Earlier this year I received a phone call from the publisher John Seaton, who after many years with Penguin had recently moved to Faber. He wanted to know whether, by any chance, I happened to know who controlled the rights to the waspish and extremely funny memoirs of Barbara Skelton, the pantherine femme fatale who had been married to both Cyril Connolly and George Weidenfeld, and had included among her lovers Kenneth Tynan, Alan Ross, Feliks Topolski, Peter Quennell and King Farouk (who had flogged her with his dressing-gown cord on the steps of his palace – or so she claimed). I had got to know Barbara while writing a biography of Connolly, and since – for some inexplicable reason – she had appointed me to be her literary executor, I expressed keen interest when John revealed that he wanted to reprint Tears Before Bedtime and Weep No More in a new series he was editing. Life got even better when he went on to say that he would also like to include two out-of-print books of mine in the Faber Finds list, along with works by Richard Cobb, John Bowen, Lionel Davidson, Geoffrey Grigson and Louis MacNeice. I put the phone down aglow with satisfaction.
As Barbara’s literary executor, I had done shamingly little about trying to get her books back into print, but I had sensed, instinctively, that it would be an uphill battle. Although, in the dim and distant past, backlist sales were a steady and painless source of income for both publishers