Years ago, when I was trying to fill the shoes of Giles Gordon by writing the bulk of the book trade gossip for Private Eye‘s ‘Books and Bookmen’ column, I carried on one of GG’s many worthy crusades: providing the oxygen of publicity for Andrew Malcolm‘s laudable one-man campaign to get the charitable status and consequent tax exemption of the Oxford University Press revoked. Eventually, Ian Hislop got bored with the story, clearly believing that I’d become as obsessed as Andrew had, and stopped printing most of what I wrote on the subject.
Andrew remains a friend, and we correspond about our common interests: most often OUP and jazz. A package arrived from him this morning, containing photocopies from the Oxford Times which detail a small academic Oxford publisher’s pleas for a level playing field, and the residents of the OUP-owned houses who are being told that they have no right to buy their homes. In response to the small publisher, the OUP says that it is part of the University, and thus charitable. The journalist observes rather tellingly that this information came from an email with a .com suffix, not ac.uk. In response to the tenants, OUP is saying tough luck, that’s what you get when you live in a house owned by a charity. However, when the houses were built in the 1950s and 1960s, the OUP wasn’t a charity. It didn’t gain that status and unfair fiscal advantage until 1978. The responses of the OUP bigwigs seem increasingly desperate and rattled. Meanwhile, many ex-OUP executives who now work for commercial publishers would love nothing better than to see the removal of the charity status they once defended. Personally, I’d love to see Lewis and Hathaway take a break from murder investigations to look at the OUP. Preferably with an Alan Plater script.
Why am I not still writing the Eye‘s book trade gossip? To be honest, I became bored with publishers’ shenanigans, which showed through in my copy, and I found it harder to get stories in. After I took a break to finish my history of light entertainment (out in November), I found that I missed neither the bother, nor the money, and I just stopped sending things in. There was also the faint sense that whatever I did, I was sweeping up after the Lord Mayor’s show. Giles is missed.
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