05 May 2008

dougal haston

In High Places

My time in book publishing brought me in touch with so many greats that my tales sound like ... well, tales. But I don't care. I tell them anyway.

The problems with the torch relay up Mount Eve Rest remind me of two incidents with the late great mountaineering Dougal Haston whose 'In High Places' I promoted in 1972.

  1. When the book came out, Dougal et co were up Chomolungma, battling the weather for the summit.

    Facing no such bluster was the book which went within days to the top of the bestsellers. Those were the days when real books went to real positions in the charts and real booksellers like Hatchards' Peter Giddy gave real window space and their real bookshop staff delivered real service.

    Dougal's bunch eventually made it back to London where I whisked him off to signings, well covered by the media.

    It was during one Q&A that a mealy-mouthed reporter decided to put the boot in.

    "Great book, Dougal, and I don't mean to detract from the publicity - but isn't it a bit opportunistic of the publishers to wait until the book starts selling before they hold a signing session?"

    Dougal had this very quiet Highland burr.

    "The publishers have done a grand job. It was the weather let them down. I was slightly delayed making it back for publication."

    "What? Up in Scotland?"

    "Up Everest. In a 130mph crosswind."

    The reporter should at least have known that Dougal had been climbing and I believe it was John Moynihan of the Guardian who bellowed out "Don't you Murdoch hacks read *any* news?"

  2. The second story is less convoluted. My employers Cassell - publishers of Churchill et al - had recently been bought by Americans Collier-Macmillan and we were chafing under the yoke of the barbarians.

    I'd not been used to bothering my masters with authors that came in for briefings and press sorties but word came down from high that I was henceforth to take any "name" writers up to the 7th floor to meet the Big Cheese.

    Dougal and I duly took the elevator up to where the carpet and flowers started but the busty secretary told me that everyone was out power lunching so we breathed a sigh of relief and left for our own nosh.

    In fact, the directors were slumming it with the hired help and power *pubbing* in the Red Lion which was where I took Dougal for a reviving lager.

    They seemed to be having a good time and I debated keeping ourselves to ourselves. On the other hand, Haston's book had by then been nine weeks best selling which sort of made him a "name", more than any other writer I'd handled.

    As we elbowed thru the sycophants - me in my shiny suit, Dougal with his craggy features, lean and tanned - I felt my arm grabbed by a crew-cut minder:

    "The fuck you think you're doing?" he rasped, "That's Mr Coleman's table. He sure as heck doesn't want to meet any of your hippy friends."

    Dougal and I exchanged shrugs and headed for the door.

    The final touch came later that afternoon when the sales director came down to my office - a true blue Brit of the old school - and gave me a thumbs up as he licked his lips.

    "I saw our friend hurry you away lest our Lord and Master rub elbows with the polloi. I took particular delight in complimenting him over lunch, as in 'I see that Master Hartung is well versed in protecting you from the Great Unwashed - barring the way to the nation's hero and current bestselling author *and* almost certainly our greatest moneymaker this year ... gosh those MBAs sure know which way's north.' "

Eve Rest Q&A

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