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A FOUR-LETTER WORD

In 1993 I went to interview an elusive and very private writer, Patricia Highsmith. The trip entailed driving through the Swiss Alps from Italy to meet her and as I never drive, I needed the help of Ros Milani-Gallieni, who was working for Garrard on special projects. Apart from her driving ability, Ros’s company was a sheer delight. We flew to Milan, where we hired a car and proceeded towards Lugano, the nearest town to Patricia Highsmith’s hideaway, where we spent the night before negotiating the Alps in search of her. She had given us directions to a small village, where she said she would be waiting. She was there when we arrived, looking dishevelled and rather strange. She asked Ros to stay behind and invited me into her car. We drove up a mountainous road for about twenty minutes before reaching our destination. After an interview full of drama, she drove me back to where Ros was waiting and the parting was more congenial than the reception had been.

Ros drove us down to Milan airport, handed in the car and we flew back to London. For a short trip, it had had more than its share of melodramatic moments. Ros and I often travelled together to Milan and Paris and seemed to work well together. Her grasp of languages was an added bonus, especially in Italy. I once met her parents and we spent an operatic evening at La Scala, Milan. I particularly remember the visit since we stayed at the Excelsior Hotel Gallia in the so-called Madonna Suite, named after the pop singer, who must have used it on several occasions. It happened to be the only accommodation available at the time. We had searched elsewhere without any luck, so we figured why not live it up for the night and follow in the footsteps of Madonna? Such extravagance is something I have always been partial to.

In Paris we stayed at either the Plaza Athénée or Hôtel de Crillon, or even L’Hôtel, where Oscar Wilde was said to have lived his last days and finally died. Ros’s task in Paris was to coordinate the marketing and publicity of René Boivin there with its boutique within the Garrard showrooms in London. She also played a major role with her counterpart in Paris, who was in charge of René Boivin’s new flagship shop at 49 avenue Montaigne together with the boutique in rue de la Paix. The new shop’s inauguration party was a sumptuous affair.

In all of these activities Ros was a key figure. I met her when she was introduced to me by my wife Maria. Poised and elegant, she had perfect manners, and combined in her face the freshness of a Nordic complexion with a faint hint of the Mediterranean. She was attractive, with a mysterious air of restraint that was hard to define. My first impression was one of a young lady totally in control who would seldom allow herself to be distracted by emotional demands likely to disrupt her structured life. I was fascinated by the intriguing mix of messages she seemed to send out to the world. She was certainly someone out of the common run who had hidden depths worth exploring. Little did I know that this short encounter would lead to a working relationship destined to develop into a close and longstanding friendship that would weather the rocky patches that were to lie in its path and come through unscathed. Over time I was to discover that beneath what seemed a cool exterior Ros was a woman who was passionate about her work and passionate about people but kept her feelings in separate compartments. The phrase ‘a woman for all seasons’ was one that might have been used to describe her. She would write this memoir for my autobiography:

A Working Life with Naim

Ros Milani-Gallieni

Naim – a four-letter word – requires no introduction. The contacts and network flooded all around him whenever he called with a quest from his desk at Asprey plc. During my years beside him, in his role as group chief executive of Asprey, the luxury-goods consortium encompassing Mappin & Webb, Tomasz Starzewski, Asprey Bond Street, Asprey New York, René Boivin, Sangorski & Sutcliffe and the wonderfully distinguished Garrard the Crown Jewellers, my tasks took on the true meaning of multi-tasking – which I am still slave to today. In creating and running the most exclusive events for him, where aspiration turned into reality, he transmitted to me a wealth of enthusiasm and energy. This in turn opened out into an expansive vision of opportunities and developments for the benefit of the group.

My first interview at Asprey, shortly after a three-year stint with Anouska Hempel Couture – and three years before that with Mr Armani at Giorgio Armani in Milan – was a relaxed and welcoming affair. Naim offered me the opportunity to use and develop links with Europe and the five languages I had at my fingertips. It was an inspired chance. Work centred round the fourth floor at 106 Regent Street, which was the inner sanctum, buzzing with pretty girls, all of them much younger and more dynamic than I was. Security looked on approvingly as new arrivals and good-lookers asked to be shown their way to the fourth floor. As you opened a door you would invariably be met by an aroma of fresh-brewed coffee, or at mid-morning the fragrances of fresh herbs and fish dishes being grilled or steamed for Naim’s punctual lunch at 12.30 p.m. Press, buyers, bankers, lawyers, writers, designers must all look back on colourful memories of those times with him, and sometimes ‘one of us gals’ would be invited to spice up the table, though the calibre of the guests daunted us!

The settings were carefully prepared, and it was always a greatly animated table, with lively stories shared over large goblets of Cloudy Bay white wine, and a good strong coffee to end. Then a discreet bleeper, custom-made in black croc, would summon a ‘gertie’ to clear us all out of the boardroom and back to our duties. Naim would then leave the room, leading his friends out and enjoying compliments about the flamboyantly colourful silk linings of his newly tailored navy-blue cashmere suit, or about an unusual stone he had set in a handsome bold signet ring – a cabochon emerald.

Among the major jewellery exhibitions I set up and oversaw was the complete rebuild of the new René Boivin store after the move from L’Opéra to avenue Montaigne with Jacques Bernard at the helm of the famous Parisian signature. The prestigious Boivin collection was inaugurated with the grand opening of the Paris store in May 1993, celebrating over a hundred years of history and treasures – a collection I now have in a book to revive the dream from time to time. The French house of haute joaillerie had been brought into the Asprey group in April 1991 and boasted an exclusively designed showroom within Garrard the Crown Jewellers. Then in October 1993 there was Vienna, the venue chosen for the celebration of Garrard’s 150th anniversary as Crown Jewellers to the British monarch. The British Embassy opened its doors to this spectacular one-off royal gala and exhibition, held within the rooms of the ambassador’s home – quintessentially British territory in Austria. It was magnificence all round.

The pieces had been selected from the Regent Street store a month in advance with stealth-like secrecy. Antique clocks, Queen Adelaide’s restored crown, silver wine coolers, each the size of a small bath, ultra-fine jewellery set with the most sought-after stones, watches and more left the West End with a code word for their destination. Long preparations had gone into emphasizing the significance of this grand opening for the exhibition, with the inauguration being marked by our most elegant and striking Princess Alexandra. She was escorted and introduced to selected guests by David Thomas, the Crown Jeweller, alongside Naim and John Asprey. A complex exhibition of this size and value was a highly intricate affair requiring many preparatory journeys to Vienna to ensure a seamless outcome for the occasion. The presentation also ran along a carefully planned series of media events, with the sexy Elizabeth Hirnigel in control, gathering all the great and good of Vienna to flock to Naim, our visionary chief executive. Elizabeth was one of that special breed of high-powered public-relations women who combine fantastic professional standards with a very impressive list of social contacts.

With Boivin the creations designed in the firm’s more recent times by Jeanne Poiret, the widow of Jules René Boivin (1893–1917), are undoubtedly unique, though the life and spirit of its exquisitely created collection today lie in the dark, locked away since Boivin closed its doors. Pieces of intricacy rarely beheld – in the forms of animals, birds, flowers or fruit, each piece articulated, tremblant, sliding, pivoting – linger in vaults, a project that sadly never got to where it should have been: on the most beautiful girls and women of all ages, perceptive enough to understand its immense beauty.

The sadness of Boivin’s current fate has its reflection in the dejection surrounding the latter days of Naim’s and my projects – a friendship that at that time got locked away too when a then irreconcilable difference cut us apart. There followed a deep and complex silence, a troubled understanding of notions, of misled emotions, misguided aspirations. It all spiralled out of control and spun into free orbit. Naim was suddenly unapproachable and disappeared off to France for an entire month. How had I managed to alienate a man of such strength and emotional courage? To safeguard his well-being and allow me time to consider my work priorities, which had all along been my biggest challenge, he had set an end. I began to realize there was a gulf between us that had to be negotiated if our relationship were to survive. He wanted me to be emotionally driven in everything I did, with no defined boundaries. ‘It was,’ he said quite stoically, ‘the quest for an intellectual climax that was missing.’ Its absence was for the most part the cause of it all. I now know that this meeting of minds was to him far more potent than anything else, and certainly immeasurably more gratifying.

Fortunately, over time, we completed our journeys, our characters did grow further and stronger and more secure. The void between us became a subject we gradually started reapproaching and exploring with the confidence of reflection and thought. Through laughter and anger we came to a full circle, and are now, in these pages of Naim’s third book of memoirs, within a rich tapestry of people’s thoughts and feelings concerning an exceptionally driven and inspiring man and his journey through life. What I feel today about my learnings with Naim is that his style, enthusiasm, passion, spontaneity and completely sincere affection – which is still a part of our relationship – have made me understand the person he saw in me more than ten years ago through his nurturing and care; and this has also enabled me to see the person others see in me.

This person has now come into its own space with precisely the foresight he so clearly envisaged: ‘When she was a girl, she was a place. Now she’s a woman, she’s an entire world.’ A completion of the circle seems to have come about, a notion so well put by one of my dearest friends, who once wrote: ‘Happiness is not about doing everything you want to do, but in wanting to do everything you do.’

THE PRE-RAPHAELITE SISTERHOOD

The magnificent reviews for the new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Pre-Raphaelite Sisters, which opens on 17 October and runs until January 26, have been very exciting to read. The Times this Saturday hails the 130-odd exhibits, many seen for the very first time, as an exhibition which ‘aims to bring these women out of the shadows and to recast our understanding of the Pre-Raphaelite movement as a broader collective’.

I knew all about this of course, as Quartet first published Jan Marsh’s Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood in 1985. It has never been unavailable since and we have just reprinted a new edition with a specially written Afterword by Dr Marsh.

Jan Marsh is the curator of the new exhibition and one of the leading experts on the Victorian period, and particularly the Pre-Raphaelites and William Morris. The Times declared the book ‘required reading for all future historians of the movement’ on the book’s first publication.

The NPG show will be what they call a ‘blockbuster’ and, of course, copies of the book are everywhere on sale at the gallery, but why not get a copy to read before you go and impress all your friends with intimate gossip about the artists on display there?

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A SCOTTISH GEM

Most of my recent memories have described my publishing adventures but much of my working life was spent in the rarefied world of luxury retailing, especially with the House of Asprey where I was the Chief Executive Officer. And it was Asprey’s, The Queen’s jewellers, who were to buy the historic Edinburgh-based jeweller, silversmith and clockmaker, Hamilton & Inches, founded in 1866 and a holder of the Royal Warrant.

Acquiring a company is one thing, but finding the right person to manage it is a much harder proposition. Whenever such an appointment had to be made, I agonized over the choice, and sometimes got it wrong. People change with authority and a greater measure of responsibility; they are often overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. Although experience is a very important consideration, I have always considered it much over-valued. Energy, creativity, discipline, hard work and a sharp observant eye matter a great deal more. Along with that, the knack of enthusing people and opening their eyes to greater perspectives is equally important. Finding all these qualities in one person is seldom easy. It often involves a calculated gamble, but it is one that occasionally comes off.

This was the course I took with Julia Ogilvy, aged twenty-seven, who was running the publicity side of Garrard. She was highly disciplined, dedicated to her work and always early at her desk. We often met in the lift in the morning when everyone else was still en route to the office. Since I am a stickler for time-keeping I was naturally impressed. When her husband James moved to Fife in Scotland, Julia found it hard to keep commuting to London and asked me whether we could find her an assignment in Scotland that would make her life more practical and less exhausting travel-wise. With the acquisition of Hamilton & Inches, the opportunity arose for Julia to play an important role. Indeed, my secret ambition was loftier than people expected. I dared contemplate putting her in charge of the whole operation despite her youth.

When her appointment was announced the Scotsman profiled Julia with the opening statement, ‘Deep within the hallowed halls of Edinburgh’s finest jewellers and silversmiths insurgent forces are at work.’

The woman prepared to ruffle such fastidiously arranged feathers is Julia Ogilvy. Three weeks ago she became the first outsider to manage the eponymous family firm . . .

Although she does not take over till 1 August, Mrs Ogilvy, twenty-seven, who is married to Princess Alexandra’s son James, is spilling over with ideas to modernize, promote and package the firm. Marketing is Mrs Ogilvy’s forte. Her post at Garrard, which she held for five years, encompassed every aspect of promoting the business. It also allowed her to indulge her love for jewellery.

Julia proved to be more than equal to the challenge. Her first priority, without any prompting from me, was to gain the confidence and respect of the staff and convince them that some of the old ways needed updating to meet the fierce competition in the marketplace. She achieved both these goals in a short time and it was plain to see that the atmosphere at Hamilton & Inches was reflecting a fresh approach and a more focused objective. The displays in the shop improved and an inspired style of management based on consultation and the full cooperation of staff was introduced. The showrooms took on a grand appearance with the hallmark of elegance stamped in every corner. A revitalized energy began to sweep through the entire premises, and Julia was like a beacon of light illuminating her domain with her ineffable charm. She became my jewel in Scotland, for I could see she was far exceeding the most optimistic expectations I had of her. Julia has made Scotland her home since then and is now very keenly involved in regional affairs devoting her time to cultural and charitable activities and is highly regarded for her dedication and love of Scotland. And here are her memories:

Rising to the Challenge

Julia Ogilvy

Naim definitely loves women. I can’t believe any of his female friends would say otherwise on the whole. From the point of view of a woman, however, he does take some getting used to. I remember, from my first visit to his famous office high above Soho with its dark walls and tiger-skin rugs, the feeling of being on some kind of filmset in an X-rated movie. On the other hand, the aspect that struck me immediately was his boyish enthusiasm for everything, augmented by the speed at which he spoke, his arms waving in the air. It was clear he had a short attention span and didn’t suffer fools gladly. That suited me fine. Hearing good news made him happy and he always liked it if you agreed with his ideas, however outlandish they might seem. If you were lucky, he might forget about them later. It soon became obvious that life around Naim was always going to be entertaining, and often hilarious, and that when it came to women you didn’t need to have any worries about being politically correct. He is an incredibly tactile and warm-hearted man and was often in need of a hug to cheer him along.

My days of working as PR manager at Garrard are a period I remember with great affection. Generally we coincided in the lift at around 7.30 a.m. It seemed to make sense to get on with the day as soon as possible if, like me, you had a husband working in the City and functioned better early on. (Even now it quite irritates me if I can’t reach people in their office at 8 a.m.) Naim was obviously impressed by my timekeeping, though it never occurred to me that this might be a key reason for later promotion. I only knew it was a great chance to catch up with him and get some fast decisions. On other occasions I would be summoned to his spacious office at Regent Street (somewhat toned down in comparison with his Soho space) to discuss some new project. An even rarer piece of luck was to be invited to one of his fabulous lunches. It was always stimulating and fun to catch up on any gossip. You could rely on Naim to know what was going on. He always had gorgeous girls working for him, though it was a mistake for anyone to assume that he just liked women pretty. I certainly never met one in the entourage who wasn’t brainy as well. He loved the challenge.

Among several hilarious memories I have of those times was the occasion when Naim bought one of his assistants a set of very sexy lingerie and immediately insisted she must try it on to show him. Unfortunately she forgot that the corridor from the ladies’ loo to his office was monitored by security cameras. It took the security guards a long time to get over that one. I was fortunate enough to receive the occasional present, such as one of the tiny silver hearts he gave to all his visitors, but thankfully I don’t think he would have dared to try me on the lingerie. He was always a little more circumspect where I was concerned, perhaps because I gave an impression of being fearsomely organized and bossy. It was still strangely flattering to be asked to sign a photo of me for his office: a rather sultry shot taken for Harpers & Queen by a smooth Italian photographer.

Soon after this I came to a major turning point in my life – a time in which Naim played a very significant role. My husband and I had rather rashly fallen in love with a house in Scotland and I had begun commuting from Fife to London every week. Just as I was summoning up the courage to tell Naim I would have to leave him (he hated anyone leaving) to work in Scotland, he announced that Asprey was buying the well-known, traditional but by now near-bankrupt Edinburgh jewellers, Hamilton & Inches. His first thought was that I could work there and run the marketing side, but before long he’d decided I would make the perfect managing director. He was not at all put off by the fact that I was only twenty-seven and was restricted to a background in marketing. He had the agreement of my immediate boss, Richard Jarvis, but I knew he would have huge trouble in persuading the Asprey board, let alone me! The idea amazed me, and, overwhelmed by the prospect, I soon refused him. This was clearly not part of his plan. He introduced a diversionary tactic by saying I had to be a director and he needed me to come to the lawyer’s office in St James’s to countersign the acquisition papers for Hamilton & Inches. I arrived to find a room full of people and a set of papers with ‘Managing Director’ beside my name! Fortunately, with the support of my family, I had come round to the idea and was ready to go. The decision led to some of the best years of my working life.

Naim had known I could rise to the challenge, and he was right. I became convinced, too, that a woman was right for the role. Good ‘people skills’ were essential in those early days to remotivate the team, and ultimately marketing was probably the most relevant skill I could have had. Naim remained constantly in the background, encouraging me and so obviously proud of my achievements. Some years later, after Naim had left the Asprey group, I had the chance to lead a management buyout and had his full support all the way. Today I lead a different life, having left that period behind to found a charity, Project Scotland, providing full-time volunteering opportunities to young Scots, transforming their lives and those of their communities. I am proud to sit on the board of Lloyds TSB Scotland, to be a trustee of Columba 1400 and an Alpha leader. I can still look back on those earlier days and say that much of what I do now has only come about because of the faith, confidence and pride Naim had in me. I owe him a lot.

THIS & THAT

In October 1989 Quartet had announced my forthcoming book Singular Encounters, to be published in the autumn of 1990. This time the subject was men. It was to consist of an exhaustive study of twenty-five of them. The interviews, designed to unlock the subjects’ innermost secrets, would cover their private and professional lives, their ambitions and aspirations, and would delve into areas that carried the warning: ‘proceed at your own risk’. The first assumption made by the press was that it was out to make Anna Ford’s recent book on the same subject seem like a toe in the water compared with the murky revelations I would try to uncover. ‘It’s not going to be yet another book of interviews,’ I told the Evening Standard firmly. ‘I’m doing it for the challenge. My reputation as a writer will rise or fall on the book.’

From the start I saw Singular Encounters as a highly ambitious project, one that was bound to determine my future as an interviewer. The men I was seeking to engage were leaders in their respective fields and were unlikely to make any concessions to the fact that I was a novice in this journalistic medium. The women’s book was comparatively simple. My natural affinity with women had been an immeasurable help. I could not as yet advance the claim to have a similar affinity with men. Whether or not the right empathy was there would only emerge with time. Moreover, where the women’s book had been, broadly speaking, a compendium of their views on subjects affecting women in general, the men’s book must aim to present an individual in-depth study of each participant. As such it needed more background research and a more focused concentration during the interviews.

The difficulties were exacerbated by the slating Women had received at the hands of a large majority of critics and commentators. The general tone had been to hold up to ridicule the two hundred and eighty-nine women who had accepted the invitation to appear in its pages. I was anxious that this might now become a discouraging factor, deterring some men from agreeing to a serious encounter with me. Fortunately my fears turned out to be without foundation and most of the men I approached were happy to oblige. A. N. Wilson had his reservations at first, though he soon relented, and they had been on entirely different grounds, as he explained in a ‘Diary’ piece in the Spectator.

My friend Naim Attallah . . . is compiling a volume of interviews with the thirty most important men in the world. I believe it [will include] revealing conversations with Yehudi Menuhin, Lord Goodman, Monsignor Gilbey, J. K. Galbraith and Richard Ingrams. I was flattered to be asked to be of their number. The company is so grand that it really feels better than being given the OM . . . I said no at first, because I was frightened that Naim would only want to ask me about sex, but in the event he twisted my arm by saying that if I did not consent there would be no young men in his book. In the event, he did not ask me about sex at all, having covered the subject exhaustively with the others. I was glad to help him out by being the voice of youth.

In fact I got him on to the subject of sex by way of Christianity’s disapproval of sex, which brought him out firmly against St Augustine, St Paul and the puritans. But what about the puritan argument that sex was addictive, I asked, and that from addiction comes perversion? ‘Obviously, if you’re a healthy grown-up person, your sexual impulses go on, but that’s not the same as saying something is addictive. To say that is like saying food is addictive.’ ‘But if you suddenly had three or four women, and you start having sex with them, wouldn’t you want to have more and more?’ I pressed him. ‘What an adventurous life you must have led, Naim,’ Andrew replied. ‘I’m not qualified to answer that question.’ Despite his reluctance to rise to the bait, the riposte was very much vintage Wilson in its sharpness and humour.

Another reluctant target was Mark Birley of Harry’s Bar and Annabel’s. He procrastinated but in the end agreed as well. Until then he had always refused to submit to any press coverage and his inclusion in the book was a bit of a coup. However, it was a chance I almost missed. On the appointed day I was struck down with flu. If I had cancelled he would no doubt have jumped at the excuse not to reconvene the session at another time. To ensure this could not happen, I rose from my sickbed suffering from a fevered, aching body, swallowed two codeine tablets and phoned Mark’s secretary to confirm I would be arriving for our appointment. To my astonishment, as if by a conjunction of fate, she told me Mark had the flu as well but would be willing to do the interview at home if I was happy to make the effort. We ended up sipping champagne together in a state of near delirium and conducting a serious conversation in a codeine-induced haze. The unusual encounter marked the beginning of a friendship that remained strong over the years.

Lord Goodman raised a stumbling block of a different order. I saw him over a lavish breakfast at his London flat, initially to be assessed for my suitability to be an interviewer of this giant among men. I outlined the concept of the book for him and mentioned several people who had agreed to participate, including Lord Alexander QC and Lord Rees-Mogg. Evidently I passed muster because a month later I conducted the interview itself. Then, a few days later, a letter arrived from Lord Goodman withdrawing his permission for publication on the grounds that Richard Ingrams would be appearing in the same volume: ‘It was inexcusable to have lured me with a number of respectable names and to have withheld the fact that Mr Ingrams is to be included in the book.’

I replied with a soothing letter, reminding him of his avowed opposition to censorship and questioning the wisdom of bowing out in vexation. The strategy worked, though his reply was designed to put me in my place: ‘In view of your pathetic plea, I am prepared, albeit reluctantly, to allow the interview to appear.’

I heaved a sigh of relief. Lord Goodman, a staunch defender of the cause of the arts, commanded great respect as a legal adviser to both political wings and the establishment itself. He knew nearly everyone in British public life and had been called upon to advise virtually every great national institution. Indeed, he came close to being a national institution himself. It seemed strange that he should have felt so strongly about the one-time editor of Private Eye, though the magazine had once allegedly libelled him. He talked only in general terms about libel in our interview. ‘I’ve always deterred people from becoming involved,’ he said. It seemed that in the case of Private Eye he was unable to follow his own advice. The whole little episode was completely at odds with the image he cultivated of being a sage, invulnerable in his judgement.

Harold Acton made a sharp contrast: though he had the reputation befitting a grand aesthete, I found him easy-going and charm itself. Our interview took place in Florence over dinner at his home, La Pietra, a Renaissance villa that was like a domestic museum full of countless objets d’art and priceless paintings collected by his family over the years. I had visited him there many times, mostly for tea or dinner, when he would engage in affectionate gossip about his great friend Tony Lambton, or regale me with the latest scandals making the rounds in the small circle of Florentine society, taking especial delight in any sexual peccadilloes. He considered me an amusing dinner companion – a welcome change from certain other guests, who tended to be academic and whom he labelled stuffy and boring. He often cancelled a dinner date with them in preference for spending an evening of banter with me.

As a student at Oxford, Harold had been well known for flouting convention and mixing in male undergraduate circles where bisexuality was in vogue. His close friends included Auberon Waugh’s father, Evelyn, who reputedly used him as a model for some of the more outrageous characters in his novels. I used to tease Harold about girls and enquire if he had ever slept with one. He would put on a show of being greatly shocked at this sudden intrusion into his private life before rolling his eyes and smiling an enigmatic smile. Then he would tap me coyly on the hand as if chastising me for being such a ‘naughty boy’. This only encouraged me
to urge him on, and on one occasion he told me about an intimate encounter with a young Chinese girl during the time when he lived in China, teaching English at Peking National University in the 1930s. He described the silky skin of her naked body with obvious relish, but that was as far as he ever went. The mystery of whether he actually slept with any girl remained unsolved.

During one of our conversations, he expressed his regret at the way Oxford University had turned down his offer to bequeath them La Pietra with its collection of priceless art works, forty thousand rare books and fifty-seven acres of grounds in his will. They felt they could not have afforded the cost of repairs and restoration. Instead, after he died in 1994, La Pietra went to New York University as a study and conference centre. Although he had an American mother, he would have preferred the legacy to have gone to a British institution. In the years after his death, the estate became the subject of a long-running counter-claim from the descendants of Harold’s illegitimate half-sister, with a judge giving authority for the exhumation of his father’s body from the family grave in Florence. Happily, it seems there has been no need to disturb Harold’s remains, though his father’s were reported as confirming the DNA link.

Harold entertained well, but he had one curious phobia about electricity consumption. When I needed to visit the cloakroom he would escort me to switch on the light and linger in the vicinity to make sure it was switched off again after I emerged. It was part of his economy drive to maintain his lifestyle without compromising it with waste. Or that was how he explained it.

John Kenneth Galbraith, the world-renowned economist, was a difficult proposition: he was imperious and patronizing. From the outset he tried to dwarf me by orchestrating every aspect of our conversation, refusing to give me a straight answer when he felt a question might compromise him. Instead he would skirt around it and avoid tackling its essence; or refrain from being specific when challenged. Whenever I tried to insist on a proper response to a question, he brushed it aside with a curt dismissal: ‘Move on to the next question.’ The tone in his voice made it clear he meant what he said and I knew that, if I stood my ground, I would soon be shown the door. Since he was a name to be reckoned with, I swallowed my pride and moved on under his overbearing direction. Eating humble pie was better than having no portion of pie at all. He was a man totally secure in his self-confidence and impressively grand in his immense knowledge. The experience of meeting him was worth it for the painful lesson it gave me in self-control.

The ennobled Gordon White was another example of someone who made me feel uneasy. This was not because of any display of high intellect, but it had everything to do with the fact that he was a right-wing bigot, bereft of any compassion for the underprivileged and under no compulsion to conceal it. He was without doubt a brilliant market operator, who had found his niche in the United States and been a perfect counterbalance for his partner, Lord Hanson, who was altogether more mellow and less strident.

Lord White was also working hard to re-enact his youth at the time I met him. He had a young girlfriend, with whom he was desperately trying to keep up physically by exerting himself in the gym. His motivation was so transparent as to make it open to ridicule. The adage, ‘There is no fool like an old fool,’ was particularly apposite in his case. I somehow found myself unable to relate to him at any level. A tone of self-congratulation ran through the interview and even impinged on what he would like to have been if not a businessman – a major figure in the sporting world or an actor. ‘I was once offered a screen test,’ he said, ‘but didn’t have the courage to do it. I was afraid of failure. You see, I looked right. I was a very good-looking guy when I was younger.’ He was an ardent admirer of Mrs Thatcher, to whom he owed his elevation to the Lords.

With the broadcaster, Michael Aspel, who was introduced to me by Theo Cowan, I had a different kind of problem – one that threatened to blow up into a major row. The interview itself went extremely well. I was particularly struck by Michael’s total candour and his willingness to touch on matters that had at certain points blighted his life. His was a story full of pathos and sorrow, and it was indeed moving. The chemistry between us must have worked most effectively and I felt delighted to have extracted from him some gems that would help to make the final version a most absorbing and sympathetic lesson in soul baring. Away from the limelight of his profession, Michael revealed his true self and showed his skills and vulnerabilities in a human light.

A few days later I received a phone call from his agent requesting a sight of the edited interview. It seemed Michael was beginning to feel concerned about certain aspects that he would like to reassess and perhaps omit. Instinctively I felt the agent was angling to doctor the interview and thus fillet out its quality of spontaneity, reducing it to the usual homogenized, polished sort of interview so common in show business – the kind that avoids delving too deeply into inner feelings or dwelling on the frailties of the subject’s life. My reaction was not the one the agent had expected. I fought hard to maintain the integrity of the interview as I saw it, while also feeling some embarrassment at the prospect of having to air our views in public with the indignities likely to follow.

Theo Cowan was keen to prevent any falling out and took on himself the role of peace broker. He worked tirelessly to arrive at a solution to avoid a rumpus that was going to benefit no one. Peace was eventually restored, but at a price. Compromise is not always the best way forward. In the event, we ended up with something more like an entente cordiale, having had to sacrifice some deeply held principles for the preservation of something called ‘image’. That, alas, is more or less the way of the world.

Dominick Dunne became a household name in the United States when, after producing a number of Hollywood films, he turned to being an author and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. A recovered alcoholic, he had tragedy in his background, his daughter having been murdered by her boyfriend in 1983. The impression I had gained on meeting him was that he would have been more at ease doing the interview than being interviewed. He had an irritable impatience and I found it hard going to keep him focused. He did not appear to be interested in any of my questions, but would rather have been formulating his own and then giving what he considered to be appropriate answers. I persevered to the very end without seeming to be rattled. He was not a person I would have chosen to be marooned with on a desert island. I felt that his demons had never left him and he sadly remained a tortured soul. Possibly our encounter was ill-timed, or perhaps I myself was in a state of mental turmoil that I mistakenly projected on to him. All I could remember subsequently was my sense of relief when the interview was over. As I walked away, revived by a light breeze, the sun was shining and New York looked at its best.

Monsignor Alfred Gilbey, the ultra-orthodox Catholic Society priest who resided, till his death a few months after I interviewed him, at the Travellers’ Club in Pall Mall, was for decades a chaplain at Cambridge. He lived in grand style and entertained his guests for dinner at the club with healthy measures of good wine, obviously not believing that abstinence from culinary pleasures was needed to ensure an easy passage to heaven. For the interview, I met him for dinner and then retired with him to a quiet corner to conduct it. He certainly had a rare eloquence and gave the impression of a single-minded individual who was not afraid to court controversy, especially when it came to his views on women. Tackled directly on the subject, he swiftly emerged as a woman-hater extraordinaire, nostalgic for the days when universities and other institutions were strictly male preserves. His view, he considered, was ‘wholly compatible with the God-given design of women as complementary to men’, which was to say they were not the equal of men. I could only feel he was taking an unnecessary risk. What if God turned out to be a woman? What then for Monsignor Gilbey?

The distinguished writer Edmund White remains the most explicit individual I have ever interviewed. Endowed with formidable powers of communication and an elegant prose style, he had the ability to shock while retaining an icy composure. His life was marred as a boy by a violent father and he was later to experience the trauma of losing his male lover to AIDS. Yet his eloquence never deserted him, even when discussing the most explosive of subjects, such as a homosexual son’s incestuous feelings for his father.

Many of the homosexuals he had known, he said, ‘had strong erotic fantasies about their fathers, and have even slept with their fathers or brothers. It’s not unusual . . . I definitely had strong erotic feelings towards my father.’ An extraordinary story then emerged from his family situation.

I think the idea was that whoever was sleeping in my father’s bed was in a privileged position in the family and would gain power. In other words, my father was a tyrant, and at first my mother was in his bed and a privileged person; then my stepmother became a privileged person; then my father had an affair with my sister, and my sister was elevated in the family because of it. I didn’t know about it at the time, but I sensed it because I once walked in on them when my father was brushing my sister’s hair. She had very long blonde hair, and looked quite a bit like his mother, who was very pretty . . .
Anyway, my father was brushing my sister’s hair, standing behind her and crying as he did so. It was the only time I saw my father cry. I sensed there was something going on, but I wasn’t certain to what extent. It was only later, when my sister had a complete breakdown and was in a mental hospital, that I knew for sure. She had tried to kill herself and it all came out, but that was many years later. I guessed she had always had strong guilt feelings about this relationship with my father, maybe partly because she liked it.

I think she had loved him very much. It was extremely dramatic when my father died, because we had a farm in the north of Ohio where he wanted to be buried, and that was terribly inconvenient for everybody because it took hours to get there. We finally arrived in the small town with its little farmers’ church, and there he was in an open coffin, which I hated. But my sister went up to the coffin and talked to my father a long time, rather angrily and crying. Then she took off her wedding ring and put it on his finger. She was forty-something at the time.
It was one of the most surprising moments of revelation in the whole book.I particularly wanted to interview John Updike. He was the American writer of his generation with the most distinguished and prolific output, who had dissected the suburban sexual mores of small-town America. The snag was that he then rarely gave interviews. As André Deutsch was his publisher in Britain, I asked him if he thought he could persuade Updike to meet me. André said he would do what he could but could promise nothing. Eventually he came back and said Updike would be willing to see me in Boston, but had stipulated that the interview must be restricted to forty-five minutes. I naturally gibbed at this impossibly meagre concession, but André said well, it was either that or nothing. I flew to Boston specially and Updike came to my hotel room as arranged. Once he got going, our conversation went on for almost two hours. In his own memoirs he had described himself as malicious, greedy for a quota of life’s pleasures, an obnoxious show-off, rapacious and sneaky. This did not really match the public perception of him, I suggested.

I think that anybody who knows me would agree with all those adjectives. I was an only child who never had to compete with a sibling, and my parents were both, in their way, very loving and indulgent. Just the fact that I had the presumption to become an artist is rather ridiculous, isn’t it, with no qualifications except that I felt treasured as a child. When my mother died, among the things in the attic was a scrapbook containing many of my drawings done when I was three or four. Not every child gets that kind of attention. The good side of it is that I have a certain confidence, and by and large I’ve acted confidently in my life and had good results. The bad side is that I like to be the centre of attention.
As for being malicious, I think I am more than unusually malicious. That joy, that Schadenfreude we take in other people’s misfortunes, is highly developed in me, though I try to repress it. I detect within myself a certain sadism, a certain pleasure in the misfortunes of others. I don’t know whether I’m average in this or whether it’s exceptional, but I’m interested to a degree in the question of sadism. People who are sadistic are very sensitive to pain, and it’s a way of exorcizing the demon of pain.

I’m so aware of my enviousness that I try not to review books by contemporary Americans. I’m not sure that I would really give an honest opinion, and that’s sneaky. People who are cowardly and don’t especially enjoy confrontation or battle tend to be sneaky. In this unflattering self-characterization though, I was no doubt just doing my Christian duty of confessing sins. Human nature is mightily mixed, but surely all these malicious and cruel aspects are there along with everything else.

I then raised the question of a reviewer of his novel Couples calling him ‘the pornographer of marriage’. Did he resent this tag, I asked.

Not too much. I wasn’t trying to be pornographic. I was trying to describe sexual behaviour among people, and the effect was probably the opposite of pornographic. Pornography creates a world without consequences, where women don’t get pregnant, nobody gets venereal disease and no one gets tired. In Couples I was trying, to the limits of my own knowledge, to describe sexual situations and show them with consequences. Without resenting that phrase, I don’t think it describes very well what I was trying to do . . .

I think Couples was certainly of its time, just in the fact that it spans very specific years and refers to a lot of historical events. In a funny way, the book is about the Kennedy assassination. It’s also about the introduction of the contraceptive pill, the fact that the danger of getting pregnant was almost entirely removed and that a certain amount of promiscuity resulted directly from this technology. It also turns out that it was the pre-AIDS, pre-herpes paradise, so it was a moment that’s gone, a moment of liberation which broke not upon a bunch of San Francisco hippies, but upon middle-aged couples, yet was a revolution of a kind. It is very much of its historic moment.

There was general agreement that Yehudi Menuhin was not only a great musician but also a great human being. I had already been in contact with his father, Moshe, over The Palestinians, which Quartet had published, and was interested to hear the son’s views on some of the issues involved. My lead-in to the subject was a question about Wilhelm Furtwängler, who had remained in Germany and continued his career as a conductor almost till the end of the Nazi era. As a result he had been much criticized. Yehudi Menuhin’s assessment was both eminently sane and full of insight.

A very great conductor and an absolutely clean man, no question of that. He stood up for Hindemith, he protected a great many Jews, helped many out of Germany, and himself had to escape towards the end of the war. He happened to conduct the orchestra when some of the German leaders were there, but we can’t expect everyone to behave in the same way. Sometimes it takes more courage to remain in your country than to leave it. Those who stayed suffered a pretty bad fate, and those who came out, after all, escaped. Yet there was this feeling of superiority among those who escaped, thinking that they showed great determination in leaving it behind. I would say, Jew or Gentile, you can’t blame those who stayed, you can’t blame those who escaped. It’s just the way things went. But Furtwängler himself was a man of integrity.

The anti-Semitism I have seen in my lifetime has had a psychological impact on me only to the extent that I know it is important to maintain the dignity of the Jew and to avoid a kind of behaviour that might prompt a response. The caricature of the Jew is the businessman with the big cigar, who does exist sometimes. They can be charming and interesting people. What bothers me sometimes is that they are a little like desert flowers. When they have only a drop of water they blossom. They make the most of the opportunity, as they did in Germany before the Nazi days, when they occupied extremely powerful positions. That must have created a certain amount of resentment. Of course, it gives no excuse for anti-Semitism, but you can understand it. The Jew does not stand out in Italy or Greece, nor would he in China, since the Chinese are far cleverer at business than the Jews. There are so many different types of Jew, but traditionally people have fastened on the Jew who is obviously different from them. But there are so many that are in no way different. It’s like the problem of the black in the United States. There are almost a majority of blacks that are nearly white, and no one bothers about them.

It is true that the Jews are far too sensitive, though they have perhaps been sensitized by history. They are too ready to imagine an insult; they are not prepared to give enough leeway, even to allow for a certain misbehaviour; and it is part of the psychology. One can understand that too, and one must understand it. They have to compensate for certain established assumptions. If it’s not one thing it’s another. If it’s not religion, it’s jealousy or it’s race. Yet it’s none of these things actually. It’s simply that people are nasty and want to condemn anything if they can find a little difference; can say that hair is frizzed instead of straight or there’s a detectable accent. Then they pounce on it.

Unfortunately the Jews have come to Israel with the narrow aim of making themselves an independent nation, to a large extent disregarding the environment and the rest of the world. They didn’t come to establish a nation with the Palestinians and a wonderful federation (though now they realize that perhaps they should have done). They came instead with the pure desire to establish a Jewish state to the exclusion of everything else. They did it very successfully, but they did it ruthlessly, and probably the sense of fear is equal on both sides. I feel that the only solution lies in a federation, totally equal, as in Switzerland. If both have an equal title to the land, what else can you do? Meanwhile there is something cruel about all of us. We are capable of the most horrid things, especially if we have suffered them ourselves.

Yehudi left an indelible impression on me: a shining example of goodness and humility. He would never have thanked you to feel humbled in his presence, but that was the effect.

In December 1992, three years after my interview with Yehudi, Richard Ingrams, a friend of the Menuhins, asked me to interview Lady Menuhin for the Oldie magazine. The interview never appeared for two reasons: first, because of its length there were difficulties over successfully abridging it to fit three pages of the magazine without losing the natural flow; secondly, Lady Menuhin had concerns, as she expressed them to Richard, that some aspects of the interview might cause her embarrassment or even trigger off the kind of controversy that would be extremely harmful to her husband. Richard, not always known for his understanding in such matters, surprisingly refrained from running the interview in any form. I believe Richard took the right decision at the time, but now that the Menuhins are dead it will be enlightening to read some of Lady Menuhin’s thoughts on life with Yehudi and the dangers he had faced because of his support for Furtwängler.

As she told it in her own autobiography, Diana Menuhin came from a rigorous background, having had an Edwardian Christian Scientist mother, and a chequered career as a ballet dancer in which you could never afford to be ill, along with a love life that had gained no permanence at its centre. The disciplines she had been through made her, she felt, ‘very serviceable for life with darling Yehudi, who prefers to live on cloud nine, which he seems to have rented for most of his life’. She had met him after being in the Middle East during the war and enduring a deeply unhappy end to a love affair.

‘When I met Yehudi, my metaphysical attitude to life made me realize that he was my destiny. He fell in love with me, and I was in love with him, but as he was married with two small children I never told him. It took two and a half really terrible years for him to get his divorce, because he was so angelic he couldn’t hurt anybody, even if he knew he was not to blame for his first mistake. I may have been his second mistake, but he hasn’t found out yet.’

In her book she described her life with Yehudi as ‘service in its highest sense’. I’m an incurable, incorrigible worker.

I think that’s what Yehudi liked so much, and he recognized with great relief that we had a tremendous amount in common, that we’d both had aspirations since we were born, that I had enormous experience because I hadn’t been protected by wonderful parents who had given up everything for me. He remains to this day the most incredibly modest man, and I think that’s what the audience feels. Yehudi’s a medium – the music comes through him; he feels responsible to the composer, dead or alive. He was very sad and very lonely when I met him, because his marriage had really broken up, and Yehudi wouldn’t admit it; and if he had admitted it, he would have blamed himself. Yehudi never blames anyone else, ever, for anything. He told me that when he first saw me at my mother’s house he went away to sit on a pouffe at the end of the drawing-room, and thought, ‘I’m going to have her.’ I said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, it was your daughter’s fifth birthday,’ for I didn’t know then that the marriage was no good, but Yehudi has a way of knowing what he wants, and he gets it.

Before they could marry in 1947, there were two and half ‘dark years’ while Yehudi was separating from his first wife, but Diana never doubted she was herself doing the right thing. I never raised a finger to help him get rid of his first wife. I never told him I was in love with him, because I didn’t want him to feel any obligation towards me. Of course he knew, but I never said it, and when he told his wife about me and mentioned the word marriage, she just said no, although she had God knows how many lovers herself. And Yehudi, who is utterly good and sweet, but can also lack a certain will, blamed himself for everything . . .

But I was in love with him, the way I’d hoped to be in love ever since I can remember. I hadn’t met his wife, though I had heard rumours of her behaviour and of course I’d seen the results in him. He was completely broken by it and had even decided he would give up playing the violin. I remember saying to him – we spoke mostly in French in those days – ‘Yehudi, j’ai peur.’ Finally his wife told him that he had to stay with her and the children. It trailed on and on with her promising divorce and then breaking her promise over and over again. Then, thank God, she realized that from a practical point of view it would be better for her to marry whichever lover she had at that time, and so after two years she let Yehudi go.

Attacks on Yehudi in the Jewish press for marrying outside the faith had bothered her not at all.
In any case, the whole of that was not because he’d married a Gentile, but because he had insisted on going to Germany. He has incredible courage, Yehudi, immense courage. He went to Germany and played night and day for every cause, Jewish and German. When we were there we heard that Furtwängler had had to run away in the middle of the night because the Gestapo had come for him. He had done nothing except get on with his job and stay in the country. I knew Furtwängler because my mother had a musical salon to which every musician in the world came, and Furtwängler had lunch with mummy when he was over to conduct the opera; but Yehudi had never even met him. Furtwängler was decent and had helped Jewish members of the orchestra to get to America. He also wrote very dangerous letters from Denmark to my sister – he adored blondes and was mad about her. He wrote: ‘When I think I am writing from this country, occupied by my people, it makes me ill.’ One night his friends came to him and said, ‘Run, because the Gestapo is coming for you,’ and he escaped at night with his second wife, the lovely Lizavet. Yehudi was told that the Americans wouldn’t give Furtwängler his purification trial, so Yehudi sent off a two-page telegram to America – Yehudi’s telegrams are full of notwithstandings and neverthelesses – saying it was a disgrace to the Americans that they hadn’t at least given him the chance to clear his name. Furtwängler got his purification trial, he passed a hundred per cent clean, but of course you can imagine what the cabal in New York did about it: the ones who were jealous of Yehudi were heard to say, ‘At last we’ve got Menuhin.’ So the press reports were not really because he had married a Gentile but because he had defended a German . . .

Before Hitler one didn’t analyse Jewishness or non-Jewishness. For example, I realized only afterwards that many of the musicians who came to my mother’s house were Jews, but to me they were Russian, or Hungarian, or German, or Austrian. Until the time of the Hitler incitement, one wasn’t Jewish-conscious – I had a very broad spectrum, but it was different for Yehudi. His father had sensibly taken him away from Europe when Hitler came to power, but his American experience was very limited because his parents simply didn’t go out anywhere. . .

When I first married Yehudi, he was more or less estranged from his family because they very foolishly condemned his first wife, the last thing to do to a man who refuses to condemn anybody. So when I first went to California I told Yehudi that no Jew was ever separated or estranged from his family, above all from his mother, and I persuaded him that he should go and visit them. Abba loved America because he felt he could trust people; everywhere else in the world he thought everyone was cheating him. Mamina was a completely emancipated Jewess, totally and absolutely Russian, though she spoke six languages beautifully. When Yehudi made his incredible début at the age of nine or ten, all the Jewish community in New York naturally wanted to claim him as their star. She held them off, which led to a feeling among the Jewish community that she didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

Abba was an inspector of Hebrew schools, but they didn’t often go to synagogues, and Yehudi was brought up with no sense of what is kosher; there was nothing kosher at home at all. So there was no question of their being ritual Jews. Mamina would never touch Yiddish, and in fact spoke good German, which laid the foundation for Yehudi’s assertion that his entire culture came from Germany and Austria. After that the Jews saw their opportunity to murder him. Yehudi’s father was only anti-Israel because he had divided loyalties. He was very proud to be American, yet he was of course a Jew, the grandson of a rabbi. When he and Mamina first went to look for rooms in New Jersey when their baby was about to be born, they found a very nice landlady who must have found them an attractive pair – Abba was extremely handsome, blue eyes, blond hair, and Mamina was quite incredibly beautiful, with golden hair she could sit on and Tartar-blue eyes. As they left, the landlady said, ‘Well, I’m very glad to have you two young things, because I simply hate Jews, and I won’t have them here.’ Whereupon Mamina turned and said, ‘Well, you won’t be having us because we are both Jews.’ And as they walked away, she tapped her tummy where Yehudi was prenatally stored, and said, ‘This child is going to be called Yehudi, the Jew.’ And yet that was the last Jewish gesture she made.

For Abba, the greatest thing on earth was his American passport; it made him feel that he was somebody, because Mamina certainly didn’t make him feel that. Zionism threatened to break apart the feeling of being American; it was going to demand a dual loyalty, so he joined the Philadelphia lot, a group of very distinguished Jews. It was called the American Council of Judaism, and it was made up of all those first- and second-generation Americans who felt that it was terrible to be asked to be less than a hundred per cent loyal to their American naturalization; and this was the basis of his anti-Zionism. Secondly, the Menuhins were Jews who had never suffered. Abba didn’t know how important it was for the Jews to have a homeland. I talked to them and explained what it must have been like to have been a Jew in Europe . . . The Menuhins didn’t know how necessary it was for the Jews to try to escape the pogroms; they had never been through a pogrom.

Yehudi was not really pro-Israel. He hated militant Zionism, yet he realized the necessity for a land for the Jews, while at the same time refusing to talk about it. Yehudi was not one of your pro-Isrealis at all, and that is why they tried to kill us when we first went to Israel. With a certain amount of counselling from me, he realized that something had to be done about the Jews, what was left of them, but he never wanted to be a militant Zionist. He played at concerts to raise money for the Jewish fund, of course – that was the least he could do. But because we had already been to Germany, there followed a period [in America] of Jews being told to boycott his concerts. His concerts were always sold out, but only Gentis were sitting in Carnegie Hall. The Jews were told by all the Jewish newspapers to send their tickets back too late to have them resold, and that Menuhin was anti-Israel. It wasn’t true. He was only anti the militancy which was being shouted from the rooftops.

He went everywhere where the Jews had really suffered, where they had been taken out and burned. He even gave a concert in Berlin for the displaced-persons camp. Unless you’ve seen what had befallen those wretched Jews who had survived what was done to them by the Germans, you wouldn’t believe it. And they came crowding round the car in a wave of hate such as you’ve never seen. The military police accompanied us into the hall where people were literally hanging on to the players, and the howl of rage was really quite terrifying. But Yehudi has a radiance that makes people suddenly understand what he is trying to be. He got up on the platform, with a huge policeman each side. There was an agent provocateur with a club foot, and he was trying to incite the crowd even more. Yehudi said, ‘Let me speak. Let me speak.’ And he spoke to them in excellent German, telling them that Jews did not go begging to others because they had been maltreated – ‘We are a great race and nothing can extinguish us.’ Then they clapped, they applauded, they said, ‘Yehudi, Yehudi, you are wonderful . . . ’ He changed the whole mood of the crowd, and when the agent provocateur got up, he was booed. When we left people were crowding round the car, saying, ‘Yehudi, please come and play to us again, please.’

It was the most moving thing you can imagine. Yehudi hates talking about this and he may be angry if this comes out, but it was a wonderful moment in his life.

A FRENCH TALE

The story begins at a meeting in Paris that took place early in 1988 with a young author called Elisabeth Barillé, after I had been introduced to her by the French cosmetic journalist Elizabeth Arkus. Elisabeth Barillé’s novel Corps de jeune fille was just then the latest literary sensation in Paris. She was Parisian born in 1960 and had gained degrees in English and Russian before becoming a freelance journalist contributing to Paris-Match, Depêche Mode, Femme and Geo.

She was currently literary editor of L’Eventail. I was entranced by her at our meeting. She had that kind of sexuality which disturbs the senses. I bought a copy of the book and started reading it on the plane back to London. It was a book I could not put down. Its appeal was more attuned to the avant-garde French reading public, but her use of language and the depth of insight into the human condition were impressive. I was determined that Quartet would publish an English version, even though certain expressions she used were going to be hard to translate into English without losing their nuances.

It told the story of twenty-three-year-old Elisa, audacious and sensual, who is accosted by a middle-aged writer in the Jardin du Luxembourg. She is intrigued and troubled by him after he seduces her and says he wants her to be the heroine of his next book. As he interrogates her on her childhood and aspects of her sexual awakening, the tone of the narrative darkens and they begin to play a game in which it is no longer clear who is preying on whom.

The French press had given the book some very positive reviews: ‘A revelation . . . unpretentious and direct . . . truly liberated,’ said Marie-Claire; ‘Gay, tender, biting, playful . . . written with enthusiasm and zest,’ said FranceSoir; ‘Vigorous, direct and lucid, sparing nothing and nobody,’ said Le Figaro Littéraire. The English literary establishment was more ambivalent in its reception of the translated version under the title Body of a Girl. It came as no surprise, however, for I had always been aware that its appeal here would be limited. It belonged to a genre that had that intrinsically cerebral quality more consonant with European culture. Clarence de Roch in Tatler chose to focus on the book’s erotic side. His opening paragraph set the mood of his piece: ‘There’s a brilliantly funny scene in Elisabeth Barillé’s first novel, in which Elisa, the heroine, brings her suitor’s amorous élan to an abrupt halt by staring at his exposed penis and describing it witheringly (literally so as it turns out) as looking “just like Cyrano’s nose!”’ Cara Chanteau in the Listener was rather more dismissive:

Jane Austen once wrote that in Emma she was planning a heroine ‘which no one but myself would like’: Barillé might, with a lot more justification, have said the same for Body of a Girl. It is a problem from which her novel never really recovers . . . [But] Barillé has a good and very fluent style; one could wish to see it employed on more searching subject matter. Perhaps the successor to Body of a Girl might be a little more sparing with the body and reveal rather more about the girl.

Janet Barron, for the Literary Review, found a degree of merit in the book, though she confessed that the use of some words made her blush:

I wouldn’t recommend reading some of this in public; try convincing the chap who’s peering over your shoulder that ‘fanny’ is a symbol of women’s liberation. Barillé takes the obsessions of male erotic writing and attributes them to her narrator Elisa. The result is often witty. Barillé has a sardonic sense of humour and Parisian bohemianism is given a sarcastic twist.

Rebecca O’Rourke’s reaction in the Guardian was especially damning:

Elisa’s sexual history contains much that is surprising and some that is shocking. It’s a joyless account, rehearsing without exploring the idea that women’s autonomous sexuality is the province of whores and sluts. The special secret Elisa keeps to herself is compulsive masturbation, fuel to shameful self-hatred. Britain often looks to France, impressed by the latter’s sexual freedoms and sophistication. Colette, Violette Leduc and Simone de Beauvoir made enormous contributions to women’s writing by pioneering sensual, erotic and sexual themes. On the evidence of Body of a Girl, this pre-eminence is now receding.

In late 1990, Quartet published Elisabeth Barillé’s second novel, Marie Ensnared. This time the author’s obsession with prostitution manifested itself even more clearly. The story had the same resonance as Body of a Girl, but in this one the heroine began to lead a double life. To summarize the plot, Marie and her husband Luc, a charming and talented architect, apparently make the perfect bourgeois couple. While he provides her with a life of comfort and security, she is his perfect companion and hostess to the cosy, if complacent, dinner parties that are the cornerstone of his success. Then Luc accepts a commission to build a vast palace in the Moroccan desert for a rich megalomaniac Aloui, whose escort is Nalège, a malicious manipulative call-girl. Marie becomes fascinated by Nalège’s lifestyle, seeing it as an emancipation from the trap of comfort that is her life with Luc. She becomes her understudy, but when Nalège sends her the obese, alcoholic Aloui, the arrangement ends in a disastrous surfacing of guilt and self-loathing, with Marie now the victim of male cruelty and her own emotional confusion.

When I read Marie Ensnared I strongly suspected that the book had an autobiographical basis and that Barillé’s fictional account was a clever way of expressing her own dark secrets. Barillé’s own explanation for her theme was that, ‘Eroticism interests me more than sex. It’s the staging of our sexual impulses.’ But in the view of Jane O’Grady in the Observer, ‘chic, pretty Marie’ was both ‘directing and starring in the film of her life, and Barillé’s slim novelette resembles a soft-porn movie minus eroticism’. Neither Body of a Girl nor Marie Ensnared made the impact I personally had anticipated.

Somehow they failed to catch the mood of the literary public in Britain. La différance was once again manifesting itself.

GOD CRIED

I had an uncanny premonition that 1983 would be a difficult year. So far my new career as a publisher had been bumpy but without too much discomfort. The controversies of the past twelve months had left my fighting spirit intact. My wife Maria maintained that I always courted trouble because basically I enjoyed adversarial combat. It was my way, she said, of reassuring myself that I was capable of defending what I felt to be right, whether ideological or political. There was an element of truth in that, I had to admit. I function at my best under pressure and relish the art of tactical manoeuvring. I never seek conflict for its own sake, and I would rather win a contest through debate or highly charged negotiation. To pit one’s intellect against that of an opponent and win is far more satisfying and morale boosting than entering into some vulgar spat that is undignified for both winner and loser. While I am prone to flare up at the least provocation, I try to leave matters to simmer down before I react.

The start of 1983 was benign enough. The attentions of the press seemed to become focused on Sabrina Guinness, who was causing a great deal of speculation following her appointment to head a book club affiliated with the Literary Review. The announcement of the launch party led to various cheap asides in the press questioning her suitability to run such an enterprise. The gossip writers had a field-day delving into her background and claiming she possessed the less serious attributes of a social butterfly. Some reported that she was presently engrossed in books to bring her up to the mark in her new job; others held more cynical views. Sabrina herself showed great reserve, refusing to let her feathers be ruffled by this onslaught of adverse publicity. She proved to have an impressive measure of resilience in coping with the situation and rose above it all with dignity.

Sabrina organized the launch party, which was notable for the rich mixture of people it assembled. The literati were there in force, alongside the gossip mongers who could not resist the chance of picking up more material for their columns. The usual crowd of book-event attenders chattered with delight as they circulated among the beautiful young women there to show their solidarity with Sabrina, whom they considered one of the gang. Roald Dahl, who reputedly never attended a publishing function unless it was to do with one of his own books, had responded to a personal invitation from Sabrina. He was there with his daughter Tessa, who had had a small part in The Slipper and the Rose, the film I had produced with David Frost.

Roald Dahl and I began our conversation with his asking me in which part of Palestine I was raised. He knew the country well, he added, having been stationed there as a fighter pilot with the RAF during the Second World War. Their target at the time had been the Vichy administration in Lebanon. When I told him my home town was Haifa, his face lit up. The mention of it brought back poignant memories, he said. He described how the Arab peasants would wave to signify good luck as the fighter planes flew over Mount Carmel on their outward sortie, and waved to welcome them back when the pilots made a safe return to base. As he was speaking a sudden thought shot into my mind. Quartet was about to publish a book, hard-hitting in its views, on Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Perhaps we could ask Dahl to write a piece about it for the Literary Review.

The title was God Cried and the author was Tony Clifton, a well-known and respected journalist who worked for Newsweek; his collaborator was Catherine LeRoy, a veteran French war photographer. The book described, in harrowing detail, by way of its words and pictures, the violence and destruction inflicted by the Israeli armed forces on West Beirut through shelling and bombing and the harsh realities of their occupation. Its title derived from a piece of Palestinian black humour circulating in the Middle East at the time, it being said that God had agreed to answer one question each from Ronald Reagan, Leonid Brezhnev and Yasser Arafat. The American president asked his question first, wanting to know when an American would become leader of the whole world. ‘In fifty years,’ said God. And Reagan cried. When God asked him why he cried, he said, ‘Because it won’t happen in my lifetime.’ Next it was the turn of Brezhnev, who wished to know from God when the whole world would be communist. ‘In a hundred years,’ said God. And Brezhnev cried for the same reason as Reagan. And when it came to Arafat, he asked God, ‘When will my people have a homeland of their own?’ And God cried.

Before I could broach my idea for a review from Dahl, I needed to observe the protocol between proprietor and editor and consult with Gillian Greenwood on whether she would agree. Hers was the last word editorially on what went into the magazine and the choice of contributors. I tracked her down in another corner of the launch party and put the question. She gave me the green light at once. Returning to Roald Dahl, I asked him whether he might be interested in writing such a review. His reaction was abrupt to the point of hostility. He received many requests from publishers to review their books, he told me, and never agreed to do one, irrespective of the book’s merits. He would certainly make no exception to the rule on this or any other occasion. Dahl could display a rather intimidating side if he was roused and I stood there dumbstruck. The earlier warmth of our conversation evaporated instantly. I mumbled a few meaningless phrases and retreated politely, under the pretext of not wishing to monopolize his company.

After recovering from the shock of this sudden embarrassment – not because of his refusal to write a review but because of the manner in which he had expressed it – I went to seek Tessa Dahl to protest at how I was mortified by her father. She was not in the least surprised to hear my tale, being quite accustomed to his brusque moods. Would she be able to persuade him to change his mind, I wondered, given his interest in Palestine? If we sent her a copy as soon as the book became available, she suggested, she would try her very best to cajole him into a change of heart. I held out very little hope of her succeeding, but sent her God Cried even so, just for its promotional value.

Hardly a week had passed before a letter from Dahl arrived enclosing a comprehensive review and informing me that he did not wish to receive any payment for it. I was thrilled until I started to read it, and then my spirits fell in semi-horror. It was couched in language unhoned by diplomacy and without the least regard for the art of gentle censure. Dahl was bold and unrelentingly scathing in his condemnation of Israel for its brutal opportunistic incursion, which had taken its army all the way to Beirut. I knew at once that publication of the piece would send the influential pro-Zionist lobby into a frenzy of rage. It was addressed to the editor of the Literary Review, and since the decision on whether to print it would have to be Gillian Greenwood’s, I passed it on quickly.

Gillian shared my concerns and we agreed we must first check it out with our lawyer, Michael Rubinstein, whose advice and suggestions would be pertinent since he was himself Jewish. To our utter surprise, Michael liked and approved of Dahl’s review. Apart from editing out a few of the more intemperate expressions, he urged us to publish it. The reason he gave was that criticism of Israel should not, when it was deserved, be silenced by those who chose to see only one side of the equation. Michael was a liberal and an ardent champion of the oppressed and dispossessed. His last words to Gillian and myself were: ‘Publish and be damned.’ We did publish; and we were damned.

The reaction to the review was far more extreme that we had anticipated. Apart from the overreaction of the Jewish lobby, the friends of Israel in the media became virulent in their onslaught on Dahl, myself and the Literary Review. The attacks came in from every side, even reaching a pitch where many journalists and politicians of high standing called for a boycott of the magazine and anyone connected with it. Every day something more vicious than the day before appeared somewhere, with accusations of anti-Semitism becoming more strident and preposterous as the campaign to discredit Quartet and the book gained momentum. Dahl did nothing to help matters by growing even more combative and being provoked into making outrageous, inflammatory responses. He was not in the least chastened by all that was being said about him. On the contrary, he expounded on his views and riled the press by being abrasive and dismissing their questions out of hand. There was no way of putting a gag on him and no point in asking him to cool things down. He had the bit between his teeth and nothing would stop him giving our adversaries all the fuel they could have wished for to keep their engines firing.

Time after time I was asked by the press to comment on one or other of his utterances and found myself at a loss for an appropriate response. He was still my contributor and I could not let it seem I was being unsupportive of his right to hold his own views. It was a difficult situation that had gone beyond control. Although we were fighting from the same corner, our temperaments and perceptions of how to get a grip on things were vastly different. In a way, he had dug himself into a hole from which he could not extricate himself without sustaining some damage. When the whole uproar began I had, in fact, been away for a break in Italy, visiting Lord Lambton, who had invited us for the first time to stay at his villa outside Siena. The holiday was constantly interrupted by the latest reports from London as the drama began to unfold. On the way back to England we travelled via Florence to meet Harold Acton. He had asked us to tea at his famous palazzo overlooking the city, and afterwards took us to walk in the extensive historic gardens, insisting on having his photograph taken with my wife. From that rarefied and civilized experience I plunged into the explosive turmoil back in London, generated, first, by the publication of God Cried, and secondly by the furore that was continuing over Dahl’s review. Rather than showing signs of blowing over with time, the row seemed to be gaining strength. The entire British press gave the impression of having ganged up to condemn us unjustly– given that in every dispute there are two sides to the issue.

To make matters even worse, Jeffrey Bernard, in his ‘Low Life’ column in the Spectator, went way beyond the bounds of decency by proposing that, as a retaliation for the sentencing of ‘a parched man’ to six hundred strokes by those ‘awful Arabs’ (referring to an event in Saudi Arabia), six hundred strokes should be inflicted on an Arab in London. He nominated me for this punishment as the boss of Quartet Books and possibly ‘the ugliest man he had ever met’. It was beyond comprehension that the Spectator should have published such offensive material, but the Mail on Sunday ferreted out a reason to explain ‘why the genial Jeffrey is lashing out at Naim in the Spectator’. David Skan, the writer of the short piece, speculated that it was ‘probably not unconnected with an encounter between Attallah’s Quartet book firm and Bernard, who was commissioned to write a book about racing. Deadlines were missed and the book never appeared. Attallah made Bernard repay the advance.’

Then out of the woodwork there came Paul Johnson, known for his Zionist sympathies, with a very trenchant article, again in the Spectator, that poured scorn on the Literary Review. Dahl’s article, said Johnson, was in his view ‘the most disgraceful item to have appeared in a respectable British publication for a very long time’. He could not actually recall anything like it. Moreover, he claimed, the Review was ‘controlled by a wealthy Palestinian who also runs Quartet Books’, adding that ‘the Literary Review has published anti-Israeli material before’. In the face of this I could not remain silent and sent a letter to the editor of the Spectator to challenge Johnson to substantiate his charges since he accused Dahl of a ‘reckless disregard for facts’.

Where horrendous loss of life and human misery is at stake, complaints of tendentiousness should be discounted. Johnson has no more need to apologize for the expression of his strong feelings that I have for accepting my editor’s decision to publish the expression of Dahl’s strong feelings in the Literary Review. Nor am I ashamed of my own strong feelings about the current appalling misfortunes of both the Lebanese and the Palestinians; for every comparably suffering Jew I feel no less strongly.

Johnson concludes his diatribe: ‘The most effective action the civilized community can take is for reputable writers to refuse to be associated with a journal that publishes such filth.’ Contributors to the Literary Review are encouraged to write freely within the law. It is not to be assumed that the editor or publisher necessarily agrees with all the opinions of the contributors. Or necessarily disagrees with any of them.

My letter was published by the Spectator on 10 September. Meanwhile Private Eye had muscled in to comment in their ‘World of Books’ of 26 August that I had struck again by publishing God Cried, and by running a review of the book in the Literary Review. They claimed the staff were unhappy with the piece Dahl had produced, but were forced to run it by me, the ‘Arab propagandist’. What had appalled them, they said, was the evidence of blatant anti-Semitism in the copy and how Time Out had published a slightly sanitized version of the review instead of doing their own. My response to Private Eye’s allegations appeared in their 9 September issue.

As Bookworm writes, I own through companies both Quartet Books and the Literary Review. Nevertheless, in no sense did I ‘force’ the Literary Review to publish the copy, nor was the staff ‘appalled [at] the evidence of blatant anti-Semitism in the copy’.

The suggestion that I am anti-Semitic is as absurd as it is mistaken. If being sympathetic to the Palestinians in their plight justifies condemnation of me as a ‘Palestinian propagandist’ then I will live with that. But it is a mischievous distortion of the meaning of propagandist – one who disseminates ‘information, allegations, etc., to assist or damage the cause of a government, movement, etc.’ (Collins). I am prepared to risk such abuse as Bookworm’s when I believe that the publication of a book may serve the cause of humanity. I trust the editor of the Literary Review to exercise her discretion in the same cause.

Running parallel to all this, a minor scuffle was set off when The Times ‘Diary’, under the heading ‘Chutzpah’, announced that I had entered God Cried for the three-thousand-pound H. H. Wingate Prize, which is awarded to an author who stimulates interest in Jewish affairs, when I knew very well there was scant prospect of the book winning. My reasoning in doing so was that it would at least give the judges the opportunity to look at the book and perhaps recognize the other point of view. The Jewish Chronicle came in to say that, for once, it agreed with The Times: it was chutzpah indeed, given the nature of the book and the intemperate language used by Dahl in his review of it.

Time Out was also dragged into the firing line for having published its abbreviated version of Dahl’s piece. The magazine was flooded with letters of protest and suffered a concerted attack from the media for having dared to publish the article. Philip Kleinman, writing in the Jewish Chronicle on 26 August, summed up the situation by threatening that ‘if Time Out can bash Israel, it may well be that some Jews might want to bash Time Out. It has a circulation of 65,000 and is heavily dependent on advertising, most of which could be placed elsewhere (What’s On, City Limits, the Standard).’ A few days later, in the Jewish Chronicle of 2 September, Kleinman picked up on a statement made by Mike Coren (himself Jewish) in the New Statesman to the effect that I had, as owner of the Literary Review, been put in a difficult position by Dahl’s article, since ‘not even the crudest Zionist could accuse [me] of antiSemitism’. Yet in Kleinman’s view, my remarks to Coren made it clear that it had been the proprietor not the editor of the Literary Review who had got Dahl to write the piece in the first place. According to Private Eye, he reported, the Review’s staff had been appalled by its anti-Semitism but were forced to use it.

On 9 September the Jewish Chronicle carried a letter from me responding to Kleinman’s article of the 2nd:

Sir – In Philip Kleinman’s article he referred to a report that the Literary Review staff were appalled by the anti-Semitism in Roald Dahl’s review of God Cried, but were forced by me to publish the article. I have already written to Private Eye pointing out that there is no grain of truth in this statement.

Because of the controversial nature of the article, we have published a number of hostile letters in the current issue of the Literary Review (September 1983). We believe a free discourse on such an important subject can only help to bring about a better understanding of the issue. May I conclude by saying that the killing of innocent people of any race, or creed, is a heinous act, and should be condemned by humanity as a whole.

The previous day, the 8th, The Times ‘Diary’ reported that Peter Hillmore of the Observer and their own Frank Johnson were on the point of heeding the call from Paul Johnson to boycott the Literary Review. Both had contributed to the current issue but neither of them was sure they wished to do so in future. Hillmore said he considered the article to be ‘plain, abusive antiSemitism which should never have been printed’, while Johnson said that ‘even by the standards of anti-Israel bias, this piece was above and beyond the call of duty. Gillian Greenwood, when asked for her reaction, said that other contributors to the magazine told her that nobody takes any notice of what Paul Johnson says in the Spectator.’

Back on 2 September, the Evening Standard reported how I had gone to the extraordinary length of removing from the masthead of the Literary Review the name of its poetry editor, Carol Rumens, in the wake of her having written a letter of protest about the Dahl piece in the magazine’s letter pages. She wished to dissociate herself from it, she told the Standard, as she thought the review inaccurate and inflammatory. It was a bad thing, she added, when the proprietor of a magazine identifies too closely with the views expressed in it. Presumably I had removed her name because I was embarrassed that an employee of the magazine (albeit a freelance) should have criticized any of the magazine’s contents. ‘But at least,’ she said, ‘he’s printed my letter.’

Again on 2 September, William Hickey of the Daily Express informed his readers how an almighty row had blown up in the world of literature, featuring spooky writer Roald Dahl and right-wing columnist Paul Johnson, who was calling for a boycott of the Literary Review. When asked to comment on this, ‘Mr Attallah dismissed Johnson’s call for a boycott by saying: “What do you expect from a man who changes his politics as often as I change my shirts! He has no credibility as far as I am concerned.”’ But then the Express claimed in the final paragraph that I had bowed to a swarm of protests by agreeing to publish a number of letters putting the opposite point of view. The paper agreed to publish a letter from me in reply under the heading ‘Unbowed – a free forum for and against Israel’:

Sir – William Hickey highlights the fact that, following the review by Roald Dahl in the Literary Review, published by my company, of the book God Cried, about the 1982 Lebanon crisis, columnist Paul Johnson has called for a boycott of the Review.

The Literary Review provides a forum for the free expression of opinion, and I would not expect reputable writers to refuse to be associated with the journal merely because it has published strongly expressed anti-Israel views by Roald Dahl. William Hickey is, however, wrong to say that I have ‘bowed to the swarm of protest’ over Dahl’s anti-Zionist piece.

Letters putting the opposite point of view to Dahl’s have been published in the September issue of the Literary Review because that is precisely in accordance with its policy.

As the row continued, Sebastian Faulks wrote in the Sunday Telegraph of 18 September about what he called ‘a publisher under bombardment over an anti-Jewish book review’. The overall thrust of his article was, in my opinion, objectionable on many fronts. He called the review by Dahl anti-Jewish when it was no such thing. Admittedly Dahl used very strong terms in his condemnation of Israel for invading Lebanon and maltreating the Palestinians, but it was nothing more, nothing less. I also felt angry about what I felt was a misrepresentation by Faulks of the whole issue, not only where it concerned me personally but also for his evaluation of Quartet as a publishing house. The Sunday Telegraph agreed to publish a letter from me in reply under the heading ‘A publisher’s policy’:

While it is unnecessary to take issue with the sillier aspects of Sebastian Faulks’s article on myself, I would question his dismissal of our publishing programme as celebrity orientated, erotic and propagandist.

Quartet have some 300 titles in print. Less than 20 of these deal with the Middle East, of which 11 are concerned with the literature, folklore and anthropology of an area whose cultural influence on European civilization has been shamefully neglected. At present we have nine photographic books on our list, and for your journalist to dismiss the talents of Helmut Newton, John Swannell, Deborah Turbeville and Angus McBean simply as ‘erotic’ is philistine to say the least.

To describe as ‘not serious’ an imprint that publishes Jessica Mitford, Lillian Hellman, Cesare Pavese, ‘Multatuli’, Fleur Cowles, Shusaku Endo, Robert Kee, Anaïs Nin (to name a few), and whose autumn list includes Celia Bertin’s Marie Bonaparte, Ryszard Kapuscinski’s The Emperor and Sue Davidson Lowe’s monograph on her great-uncle, Alfred Steiglitz, rather hints that Faulks and his star-witness, Giles Gordon, might have other reasons for the sneers and innuendoes in the article. Moreover, it would seem a curious strategy for a publisher intent on ‘forcing his way into the establishment’ to publish Paul Robeson’s political writings, Jeremy Seabrook’s blistering attack on the inhumanity of unemployment, James Avery Joyce’s plea for arms reduction or Ralph Miliband’s socialist tract. Our list speaks for itself and we remain, whatever Faulks and Gordon may say, an independent radical publishing house. And make no mistake, there are all too few of us left.

The Sunday Telegraph had printed my letter, but in line with Private Eye practice it gave the last word to Sebastian Faulks, who said:

I wrote that Quartet has published a ‘wide variety’ of books but that its ‘hallmarks’ (i.e. those books with which it is most clearly and commonly associated) were ‘pro-Palestinian books on the Middle East, collections of erotic photographs and volumes by English establishment figures’. I can still see no reason to modify that description either in respect of the ‘variety’ or of the ‘hallmarks’.

My reaction at the time was that Faulks’s riposte to my letter was ungracious if not bordering on the bloody-minded. I felt he could have been more conciliatory in the circumstances. More of a reasonable tone was sounded by Alexander Chancellor in the Spectator on 10 September when he suggested that the civilized community should suspend its boycott of the Literary Review on the grounds that we all publish rotten articles from time to time and that he ‘felt a little sympathy for Miss Greenwood’s employer, Naim Attallah, who happens to be of Palestinian origin’.

Despite the fact that during the summer he was the object of vulgar abuse in the pages of this paper by Mr Jeffrey Bernard, he wrote a most gentlemanly letter to the Spectator in reply to Mr Johnson’s attack. The letter was gentlemanly because it failed to point out that Mr Attallah is not the sole proprietor of the Literary Review. A chunk of it is owned by the Spectator’s revered proprietor, Mr Algy Cluff.
In the end, as the row continued for weeks, it became tiresome, with the same points being laboured over and over again, irrespective of which side they were fired from. I was then challenged to speak to the Jerusalem Post, an opportunity I willingly welcomed, for I had nothing to hide or be ashamed of. Their feature article, which covered the whole saga, included a short discourse I had with the newspaper, which prefaced our conversation by saying that neither I, nor the editor of the Literary Review, nor Dahl himself had the slightest regrets about the article. It went on to describe how I had been born in Haifa in 1931 but since 1949 had been living in England, where I had become a publisher. My last visit to Israel was six years before when my father died and I had never had any flair for politics.

I did not deny the fact that I was opposed to Zionism and had great sympathy with the Palestinians in their plight for statehood, but was adamant that I never used the magazine to push my own views. The editor decided what to publish, but in cases where an article might cause controversy, then consultation between editor and proprietor was the norm. I also rejected the charge that the article was anti-Semitic, despite its strong language. ‘If I thought it was, I would not have published it. I’m the last one to talk about anti-Semitism. The Arabs and the Jews are both Semitic people.’ In any case, I told my interlocutor, a healthy debate is far better than resorting to violence. It is an essential part of democracy that people should be free to express their own views. Gillian Greenwood was of the same opinion. She said that a contributor to the magazine should be allowed to express his view and confirmed that she had no regrets about publishing the review in question.

The scale and persistence of the Roald Dahl controversy perhaps deflected some attention from the book itself, which had been the reason for the original upsurge of indignation. When God Cried was published in the United States, its fate was rather different. It was virtually ignored at every level by book editors and reviewers as if it did not exist. The well-known Jewish columnist and blues historian, Nat Hentoff, wrote an article around this phenomenon that was published in Voice on 14 February 1984. ‘Have you forgotten that summer in Beirut so soon?’ he asked in his headline, referring to the 1982 massacres of Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatila camps, carried out by the Christian Phalangist militia with the connivance of the Israeli authorities during their invasion. He juxtaposed two quotes on the Lebanon adventure, the first from the Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, when he said, ‘Never in the past was the great Jewish community in the United States so united around Israel, standing together’; the second came from the respected Israeli diplomat and politician, Abba Eban: ‘Beirut for us was like Moscow for Napoleon, a place you’d wished you’d never been.’

‘There is a rage in the book, and shock,’ wrote Mr Hentoff, ‘and much beauty in the faces of the children. I do not know of a more frightening book published last year.’ It had been published by a company owned by a Palestinian Arab. ‘Aha you say. This must be propaganda.’ But then he asked whether, if you took up a strongly pro-Israel book, you looked to see if its publisher was Jewish. ‘Yes, I guess some of you do, just as some of you will dismiss this book without looking at it because who can trust a Palestinian? That kind of dumbness cuts across ideological lines, and there’s nothing to be done about it. I hope some of the rest of you will judge God Cried on its own.’

It was not surprising that Tony Clifton’s prose should have been raw, like some of his memories. It had been ‘one hell of a bloody, brutal siege of Beirut’. There was the story of an editor on the New York Times who cut the adjective ‘indiscriminate’ from the dispatch of a correspondent reporting the bombing – because he found it hard to believe. ‘But . . . the Israeli planes . . . did not give a good goddamn what they hit. The apologists for this most shameful operation in the history of Israel – and many Israelis see it as criminal – can’t have it both ways. If there was only precision bombing, why were clearly marked hospitals hit? Repeatedly.’

Hentoff conceded that Arafat and the PLO hierarchy had interspersed themselves among civilians and that it was possible that some of them took shelter in hospitals for the mentally handicapped, ‘one of which was bombed five times’; but even so, how could it be worth the cost to ‘kill the maimed, the halt, the blind, kids, anything that moved? What would have been worth this terrible price in Israel’s first war that was not one of defence?’ ‘All atrocities should be written about with rage,’ said Hentoff, coming to the fundamental point. ‘But no one writer has space for all, and I choose Beirut because I am Jewish and feel kinship with those in Israel who do not want Jews, anywhere, to forget what happened in Lebanon in the summer of 1982. Lest it happen again under Jewish auspices, including the support of American Jews.’

Nat Hentoff, writing in America, had finally thrown into relief the meretricious judgements made on God Cried by such a large and influential section of the press in Britain.

A MISSED OPPORTUNITY – OR WHAT..?

In the 1980s, Quartet’s New York office begun to publish more titles specifically for the US market. The office was managed by Marilyn Warnick who was more and more on the watch for likely books emanating from local contributors. Her most recent discovery was the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who was attracting attention not only for his outstanding talent but also because of some of the subjects he chose to photograph. He was already revered and loathed in equal measure. Everyone agreed, however, that with his unique but disturbing style he ranked among the best photographers of his generation. He pushed degeneracy to extremes and stretched the boundaries of homoerotic imagery to a level of debauchery that was wilfully shocking and unashamedly revolting.

Marilyn took me to meet Mapplethorpe in his studio cum apartment in the Bowery. With Quartet having become internationally known for publishing plush photographic books, we both had it in mind that he could be a natural addition to the list. We found him oddly dressed in leather gear, with such fetishistic sex-aids as dildos, chains and whips strewn around his living area. The walls were covered with amazing photographs of young men and women in bizarre but powerful poses. The atmosphere was disturbing and I felt slightly uncomfortable until he led us into an adjoining room to show us some of his exquisite photographs of flowers. By these I was totally enchanted, affected by their beauty and the magic they seemed to generate. There was no doubting that they were masterworks and their creator a genius. I began to warm to him and to feel a growing optimism about the chances of landing him as a Quartet author. He said that he had photographed Rebecca Fraser – who he knew worked at Quartet – when she was in New York, and offered me a signed print. Thus the meeting ended on a positive note as we agreed to think about the most suitable terms for a future collaboration.

After this first encounter I was feeling quite excited about having his name on the list of famous photographers we published. It would add to our prestige, especially in the United States. On my next trip to New York, a couple of months later, I went to see him in the Bowery again. His place was still as cluttered as before with sexual contraptions of every imaginable kind, some of them with sado-masochistic connotations. Again I felt distinctly uncomfortable and had to struggle to maintain an appearance of relaxed unconcern. Robert was as outrageously dressed as usual, all in black leather, and although he lacked a whip he seemed as threatening as if he had one. We exchanged pleasantries and then went straight to the heart of the matter. He would not mind being published by Quartet, he said, but he would have to insist on a large advance against royalties and total editorial control over what appeared in the book. The size of the advance he specified would have been difficult for Quartet to raise, but not impossible; his second demand was another matter. Total control would have been unacceptable under any conditions. My instincts told me that his choice of photographs was likely to be so reprehensible as to make any collaboration between us impossible.

When he had to leave the room to take an urgent telephone call, I wandered into another room that he used to exhibit some of his latest work. There I was brought to a standstill by a series of photographs of fist-fucking so shocking that I experienced a surge of physical nausea. The graphic images were so horribly inhuman and alienating that surely they could only appeal to psychopathic personalities. I darted back to where I had been sitting when he went to answer the phone and tried to regain my composure. When he came back I said I would consider the terms he suggested and made my exit without further ado.

I never saw Robert Mapplethorpe again, nor did Quartet ever publish any book of his. He died of the ravages of AIDS a few years later and was hailed as the most accomplished photographer of his time. His fist-fucking photographs were exhibited in New York amid a barrage of controversy. Today there are collectors worldwide of his photographs, which sell at auction for great sums of money.