There was an important development at Quartet in August 1987 when the publisher Anthony Blond and I joined forces to form a partnership that according to the London Standard, under the headline ‘Terrible Twins!’, had ‘all the incendiary potential of a latter-day gunpowder plot’. Blond’s own company, Muller, Blond & White, had gone down earlier in the year, having reached the point where, as he said in his autobiography Jew Made in England, ‘We couldn’t even pay the grappa bill from the friendly neighbourhood Italian restaurant.’ Although he had managed to clear all his debts, he no longer wanted the hassle of refinancing and starting up again from the beginning. He was considered to have brilliant flare as a publisher but less acumen as a businessman. Now he was seeking a home within an established publishing house, from where he could operate and supply ideas for projects, in return for which his name would appear in any books which might materialize. It was his wife Laura who suggested he give me a ring and I invited him to Namara House.
I climbed the four flights of stairs to Naim’s offices. There I encountered a macho lair, strewn with tiger skins and occupied by young ladies who supplied his occasional needs, like a glass of water or a pullover when the air-conditioning became too intense. I explained I only needed ‘walking money’ – an expression employed by the late Dominic Elwes.
‘How much?’ asked Naim.
‘Too much, that would upset the others.’
‘OK, then five thousand.’
‘No,’ said Naim, ‘six thousand.’
And so it was.
My relationship with Anthony Blond had always been warm, a warmth strengthened by recognition of the support he gave me in my early days as a publisher when I was being sneered at and referred to as a ‘cowboy’ in the trade. He defended me when others stood aside and took no part in the furore that followed the publication of God Cried and Roald Dahl’s subsequent notice of it in the Literary Review. While he personally condemned the book, he refrained from using any intemperate language and was deeply unhappy about the torrents of vitriol that flowed from many of the commentators. Throughout the crisis he remained staunch in my defence, rejecting the accusations of anti-Semitism being levelled against me in certain quarters and arguing that free speech should never be sacrificed to suit any particular ideology or viewpoint. He never questioned my entitlement to publish material sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and considered my rights in this to be equal with George Weidenfeld’s when he published similar material in favour of the Israelis. Each of us was conducting a crusade of our own and affirming the democratic right of free expression in our society.
I did not always agree with Blond, but our disparities and our different ethnic backgrounds proved a strength rather than a weakness and we forged a good working relationship. I am a Palestinian Arab, while he is an English Jew from a distinguished assimilated background. Even our sexuality was of quite a different kind in its orientation, he being drawn to both sexes whereas I was passionately heterosexual. He became a practising Jew at the time when my Catholic faith was wavering. He drank and smoked heavily while I hardly ever touched alcohol and had given up the latter many moons before. In an interview with Publishing News, Blond said he and I in fact had a lot in common, he even went so far as to describe us as kindred spirits. We both liked pretty, well-heeled girls with double-barrelled names from aristocratic families (his wife Laura was a daughter of Colonel Roger Hesketh, whose father-in-law was an earl). Of his Quartet tie-up he said,
It’s a wonderful arrangement. I’m not much of a dab hand at admin or finance, but I am good at acquiring. So I’ll just get on publishing around a dozen books a year. Naim and I both believe in eccentric rather than category publishing. It will be anything from the official biography of J. R. Jaywardine, president of Sri Lanka, to a book version of Muran Buchstansangur. I also have in mind books from two new English novelists. It’s such a relief to feel all these jewels are no longer unwanted.
I trust Naim fully to take care of all the financial arrangements. He is very pro-Arab of course, and I’m a Jew, but Naim isn’t anti-Jewish, he’s anti-Zionist. I used to be a Zionist, but now I’m one of the Jews for Peace. I’m for a multi-racial Israel.
In addition he argued that these factors could be seen as bringing an extra piquancy to our working relationship. ‘But it’s an irrelevance,’ he added firmly. ‘The kind of irrelevance I enjoy . . . ’ Private Eye put its usual more jaundiced spin on events:
Veteran publisher Anthony Blond is certainly down on his luck. Not so long ago he had to wind up his publishing company Blond & Briggs [sic] and last year he even resorted to the catering trade, accompanying his wife, the former Laura Hesketh, as she distributed cold sandwiches to office workers in the City. Now, however, he has had to accept the most ignominious fate in the world of publishing – a job with the crazed proArab publisher Naim Attallah. A press release announces that Blond has been offered his own private imprint and list within the Quartet empire. He will liaise with Attallah’s main editor, the leery Stephen Pickles, author of Queens . . .
Of Blond’s proposed list, Private Eye commented that the official biography of the president of Sri Lanka – ‘more hagiography than biography’ – should ‘sit easily alongside the tedious memoirs of obscure Middle Eastern politicians that Attallah is fond of publishing’.
Anthony described his new workplace thus:
Quartet Books occupied two adjacent rickety houses in Goodge Street, between which, it was always being mooted, a door would one day be breached. To the young ladies who clattered and chattered up and down the two flights of stairs, I was presented by Pickles as ‘seasoned timber’ and by David Elliott, the sales director, known as ‘dump-bin Dave’, as ‘a living legend’. The young ladies, however, were understandably more interested in stealing each other’s boyfriends on unmonitored telephones than talking to me. The circus mistress of the salle de manège was Jubby, daughter of Richard Ingrams, who cracked a condescending whip and outlasted them all. She was to look after me. Jubby was the Saint-Simon at the court of King Naim, registering his movements, moods and reactions.
On one occasion Anthony tried to set up a television interview with Simon Raven at the Reform Club in their library, which he felt to be ‘the most splendid room in London’. He received a curt no to the idea of any television cameras entering the portals of the Reform, the reason to emerge being that Jubby once hired the Reform for a photo shoot and subsequently the secretary was horrified to be sent a copy of Playboy, to which surely neither he nor the club subscribed. I am sure the magazine featured a naked girl standing on one of Sir Charles Barry’s horsehair sofas, next to the bust of the young Queen Victoria, in the marbled atrium.
‘I was never allowed to attend editorial meetings,’ Anthony recorded, ‘though my modest suggestions were nearly always agreed to.’ The partnership produced a handful of titles, including biographies of Hugh Montefiore, the former bishop of Birmingham, who had been bar mitzvahed at Blond’s own synagogue, as he reminded him, and Justin de Blank. It was odd, he reflected, ‘that these titles, from a Jewish editor, should emerge from a publisher who is Arab’. He almost had one coup in introducing to Quartet Jennifer Patterson, of future ‘Fat Lady’ best-selling-cookery-books fame, but unfortunately his letter of recommendation, advising that we might get her ‘cheap’, was sent to Jennifer by mistake and she went to John Murray instead. Jennifer, a fellow Catholic, was to become one of my dearest friends. Without fail on the morning of every first of May she would ring me to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ over the phone.
In the end Anthony Blond decided to go and live in France, though I continued to pay his honorarium for a while. We also published his book Blond’s Roman Emperors but, ‘Eventually he [Naim] wrote me a most elegant letter of farewell.’ Blond was widely known for discovering many novelists, his most outstanding protégé being Simon Raven, whom I interviewed some ten years later. Raven was perhaps the most outrageous writer of his generation, frowned on by the whole establishment, defying convention and writing explicitly about his own bi-sexuality. Blond has an enduring reputation as a publisher and retains an admiring and faithful following. As a preface to Jew Made in England he printed his own obituary, full of honest self-appraisal. Muller, Blond & White had gone bankrupt after publishing ‘a lavish volume on the Sistine Chapel, on every copy of which the company contrived to lose money’. Of his coming to Quartet he wrote:
Although an energetic spotter of talent, Blond lacked the discipline and temperance to make a good businessman, and was, according to his friends, trusting and gullible. He was now bereft, having regarded an imprint as a form of self-expression. Blond attempted to secure work through his extensive network in what he liked to call the ‘publishing game’. No one wanted to know: and Blond was quoted as saying, ‘None of my best friends are Jews.’ Nevertheless, he was taken up, out of charity, by the Palestinian Arab Naim Attallah, as a consultant to his firm, Quartet.