The Book of Wag

By Paul Sidey

A remarkable posthumous South London novel from a legendary editor

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

For the Friends of Paul, another instalment in his short memoir about his career:Failed Film Producer Seeks Work (5)

Not long after, the chance to publish another hero presented itself. It was the year I received the black spot from Penguin, 1980, but I managed first to publish a book of reviews by Francois Truffaut, called THE FILMS IN MY LIFE.

He also did a unique and absorbing interview at the NFT. But beforehand, I invited him to tea and cucumber sandwiches at the flat I shared with my sister in Cadogan Square. It had been an exceptionally hot day in London, and I was surprised when M. Truffaut arrived, wearing a casually knotted white scarf.

Although we had corresponded for some time and he had sent me the script of my favourite DAY FOR NIGHT, signed ‘Amicalement, Francois’, we did not know each other. I could still communicate in reasonable French, but it was hard work. I knew he spoke English and asked him about that. ‘Only when I am angry,’ he replied.

The people from the NFT gave a supper at Joe Allen after the stage interview. A number of critics were there, including Dilys Powell from the Sunday Times. Truffaut was surrounded. I wanted to talk. I inhaled a fair amount of the red infuriator, and then someone offered me the chance to swap seats.

Francois did not drink that night. He was still and as reserved as an Englishman. My hands flailed like a French impersonator as I stumbled on to one subject that seemed to excite a flicker of interest – Hitchcock’s trailers. But when we ended the reel, that was it.

Shaking hands at the end of the evening, I recalled watching the curtains come down over Chuck Heston’s eyes when we had said goodbye. Job done. It was a good lesson. Don’t confuse the personal and the professional.

That said, and jumping ahead in time, the two worlds can coincide. At Hutchinson, where I worked for 31 years after leaving Penguin, I published a memoir by the great actress Anna Massey. We lived close to each other in West London, and, when it was made known to me that she wanted to do a book, we met for lunch. Anna had never written a word, but she had succinct recall, although a key memory of seeing herself, as a tiny baby in the palm of her father, may have been an invention, for whatever personal reasons. Nevertheless, this was a key emotional impetus for the book. Her father, the actor Raymond Massey, abandoned his wife and family when Anna was very little. Her mother was a society hostess, too busy for her children, but Anna had a devoted nanny. Later she married Jeremy Brett, who left her for another man.

After the commission, as we journeyed further into the memoir, I knew more about Anna Massey’s life than anyone in the world. This kind of relationship with an author has a unique intimacy. There must be total trust. And in this particular case, we stayed in touch until her death.


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