The recent death of Philip Knightley, one of the great journalists of our time, who was a friend of mine, reminded me of a section in my memoir Fulfilment & Betrayal, where I listed the books we published in 1979 when we issued the paperback edition of Philip’s classic work, The First Casualty.
‘Among recent successful titles was ‘Collar the Lot!’: How Britain Interned and Expelled Its Wartime Refugees by Peter and Leni Gillman. The Sunday Times said of it, ‘Though access to key Home Office files was denied, the authors have expertly pieced together the missing links, they have exposed a rich seam of bungling and chicanery and succeeded in explaining how a government lost its head.’ Another noted title was Terence Rattigan, the Man and His Work by Michael Darlow and Gillian Hodson. In the words of the critic Harold Hobson, Rattigan, who died in 1977, had ‘the greatest natural talent for the stage of any man this century’. Despite his fame and fortune, he was highly reticent about himself, and this was the first book to relate the private life to the professional output. Then there was Dion Boucicault: A Biography by Richard Fawkes, for which the actor Donald Sinden wrote a foreword. Boucicault, born in Dublin in 1820, was one of the most colourful and influential figures in the Victorian theatre. An accomplished actor, prolific playwright and skilled director, he pioneered many aspects of stagecraft that are today taken for granted. He had a talent for creating spectacle. The theatre-going public in the second half of the twentieth century knew him mainly through revivals of such vividly written and entertaining melodramas as London Assurance, The Shaughraun and The Colleen Bawn, so Fawkes’s study was especially timely in giving a rounded account of Boucicault’s turbulent career. An important addition to the list was An Autobiography by Frank Lloyd Wright, which showed how this architect’s visionary influence on the modern world, especially in relating architecture to environment, had been as diverse as the life he led. In the words of New Society, ‘A long, eventful and sometimes difficult life is narrated with wit, warmth, candour, and self-revelatory insight.’ Then, too, there was ‘This Gilded African!’: Toussaint L’Ouverture by Wenda Parkinson, the wife of Norman Parkinson, which told the remarkable story of a slave who became one of the leaders of a successful uprising against the slave-owners of Haiti. A great military commander, he trained and led an army of liberated slaves, making them into effective guerrilla fighters. Later he joined forces with the French to defeat the British and rout the Spanish. Promoted to the rank of general, he exercised a similar degree of charismatic influence and power over his troops as Napoleon, who referred to him angrily as ‘this gilded African’ and sent an army to crush the multiracial state that had been founded out of civil strife in the Caribbean. L’Ouverture had the distinction, as the supreme leader of his people, of laying the foundations of and being the inspiration for the world’s first black republic. Slavery was also a theme for Bilal, in which the Irish poet H. A. L. Craig told the story of the son of an Abyssinian slave called Rabbah. After being tortured in a city of idolaters for holding fast to his belief in one God, Bilal was bought and freed from slavery by the Prophet Muhammad’s close friend, Abu Bakr. In due course he was appointed the first muezzin, the caller to prayer in Islam. He became so close to the prophet that it was his duty to wake him each morning. The key fact about Bilal was that he was black, and with the emergence of black nationalism in the underdeveloped world twelve hundred years later, his name became a symbol and a resonant force. Yet surprisingly little had ever been written about him.
‘The Bar on Trial, edited by Robert Hazell and published in 1978, included Helen Kennedy QC among its many contributors. For the first time, a group of barristers broke their tradition of silence to speak out against the shortcomings and injustices that they perceived in their profession. It became essential reading for barristers, and for all solicitors and law students who wanted to learn at first hand how the Bar really worked; and its disturbing findings were of interest to anyone who felt concern about the quality of justice administered in England.
‘In the wider political arena, Uncertain Greatness: Henry Kissinger in American Foreign Policy by Roger Morris received sharply divided reviews. The reason for this was that Kissinger’s reputation was still riding high in the estimation of many intellectuals and politicians, who looked on him with the kind of reverence that tolerates no criticism. Their idol was later accepted as having feet of clay, but at the time any adverse assessment was considered to be sacrilege. Roger Morris was in an authoritative position to write about Kissinger. He had served on the US National Security Council staff under Kissinger between 1969 and May 1970, when he resigned over America’s invasion of Cambodia. The review of the book by Laurence Stern, the national news editor of the Washington Post, probably encapsulated its theme best: “Roger Morris’s study of Henry Kissinger rises above both the sleazy adulation and the vulgar criticism which has flawed most of what has been written about the man. Morris writes with the sure-footedness of the former insider and the depth and detachment of a first-rate critical intelligence. There are those in the foreign policy establishment who consider Morris a renegade. We could do with more like him.”
‘The inclusion of these titles for mention is simply to give an idea of the kind of books coming from Quartet. Many more could be listed. No less than thirty-five hardback titles a year were being published by this stage, and over sixty were being issued in paperback, including those in the Robin Clark list. There were also several large-format illustrated books in soft covers, an example of which was Juntas United! by Peter Chippendale and Ed Harriman. The Member of Parliament Christopher Price said in his review in the New Statesman: ‘I particularly welcome Juntas United! . . . It is a macabre pictorial tour through the thirty-four nastiest military regimes in the world from Argentina to Zaire, with short but gory details about their indigenous bosses and arms-dealer patrons.’ Tribune described the book as ‘brilliantly punchy’. Another reviewer, Michael Church, wrote in The Times Educational Supplement:
“The authors carry out their task with brutal simplicity, outlining the actions by which each individual despotism has established itself, and the repressive measures by which it keeps itself in power. Their biographical sketches of the dictators are often hilariously sardonic; their accounts of the human consequences of these men’s sadistic and often megalomaniac behaviour are cumulatively horrifying.”
‘The Quartet paperback list owed its strength and versatility to the founders of the imprint, especially to William Miller and John Boothe, who had the courage and vision to select titles not solely for their commercial potential but also on grounds of their literary merit. They pursued a strategy reflecting their unparochial outlook by building up a stable of writers with whom they felt in sympathy. Again to mention titles almost at random, there were Sybille Bedford’s two-volume biography of Aldous Huxley, Margaret Forster’s William Makepeace Thackeray and Lillian Hellman’s Scoundrel Time and An Unfinished Woman, which together with Pentimento completed her trilogy of volumes of autobiography. There were Jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels and A Fine Old Conflict, Cecily Mackworth’s The Destiny of Isabelle Eberhardt, Marina Warner’s Alone of All Her Sex. Political themes were represented by Parliament and Congress by K. Bradshaw and D. Pring, The State in Capitalist Society by Ralph Miliband and The First Casualty by Philip Knightley. The world of the imagination and literature was covered by Idries Shah’s Caravan of Dreams, Paul Thompson’s The Work of William Morris and the six volumes of the Journals of Anaïs Nin. The literary fiction selection also included Nin’s Winter of Artifice and House of Incest (in one volume) and her Cities of the Interior. Giorgio Bassani’s Garden of the Finzi-Continis was also there, alongside The Leather Jacket, The Moon and the Bonfire and This Business of Living by Cesare Pavese. There were Lesley Blanch’s The Sabres of Paradise and Claud Cockburn’s Jericho Road, and two further titles by the great Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo, Wonderful Fool and The Sea and Poison, to put beside his masterpiece, Silence. The list is by no means comprehensive, but it should give a general idea of Quartet’s drive to enrich the literary as well as the social scene by making works of special interest available to the reading public at affordable prices by publishing them in paperback.’
The tradition continues…