One of the unavoidable rituals of your third year was a visit to the University Careers Service, which in the early sixties was located in a large house in Chaucer Road.  As an arts student I was clearly a more difficult problem than engineers, lawyers and chemists. They had me go to two interviews before giving up on me. I told an advertising company that I thought advertising cigarettes was immoral, which effectively ended my promising PR career. Can’t remember who the other interview was with — but after that, when I broke down under Careers Service third degree and opined (having a girlfriend who worked for Wm. Heinemann) that I thought I’d like to work in publishing, I found I had stumbled onto the royal road to disengagement. “Oh, you’ll never be able to get a job in publishing” they gasped. “If that’s what you’ve decided on, then there’s really nothing we can do for you.” Which was fine by me, as I’d never thought about employment, and was having too much fun to start now. When I later told my tutor, the delightfully named Gus Caesar, that after graduating I thought I’d go to Paris and think about writing, he guffawed and said he thought I’d be all right in the long run.

In the fullness of time I came down and had to confront the need to do something.  I flirted with that mainstay of my home town, the wool trade — knitwear or tweeds.  I even went to Glasgow to check out a postgraduate course in that industry. I then rather drifted down to London where I stayed with a friend on the outskirts and later in a flat in Earl’s Court, and did supply teaching in Middlesex.  Supply teaching (substitute teaching in USA) seemed ridiculously well paid, although somewhat frustrating in that you were rarely allowed to “teach” anything; you were there to keep them quiet.  At this I wasn’t very good. I remember an irate teacher rushing up from the floor below because he’d seen the chair my pupils has tossed out of the window floating past his. The most memorable point in my teaching career was witnessing, along with the entire school body, the punishment of a bully. We all formed a circle while the biggest boy in the school beat the bejeezus out of the offender. They wore boxing gloves, so nobody should get hurt, and no doubt Queensbury rules applied.

Eventually I was able to get a job. Having claimed publishing as my destination I thought I should make an effort to make this true. It wasn’t all that easy. I can remember interviewing at Cassels, Longmans, Thames & Hudson and Penguin. I assume there were others, but I can’t, I apologize, remember them. I sent lots of keen letters with my skimpy curriculum vitae (what you call resumé) to all sorts of people. The first job offer I got came with a salary of £300 a year. Now in those days the pound was worth more than now, and many a working man would be making that sort of money. However rent on a flat in London would easily run you that sort of amount, so clearly these were starvation wages. The job was evidently intended for someone living at home with their parents. After months of non-success I was directed, via my family connections to the Polish diaspora in London, to Miss Kvercic at Dillon’s University Bookshop — an exceptionally well connected bookseller. She barked “Go to Cambridge”. I had assumed University Presses were out of my (intellectual) range, never having been an exceptional student, but I went, interviewed for the Publicity job they had, and failed to get it. In rejecting me they did however say “Don’t let this decision stand in the way of your applying for any other jobs we may have”.  I didn’t — and on April Fool’s Day 1965 I put on my suit and turned up at Bentley House.


For an account of what happened there please see “A nightingale sang in Euston Square“.