Following my sorry story last week of David A. Jasen, author of the "authorised" biography of the late P. G. Wodehouse, I hear news of another disillusioned gentleman of the pen. Charles Castle, unlike Professor Jasen, is a man well versed in the complexities of the British media: the author of, among other things, a bestselling biography of Noel Coward, Castle is also an experienced TV writer and producer and last year filmed a "portrait" of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford.
Following these twin accomplishments he was approached last year by the Duchess of Argyll who wanted him to write her "authorised" biography.
He agreed on two conditions: firstly that he should be allowed to use a tape recorder (you can't be too careful these days) and secondly that the proceeds be split equally. Her Ladyship agreed and Castle subsequently
recorded some 15 hours of frank conversation. VVeidenfeld and Nicolson expressed some interest but Castle decided to approach his regular publishers W. H. Allen to whom he submitted a 25,000 word synposis.
Time went by and nothing was heard. After a few weeks W. H. Allen informed Castle that they wanted the Duchess's life story to be in the form of an autobiography, with Castle's role relegated to that of collaborator. Castle had reservations — to put it mildly — and was later surprised to discover that her Ladyship had negotiated direct with the publishers and that he — and his tape recordings — were effectively excluded from the deal without a penny paid.
W. H. Allen insist that the Duchess of Argyll's memoirs — to be called Forget Not — are the lady's own work, although a surprising number of people think that she was assisted by
one Michael Thornton. Not having read the fruits of Mr Thornton's alleged labours, I have no idea whether they will amount to anything more than the meanderings of a Margaret Nobody. What I do know is that Charles Castle is a sadder and wiser man with 15 hours of tapes which, if he is smart, will appear in print somewhere before October 6 when the Duchess's "autobiography" is due to appear.
Speaking of W. H. Allen, the firm must have been surprised to learn from the London Evening News "In Town" column that it is the publisher of Dennis Hills's now notorious book about Uganda, The White Pumpkin. President Amin, and Dennis Hills, and Mr Hills's editor Malcolm Barnes (to whom the News actually spoke in person) and most members of the British book trade, were under the impression that the publishers are Allen and Unwin.
I am pleased to see that the Publishers' Association is not allowing itself to be intimidated by the economic recession. Last Wednesday its senior officials took a private room at the Cafe Royal to wine, dine and generally pacify their aggrieved counterparts in the Association of Authors Agents.