Jeremy Lewis

‘My Dear Boy, Pay When You Can’

Publishers still ruled the literary roost when I joined the publicity department of Collins in the autumn of 1967. With the sole exception of Norah Smallwood, the terrifying boss of Chatto & Windus, its leading practitioners were men in late middle age, invariably clad in tweed or chalk-striped suits and housed in elegant, rather ramshackle Georgian buildings in Bloomsbury or Covent Garden. Some companies – Hamish Hamilton, André Deutsch, Weidenfeld & Nicolson – were still run and owned by their founders, while Billy Collins, Jock Murray and Mark Longman headed long-established family firms: all of them paid their staff and their authors as little as they could get away with, and disguised professional competence and steely self-interest behind a facade of conviviality and amateur bumbling. Publishers still attracted the column inches: Allen Lane’s death in 1970 was front-page news, while whiz-kids like Tom Maschler of Jonathan Cape loomed large in the gossip columns and the colour magazines.

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