I was exiled to the colonies in 1974.

I hadn’t done anything really wrong — in fact it was almost the opposite — I was tipped for a promotion, but was blackballed because of my union activities (can this really be true, or am I embroidering history?). As a result my colleague who’d been holding down our frontier outpost in American production for the previous couple of years, was repatriated to fill this important vacancy — so important that in the end it never actually came to pass — while I was smuggled out of the country to less politically sensitive New York.

I had had only a couple of dealings with our New York office prior to Jack Shulman’s coming to Cambridge to vet me. I had met once with FRM, the patrician manager of the New York Office (by 1974 retired). Our meeting was over the question of whether or not we should publish the new edition of The Cambridge History of Literature in paperback or not. They (rather sensibly I believe) wanted to publish only in hardback to maximize revenue, and bring out a paperback later. We wanted to do it in paperback right away with a smaller hardback edition, for reasons I can no longer recall, but which were obviously pressing enough that I believe I believed them at the time, and spent the hour stone-walling the eminent gentleman in a plucky night-watchman innings.

My other exposure to the New York office had been meeting a group of their editors at a party in my boss’ garden. A couple of them later became colleagues, but the undoubted star (retrospectively) was the young editor, who shortly thereafter went on the lam having been revealed as a bomber, or more accurately actually, a bomber’s moll. Hey kids — remember the Vietnam war? I chatted with her under a blossoming apple tree, little suspecting that here was a real radical.

When Jack closed the deal at the Russell Hotel in Bloomsbury, I naturally didn’t hesitate. In my private life I only knew two people who had ever been to America — a Galashiels businessman and his wife. The fare, one-way, was more than my annual salary — you just didn’t consider seeing America as an option until a few years later Freddy Laker broke the high-airfare barrier. Another indication of how the world has changed is that when they found the carving knife in my hand baggage (we’d forgotten to pack it) I wasn’t water boarded. They just took it from me and returned it when we landed. CUP must have really wanted someone from the UK over there, as they sent me via air, shipped a lot of stuff, and paid for my wife and two daughters to travel over on the Queen Mary. They promised me that if I didn’t like it in New York after a couple of years they’d ship us back and give me a job. But effectively that was a pretty meaningless guarantee — after all what’s not to like in New York? I was told that the cost of living in New York was higher than in Cambridge, and that consequently they planned to pay me seven times my previous salary — would that be OK? It was.

One thing I was blissfully unaware of was the maelstrom power-play into the middle of which I was being plunged. I was vaguely aware that the London office of CUP regarded the New York office as a subsidiary of theirs — after all it had been established to sell “their” Bibles to America, something it did with considerable success. I wasn’t aware of the counter tendency in Cambridge, where the view prevailed that New York was obviously a branch of the whole, not a branch of a branch, and Cambridge was of course the top of the whole tree. It was only when Michael Black semi-self-published his memoir Learning to be a Publisher in 2011 that this conflict impinged on my consciousness. Michael’s book is an excellent account of his career from 1951-1987: to me though his account of the New York branch controversy is the most exciting part. I wonder now if there was any element in my selection for transportation of this London/Cambridge power play. I may after all have been regarded as a nefarious London agent infiltrated into the innocent groves of academe.

When I arrived in the New York office in July 1974 one of the first things we did was take a tour of book manufacturing plants in New England.  In those days most book manufacturing was being done up there, though we did do a few books in Crawfordsville, Indiana (which we visited shortly thereafter).  For whatever reason it was I who had to rent the car in midtown. This was my first experience of driving on the wrong side of the road; of navigating a gigantic vehicle; and driving an automatic. After slight hesitation I took off — the secret is always to go a little faster than everyone else — and we set out for Colonial Press in Clinton, MA. It closed its doors a mere four years later. Next we visited Halliday Lithograph Corp. (also closed now), and finally the Murray Printing Company in Westford, MA, which lives on as part of Courier.

Returning to the office we confronted the need to do some work. I found there a manuscript I had sent over to New York for typesetting back in March. Up until 1974 we had only ever done printing in America (and not much of that): everything would be set in UK and sent over as repro to be shot by the offset printer in America. However as a result of the coal miners’ strike of 1974 Britain was put on short-time working — you weren’t allowed to turn the lights on — and thus as a clever dodge we thought of sending typesetting work overseas. We were actually already sending a little composition work to Malta and India, but USA seemed like a natural extension, especially with books which were going to be printed over there anyway. In those days the copyright law mandated that works by US authors would only be copyright in USA if they were printed there; the place of composition didn’t matter. So this book, by an American, was sent over the New York after copyediting and design. I had been the production controller for this book in Cambridge, and I still have the three Monotype matrices for special sorts which had already been made at the University Printing House before we took the job away from them. In my hippier days I’d wear them on a leathern thong around my neck, as a sort of sorts talking point. When I expostulated (politely of course) that the manuscript had been in New York for four months without action, my predecessor reassured me “Don’t worry. Things are done so fast over here, that they’ll never notice in Cambridge”, and of course he was right.

The British habit of understatement never cut much ice in America, though of course I personally was an adept of the style — less so now that back then, I fear. (I recall once shouting at some uninformed editorial assistant “Get out of my office, you impudent young pup” — words which hardly ever get said, and which probably should have been applied to me in my youth.) I can remember attending a meeting in 1975 or 1976 at which the editorial director, over from England, told his US editorial team not to do something. As a Brit of course he didn’t come out and say “Don’t ever do this” — he said things like “I don’t think I would recommend taking such a course of action”, “There are probably better ways of handling such a situation”, and “If you think it through you’d probably agree that such and such a course of action isn’t exactly ideal”. Walking out of the meeting I overheard one American editor saying to his boss “That’s great. He didn’t say we couldn’t do it”, and of course he didn’t, though a British audience would have felt that they had just been severely reprimanded for ever thinking of doing such a thing.

People make work in America so simple. Say what you want and it’ll get done. In Britain it was always a negotiation. Send a UK printer a manuscript back in the seventies and when you called about it after four weeks, you’d be told “Oh yes I do have the manuscript. It’s in my in-box. We’ll be casting it off any day now, and will let you have an estimate shortly.” A couple of follow-up phone calls and you might actually receive the estimate. American book manufacturers take the line “Let’s get it though the plant as soon as possible, so we can get more work in.” The attitude (then) in the UK was rather — “Let’s keep this job in the plant as long as we can. Who knows where the next one may come from?” Of course it took another miners’ strike a decade later to change all this when Margaret Thatcher created her revolution — a transformational shock which marked the end of all trace of the Britain into which I was born.