Quartet has never run away from a fight with the Establishment and over the years, gained a reputation for taking on books whose subject matter were often too radical or mischievous for the Establishment publishers. One such book was published in 1984 when we were about to celebrate a forthcoming Quartet publication, The Dirty Weekend Book.
One of the participants in the book, Catherine Ledger, decided to jump ship at the last moment after suddenly finding she had principles. Her fellow contributors, Alexandra Shulman, Charlotte Du Cann, Gillian Greenwood, Emma Duncan and Kathy O’Shaughnessy – a dynamic bunch of aspiring, intelligent young women – were naturally disappointed by this change of heart and the sort of publicity it provoked. Miss Ledger, who worked for Virgin Books, gave her reasons, claiming it was too upper class for her liking. The intention, she said, had been to make it self-mocking and funny, but it turned out to be socially divisive, sexist, old fashioned and full of joyless cliches. She asked for her name to be taken off the cover and title-page.
The scheme of the book was to list sixty hotels that would be congenial for an amorous weekend break, mostly in Britain but a few abroad for the more adventurous. Unfortunately the press attention that followed in the wake
of Miss Ledger’s withdrawal endowed the book with an unwelcome hint of turpitude, calculated to stir up spasms of moral outrage. The newspaper headlines varied from ‘The Dirt Flies’ to ‘Fur Flying’, with them all, even such a responsible paper as The Times, reporting the same story from different angles. The claim was put forward that certain ‘respectable’ hotels listed in the book’s pages were threatening injunctions to stop its publication unless all references to them were excised. The Daily Mirror, despite its sensational
headline, ‘Lovers Get the Good Sex Guide’, was more sympathetic, quoting Mrs Pamela Neil, of the Highbullen Hotel at Chittlehamholt in Devon, who said commonsensically, ‘Thirty years ago we would never have accepted an unmarried couple. But nowadays who cares?’
Another headline, this time in the Standard, declared ‘No sex, please, we are Scottish’. The hypocrisy in the reaction was becoming too ludicrous for words. Mr Ron Lamb, proprietor of the Balcary Bay Hotel at Auchencairn, had his complaint put on record. He objected to his establishment being included, he
said, despite the glowing report it was given. He was extremely annoyed that it had been mentioned without his permission and all reference to his hotel should be removed. Furthermore, unless the publishers acknowledged his letter of protest, the matter would be placed in the hands of his solicitors. ‘An injunction is a possibility,’ he threatened, ‘but the least said the soonest mended. I don’t want to give the publishers cheap publicity,’ he concluded.
As always, I was relishing the fight. ‘What kind of a reply did he [Mr Lamb] expect?’ I retorted. ‘People don’t go to hotels for meditation or prayers; as far as I know there are no restrictions on making love in a hotel. If you
were to write in your memoirs that on your honeymoon you made love in the Dorchester, is the hotel entitled to sue you?’ It was a storm in a teacup. All the hotels that threatened legal action were ignored and melted away without a murmur.
Private Eye remained true to its principle of never missing out on having the last word if it could possibly avoid it. Under ‘Books of the Month’ at the end of June it included this little squib:
the dirty publisher’s guide
(Compiled by five young Sloanes who work for Naim Utterlahdisgustin)
Utterlahdisgustin comes out tops in this raunchy survey of the world’s
(That’s enough books. Ed.)