The Book of Wag

By Paul Sidey

A remarkable posthumous South London novel from a legendary editor

Friday, 27 November 2015

Paul's Failed Film Producer memoir - eighth and last piece

Dear Friends of Paul

As we are now positively speeding towards publication (I've just checked the list of contributors' names to go into the back of the book!) I thought this was the time to send out the last instalment of Paul's sort-of-memoir about his working life.  

Thanks to you all again for supporting this publication - it means a lot.



(Sir John Mills continued) There was a ton of material – from those early snaps, to pictures of all three children as they grew up, of Mills’s wife, the author Mary Hayley Bell, candid shots from film sets and locations, and photos of all his many friends like David Niven, Noel Coward, Vivien Leigh...The photos came with extended captions, anecdotes that brought out all the profound sense of pleasure in life this small, immaculate man exuded.Calling the house one day, to say that finished copies were ready, the phone was answered by Novelli.

Hearing the news, he said, ‘Sir John will be as happy as a sandbag.’

When we came to promote the book, I was always impressed by the way Johnny told his stories. He rarely deviated from the text, but the timing made each anecdote fresh. He never failed to get a laugh.

But we did have one terrible evening, at a Water Rats charity event in the Russell Hotel, Bloomsbury. At least one copy of STILL MEMORIES was there, and available for auction, but the rest of the books, which Johnny was to sign for the distinguished guests, couldn't be found. I hunted with the Hotel Manager in the lobby and in back rooms full of mops and brushes, but no luck. As it turned out later, the boxes from the warehouse were there all the time, hidden at the back of a closet…but we  didn't find them in time for the event.

I had brought my wife, I was sitting next to Hayley Mills, I had to promise to send copies personally, the following day, to a range of people – from Vicki Michelle who played Yvette in ‘ALLO, ‘ALLO’, to Herbert Lom, who had appeared in a vast range of films, from THE LADYKILLERS, EL CID to THE PINK PANTHER. It should have been fun.  But I did not enjoy a single moment of the evening.

Every editor in the world has experienced that moment, at a bookshop or an event, when the books just do not show up. It will not have been their fault. But the agony is intense and ineradicable.

But Johnny just got on with it. He did not throw a tantrum or blame me to my face.

I shall never forget his graciousness, nor the lines he signed later in my personal copy of STILL MEMORIES: ‘What larks, Pip old chap.’

Now I have put away childish things. I retired from Hutchinson in January 2012. But my son has a job with Working Title. He has produced a short film and is writing scripts. So I watch what he does, with interest and a degree of envy. As Edward Kennedy said, in his 1980 speech to the Democratic National Convention, when he failed to win the presidential nomination:

‘The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream will never die.’

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