In 1984, when I started working at the book trade journal The Bookseller, many of the most prominent publishers of the day were within walking distance of our office near New Oxford Street. Jonathan Cape, the Bodley Head, Michael Joseph and Hodder & Stoughton were in Bedford Square. André Deutsch, publisher of Updike, Naipaul and Rhys, was in Great Russell Street. Sidgwick & Jackson, where a sales director called Nigel Newton was dreaming of his departure to set up the firm that, thirteen years later, would publish Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, occupied a warren next door to St George’s Church, Bloomsbury. William IV Street was home to Chatto & Windus, the loos of which were refuges for young, tearful publicists who had displeased the demanding managing director, Carmen Callil.
Secker & Warburg occupied a town house in Poland Street. One day I climbed the narrow, steep, listed staircase to the attic cubbyhole occupied by Robin Robertson, poetry publisher and himself a very fine poet. He was a stimulating interviewee. In the basement was Barley Alison, former deb and Special Operations Executive agent, who was the trusted UK editor of Saul Bellow. To help me illustrate my piece, she handed over a photo of the victorious Bellow and his international publishers at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm in 1976. She was standing to his right and he had his arm around her. At the end of the row was Secker MD Tom Rosenthal, who, Barley felt, had attended simply in order to grab some undeserved kudos; she asked me, in all seriousness, to crop him out.
In May 1985, Penguin bought Michael Joseph, Hamish Hamilton (office in Long Acre) and others, setting in motion a sequence of mergers that created the giant conglomerates that dominate publishing today. The Penguin group moved to Wrights Lane in Kensington and is now, as part of Penguin Random House, in