The Book of Wag

By Paul Sidey

A remarkable posthumous South London novel from a legendary editor

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Failed Film Producer Seeks Work (3)

This includes Paul's classic account of his first day in publishing, on a very hot day in June, which will be familiar to all those who heard his speech at his retirement party a few years ago. But it bears retelling, doesn't it?  xMarianne



In 1970, £4.1s per week National Assistance was not good enough either for a young man to live on, even with no rent to give his long-suffering parents in Dulwich Village. I answered an ad in the NEW STATESMAN for a job at Penguin Books for the post of Editorial Programme Controller, whatever that was.

I was offered an interview. It is a long drive from SE21 to Harmondsworth, out at London Heathrow, but that was where Penguin’s combined main office and warehouse was situated. My car was a yellow Daf, which ran on rubber bands. It had been left behind by my sister, who had married the film composer John Barry, famous for his scores for the James Bond films. He had taken her to Hollywood, where he was working with Alan Jay Lerner on a doomed stage musical version of Nabokov’s LOLITA.

I warmed to the Personnel Director immediately. But he was afflicted with a severe stammer. The first question was, ‘H-h-how h-h-had I got from H-H-Hammersmith to H-H-H-Harmondsworth?’ I rose to the occasion. I was ebullient. I was confident. Although I might not know a galley proof from a hole in the road, I explained I had just produced a film in France, was good at organization and people. I was their man. And I could start immediately, which was not an unappealing prospect for the present incumbent, a woman called Jennifer Kavanagh, who was large with child.

They agreed on the candidate almost immediately. The pay was £1200 per annum.

Having discovered that there was a free coach service to work, which I could pick up at Hammersmith, on the appointed day I joined a silent group of young men and women, who were all deep in the GUARDIAN.

After a morning learning the ropes with Jennifer Kavanagh, the new Editorial Programme Controller was invited out on my first day by the two Davids, Bann and Bleasdale, who ran Production. I bought the first round, pints, turned to raise my glass to my hosts, only to discover they were ready for another.

We got back to the office around 4. I had removed my tie. It was a very hot June day and I had had a few. And I was more than aware that this late return was not going to make a very good impression.

There was no air conditioning. As I was later to discover, if the temperature rose above a certain degree, staff were allowed to go home. With some trepidation, I walked down the corridor to my office. Both women who worked in Reprints were dozing. One of them always brought in her dog, which lay still with its head on its paws. Jennifer had gone home. In the long, glassed-in, open plan room, there was not a soul awake. Some rested their heads on their desks, the Managing Editor sat back in his chair with his mouth open. One woman had snuggled under her desk, with her legs sticking out.

I thought, ‘I will be all right here.’


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