without a sight of Dr Whipple’s paper.
11. What evidence do you have for saying that Mr George Michael wears a frozen chicken down his trousers?
Naked London was finally published in September 1987. It sold out and a few copies are now on offer from Abe for twice their original price.