Quartet has never lagged behind since its inception from taking challenges to maintain its image that those who dare will always keep the flame of controversy lit, to counterbalance the disparities in our society between those who have and those who have not. We enter a new year faced with frightening uncertainties; leaving Europe, the new US President, an escalating arms race and the continuing shift of wealth and influence to the rich and powerful few gathers pace. As John Harris pointed out recently in the Guardian, quoting the German classicist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff’s take on the lessons of the Roman Empire, ‘Civilisation can die, because it has already died once.’
Perhaps Quartet’s most flamboyant publication was Mrs Thatcher’s Bag – here’s a little of its flavour and impact as I describe it in my memoir, Fulfilment & Betrayal:
‘Last but not least in the pack there was Managing: A Guide to Modern Etiquette, a forty-page booklet penned on Margaret Hilda Th*tcher’s behalf by John Wells himself on the standards of behaviour needed for the brave new Tory world that was emerging. Its text was brilliantly funny on every page.
“‘When you enter a Conservative home,’ began Chapter Two on ‘Home Truths’, ‘you will sense at once that something is different.’
“You know you are among people who care.
“That is why, as Tories, we favour the neutron bomb.
“Because it is kinder to property.
“Of course we care about people as well, about the kind of people we are prepared to have in the house.
And that is where you come in. Or not, as the case may be.”
‘As soon as Mrs Thatcher’s Bag was released, all hell broke loose. The Tory press mislaid its sense of humour. Quartet was condemned for having sunk so low – the Bag was the pits, the epitome of bad taste. The Tory faithful were certainly not amused and Mrs Thatcher herself was furious. She demanded to know who was behind this project, only to be told it was a friend of George Hutchinson’s by the name of Naim Attallah. My friendship of so many years with George was truly shaken by the incident and there followed a period when he and I were hardly on speaking terms. It took a long time to get back on to our old footing.
‘In fact the Bag did nothing to harm my prestige. In reporting its advent and the controversy it generated, the Evening News said how
The Tory-bashing ‘Bag’ shows that Palestinian-born Attallah, 47, is no propagandist for any particular viewpoint. Indeed, Quartet’s list is one of the most diverse in publishing, with titles ranging from Labour MP Willie Hamilton’s My Queen and I to Tory MP Ian Gilmour’s Inside Right and the bestselling All the President’s Men, not forgetting to mention In Place of Fear.’
This latter title was by Aneurin Bevan, my first political hero.
And still, nearly 40 years later, Quartet and I continue to publish books that challenge the status quo. We always will.