For four years, I had enjoyed the serenity of living in Somerset and there was no way that, apart from the occasional visit, I would entertain the idea of heading back in that direction again . . . so for the third time in my career, I had opted for redundancy. Many of my co-workers felt much the same way and I believe that, with no staff to speak of, Purnell Books all but ceased to exist.
I’d been with Purnell Books for nigh-on eleven years – with most of them having been great years. But as I have already said, many of those with whom I had enjoyed working were now gone – some had left, some had died – and for this reason, gone, too, was the fun of working there; and yet, there was nowhere else within the world of publishing where I would rather be. If I was honest, I wanted to create as much space as possible between certain individuals and me.
In the lead-up to the intended move, Mike Gabb – who seemed certain I would be tagging along to London like a meek lamb being led to the slaughter – had sat with one of Maxwell’s Savile-Row-suited bright-boys and – like a well-rehearsed part in a second-rate play – outlined the advantages of moving back to the capital.
When the inevitable question was finally asked, it was to Mike Gabb's utter surprise that I’d said I wasn't going back to London; his face was a vision that I shall remember to my dying day. The next horror for Gabb and bright boy was when they worked out what my severance pay would be. They had assumed that I was on a one month’s notice period, but this wasn’t so: after having been with Purnell for a couple of years, former boss Charles Harvey had amended the contract to six months notice.
At the end of the day Gabb (and his wife) hadn’t gone to London either. The last I heard, he was running Ladybird Books. I wonder if Let's Make Bombs and The Ladybird Book of Hallucinogenic Drugs were amongst Gabb’s ideas?
I don’t intend to speak too much about Robert Maxwell, particularly as there are many sources of information that can easily be accessed via Google. As you may remember, on 5 November 1991, Maxwell – having had his last contact with various members of the crew of the Lady Ghislaine – was found to be missing and it was presumed that he had fallen overboard. It has also been suggested (by Tom Bower in Maxwell: The Final Verdict) that he was probably relieving himself prior to taking a tumble.
The official ruling at a Madrid inquest was that death had been caused by a heart attack combined with accidental drowning (although I thought I read somewhere that the post mortem had revealed that there was no sea water in his lungs. Three pathologists had been unable to agree on the actual cause but murder was ruled out by the judge. However, having said that, have a think about the following list of atrocities that have come to light since:
(a) Without adequate prior authorisation, Maxwell had used hundreds of millions of pounds from his companies’ pension funds to shore up the shares of the Mirror Group to same his companies from bankruptcy. Figures are vague but numbers between £400 million and £700 million have been mentioned (see, for instance, Pension Schemes and Pension Funds in the United Kingdom by David Blake, p.340 et seq.).
(b) It was stated that the Mirror Group Newspapers plc reported a loss of $727·5 million for 1991, disclosing just how badly it had been damaged by Robert Maxwell – its previous controlling shareholder.
(c) Maxwell was under investigation for alleged war crimes at the time of his death. The Metropolitan Police file was released to The Independent under the Freedom of Information Act and shows that detectives were preparing a case for the Crown Prosecution Service.
The incident is said to have taken place in April 1945 when Maxwell’s platoon was trying to capture a German town and by his own admission to biographical author Joe Haines, Maxwell said that he shot dead the town’s mayor. Maxwell was aware that he was under investigation and it was speculated that due to this, he might have committed suicide. However, Tom Bower, in his unauthorised book, has said that this was fanciful as Maxwell had never shown any remorse or regret towards the plight of others.
(d) In a book written by Geoffrey Goodman called From Bevan to Blair: 50 Years’ Reporting from the Political Front Line, Goodman says the possibility that Maxwell could have ended up in the Old Bailey on charges of criminal fraud raised critical questions for a number of countries and was not a prospect that the US, Britain, Soviet Russia, Israel and France would have appreciated . . . the intelligence services in all of these countries were aware of the possible dangers ahead.
(e) Reporting in the Mirror under the heading "British Publisher Robert Maxwell Was Mossad Spy" on 12th June 2002, Gordon Thomas and Martin Dillon revealed that Maxwell had worked as a secret super spy for Mossad for the previous six years. In the article (supported by documents including FBI reports and secret intelligence files from behind the Iron Curtain), it says that Maxwell had threatened his wife, threatened his children, threatened staff of the Mirror, and, finally, that he issued one threat too many – for he had threatened Mossad. He told them that unless they gave him £400million to save his crumbling empire, he would expose all he had done for them.
Oh boy, let’s change the subject.
My plan upon leaving Purnell Books was to set up a small public relations and advertising business and be self-employed. I’d said all my working life that this was something I would never do, but with eleven years service with Purnell together with the six month notice of termination which Charles Harvey had set up for me, it meant that I'd received a lump sum of 17-months money.
The commissions from Wil had continued. I don’t really have a great deal to say about them apart from picking five out from the dozens and dozens I put together over the years and offering you just a morsel or two to chew over.
While working for Purnell Books, I’d had the pleasure of commissioning a variety of art pieces from Edgar Hodges, and during those times when he came down from his home-town of Bolton – a place where he had lived for virtually all of his life – Jenny and I would put him up in one of our spare bedrooms for a few days. But there's always a catch, and for Edgar it was that he had to play the character of miserly Tim Baker in a story called "The Phantoms of Fenwick Street".
In Part Fifteen, you might recall that I spoke of Clive Spong having become involved in the Rev. W Awdry’s books about Thomas the Tank Engine, and it would appear (should you wish to visit the Sodor Island website) that Edgar, too, contributed much to this revitalised and very popular The Railway Series.
One other story that had continued in Suzy for a total of nine weeks had been called "The Nightingales of Nile Street" and, due to its hospital setting, I had been lucky enough to use the facilities of the Mendip Hospital.
Now this might sound a bit grand and highfalutin', but I need to point out that, when it had first been opened in 1848, this complex was originally named the County Asylum for Pauper Lunatics. In 1880 they changed its name to Somerset and Bath Asylum, and then in 1940, it became known as Somerset and Bath Mental Hospital (Wells).
As a teenager, I recall being told by my mother that someone could be committed to an institution for some of the strangest reasons, and the list I recently found goes a long way to confirm all that she said (though why she should have known about this was never explained). Some, I totally agree with: Novel Reading, Egotism and Falling From a Horse in War are, I feel, quite justifiable reasons for locking someone away for years on end and throwing away the key.
Mendip Hospital was, in fact, in the throes of closing down (which it finally did in 1991), and whether there were any inmates there during the time I was making use of it, I really cannot say although there were some staff in situ – Nurse Jane Wong had certainly worked there as had one or two of the other extras I temporarily employed.
I had been given clearance to draw upon the facilities by the Administrator, who had, in fact, also played the part of the Administrator in the story – he hadn’t been difficult to persuade as his daughter had been given the leading roll of Nurse Jemima Dale for which she earned herself quite a lot of pocket-money.
I was never given any guidance as to how much I should pay my models, but felt that the fairest way was to pay them £1 for each scene in which they appeared.
For that £1, they really didn’t have to do all that much. Guided by the script, I would tell them what they were allegedly saying in each frame, and make sure they were positioned correctly. I mention this because if character A is seen speaking first and character B second, then A needed to be on the left-hand side of the picture and B on the right or there would be a cats’ cradle of speech-balloon tails. It was just a question of thinking ahead prior to pressing the shutter release button.
One story – "The Fairlady Fortune" that appeared over eight issues in Suzy during July and August 1984 – revolved around a girl named Jane Fairlady who had lost her memory through a horrific crash that had killed both her parents.
The photography for some of these lengthier stories could go on for several weekends as I also had a full-time job to attend to. I was about half-way through this story and was driving the girl back home having spent a couple of hours at the Wookey Hole Riding Stables. When I spoke to her, she had completely ignored me, and this had happened several times beforehand. Having safely returned Jane Fairlady back to her mother, I tentatively asked whether something was amiss with her daughter.
"Ah," said the mother, "so you noticed then?"
"Yes, I did rather," I replied.
"Yes, it’s a mild form of epilepsy – every now and then for a minute or so, her mind just switches off."
"But why did you not think to tell me?"
"I wanted to," replied the mother, "but my daughter asked me not to . . . just in case you decided not to use her in the story!"
In Cathy of Curls & Co. I borrowed a fairly small hair-dressing salon that was tucked away above some shop in the High Street and was only accessible by its own flight of stairs.
Sometimes the planning of these sessions didn’t go quite as well it should have and I’d probably forgotten to book an actor for a part that only appeared one time over the nine-weekly episodes. I’d had two girls with me playing Cathy and Kay and, as only Cathy was in the shot, I handed the camera over to Kay and stood in for the missing actor.
And with that, I shall take my leave of you!
(* Two of the Ladybird Books pictured above are parody titles. Let's Make Bombs © Richard Littler, created for his Scarfolk Council website. Not sure where Hallucinogenic Drugs first appeared, but the cover was found here.)