AN EXCLUSIVE BUNCH

November 1981 had seen the publication of By Invitation Only, a softcover book in which Richard Young’s lens and Christopher Wilson’s pen recorded the famous, the glamorous, the ambitious, the tasteless and the shallow as they socially revered, engineered and mountaineered their way amid the party set of the day. In its pages could be found the chic and cheerful of café society hard at their occupation. The tools of their trade were a champagne glass and a black bow tie; their place of work could be anywhere within the gilded environs of Mayfair. Their only task was to have fun; their only ambition was to come by as many different pasteboard passports to pleasure as possible – each one engraved ‘By invitation only’. Peter Langan, the infamous owner of Langan’s Restaurant in Stratton Street, wrote in his foreword to the book, which he had scribbled on the back of David Hockney’s menu:

God alone knows why I should introduce you to this book. The people in it veer between the awesome and the awful. Wilson and Young who wrote it and took the pictures are the only two people who can grease their way through a door without opening it. Café society will suffer as a result of its publication. They’ll all buy it, and they’ll all condemn it. They’ll also want to take a quick peek at the index to see whether they’re in it. I don’t want discarded copies cluttering up my restaurant after they’ve finished reading it for the 297th time, so I beg you to take it home with you, put it out on your coffee table, and remind yourselves not to be so silly as to want to take part in the high life. They’re a lovely lot but sometimes they give you the skids, you know.

The cover of the book featured a dazed looking Lord Montagu clutching a glass with both hands and a cigar between his fingers. The inside cover flap stated that such is the paradox of café society that many of its components who appear in these pages would, on the whole, prefer to be absent. Many others who have been excluded would prefer to be included in. It must be made clear that some of the more arcane practices described herein apply to the latter grouping and not the former.

The illustration on the back cover showed Peter Langan in a total state of inebriation face down on the floor of his own restaurant. Appropriately enough it was at the restaurant that the book launch was held. On the night, a party for two hundred and fifty people turned into a bash for five hundred of London’s most diligent freeloaders, or so reported the Daily Mail, which then went on to say:

Naim Attallah’s penchant for bacchanalia was put sorely to the test. He played host to the cream of Nescafé society which featured in the tome. But the cast was studded with faces who did not possess the necessary encrusted invitation card. At one point the crush was so great the PR man Peter Stiles felt it necessary to elbow his way out of a corner where he was trapped by columnist John Rendall and his PR wife Liz Brewer. Alex Macmillan the publishing mogul and grandson of Harold Macmillan and Prince Charles’s personal valet Stephen Barry made sure they were adjacent to the food, whereas Gary Glitter and Bryan Ferry stuck to the wine on offer.

The book sold extremely well. It was predictably considered scandalous by some, entertainingly outrageous by others, and people outside café society did not give a jot about it either way. I came in for some personal admonishment from certain close friends who thought I should have imposed a more selective policy on who actually got into the book; there were faces whose presence in its pages could cause great embarrassment and even grief to others. They failed to understand how for me, as a publisher, any form of censorship would have gone against the grain.

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