Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The changed world of publishing

Pam, John Hall's wife, is terminally ill. I have John and Pam on my mind a lot and think of our time together with John on the road, selling books, representing our various publishers when he first arrived in New Zealand in the 1960s. That world of publishing and bookselling is long gone. The publishers I represented, the Oxford University Press and Faber and Faber are still around, though much changed, but the ones that John represented, Harrap, Jonathan Cape, and others, if around in name, are only imprints of large multimedia enterprises that had acquired them. The 1960s were colourful times of bookselling and publishing. Every country town had a bookshop, and some of them were outstanding bookshops with wide selection of books, run by well-read enthusiastic book people; Marion Middlemiss in Marton, a town of only a few thousand people, Lewis Cathew in Fielding and his brother, Alan, in Pahiatua, Alex Hedley in Masterton, Dave Avery in New Plymouth, Noeli Mellett in Blenheim, not to mention the large bookshops, outstanding by world standards, Bennetts in Palmerston North and Paul's in Hamilton. And there were the great, scholarly booksellers, Roy Parsons, Blackwood Paul, Bob Goodman, Gordon Tait, whom you addressed with deference feeling ignoramuses in their company. The publishers' representatives were also a colourful lot. For some reason I thought of Johnny Cochrane with who I spent an evening at the Criterion Hotel in New Plymouth in the company of Ralph Gooderidge and John Elphick. Mr. Elphick and Mr. Gooderidge, never John and Ralph, always traveled together and were known in the trade as the 'undertakers' or the 'heavenly twins' because Ralph Gooderidge, representing Oxford, sold Bibles. Johnny Cochrane was something else. He represented the educational publishers, Bell, and Arnold, with no light reading in their list. Johnny came over from Australia and traveled around New Zealand following the races while selling his books. He knew every horse, every jockey, and regaled us with stories about horse racing all evening. I, who knew nothing about racing, was captivated. But Johnny Cochrane was by no means the most eccentric or colourful of the publishers' representatives. There was Michael Catt, who represented Cassels and sold the books of Churchill, Nicholas Monsarrat and many best selling authors, who walked into a room and it was like a tornado that arrived, dressed in velvet jacket, sports trousers, every inch the fast talking salesman. In contrast, there was Richard Hollyier, not only representing Cambridge University Press, but also the British Council, every inch the well spoken English gentleman. John Hall added his personality to this colourful gallery. A real Englishman, previously the regional representative of Jonathan Cape in England, he was a willing exile to the colonies. When he arrived he could not get over the wealth of food available, butter as much as he liked, lashings of cream on his scones at the tea rooms where we stopped for morning tea. He brought with him a degree of professionalism and great enthusiasm for the books he sold. He never left a stone unturned or overlooked a book in his catalogue. Poor John became a victim of the conglomeration of publishers. His empire, Bookreps that sold and distributed books for a wide range of publishers was merged with Random House and he, a senior member of the book trade, was out of a job. He continued hawking books to libraries and reminder books to booksellers, but this was not the same as representing some of the most prestigious British publishers, though it might have been more lucrative.
This is what going old is about, you remember the good old days, even if they were not always that good. And you carry the memories of a whole era, John and I. Pam was there as the constant support for John. She also ran a good second-hand bookshop that now faded into the distant memory of the Auckland book scene.