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Meeting André Deutsch

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The end of my love life
Diana Athill Writer
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But Barry had been married when I met him, and was still married for a long time. I mean, the best part of our affair was all the time when he was married. And he did get divorced in the end, but not because of me, because of somebody else, in fact. But because she would have had a difficult time with her family, they quoted… I was quoted as being technically the person he was divorced for.

But his wife actually was divorcing him about somebody else. I don't think his wife knew about me. I'm sure she suspected, but I don't think she knew. But he, you see, had always tried to argue her into being not at all possessive, instead. Because he would have quite happily gone on. He was very fond of her, but he just felt that one ought to be able to have affairs as well as wives. And he was like any other unfaithful old boy: he just wanted to have his cake and eat it. In the end, she wouldn't let him.

But then he came… I don't think he was living here yet when Terry turned up. He was going to be living here quite soon, but he wasn't yet. But our affair was all but over - not quite over. And the awful Terry, who was very predatory, very beautiful, and she turned up… now I can't remember how it all rather mixed up, because she was really actually attracted to my then-lodger, but somehow, he got mixed up, and the then-lodger was away or something, and she… Barry fell in… into bed with her, thinking that it was quite unimportant, really, to me, as it ought to have been, because I was going off. And I did feel, then, for a night, very conscious that… not that I had been supplanted, but that I'd got old, that there was this wretched blonde beauty who had… had it all stretched ahead of her, and with me, it was finished. It was a sad night. But it was only really sad because of that, because I did know perfectly well that our affair was over, really. But it was just that was when I sort of faced it. And Sal happened a good deal later, when I had… long after I had faced it. So there was no feelings about it at all.

[Q] And so was that the end of your love life?

After Terry, that was the end of the love life, completely. After that, you know, both of us said, 'No, that's finished'.

[Q] And what about your love life?

And my love life, I then thought, was probably finished as a result. And I was really quite prepared to accept the fact. I mean, it was sort of sad to be older, but there you are. It happens. And then dear old Sam heaved over the horizon, and I got a sort of new shot of life.

[Q] Sam?

Yes. Who's in… in this book.

[Q] What can you tell us about him?

Well, he was from the island of Grenada, Granada, Grenada. He had been… he was a very impressive man to look at, a big, tall man. He had just come back from Africa, where he had been to Ghana, and had been… not a member of [Kwame] Nkrumah's government, but Nkrumah had sort of employed him as press officer for his government, because Sam was a very good broadcaster; he had a very good voice, and he was a personal friend of Nkrumah's. He'd had a marvellous time in Ghana, really had. It was a palmy time for him. And then he travelled with Nkrumah all over the world, and he had things like a lovely golden watch that Haile Selassie had given him after a visit. You know, it was… he'd had a nice life. But when Nkrumah… they were all in China when there was a coup, and Nkrumah was kicked out. And when they got back, Sam might well have gone to prison, but he didn't because he had a good reputation in Accra; he was known to be an honest man who'd never taken bribes or anything. And so he was just told he'd got to get out in four days' time, and he couldn't take anything excepting his clothes. So his house and his car, everything, he lost. All he had was Haile Selassie's watch and the most wonderful camelhair overcoat with a sable collar, which he hung onto through thick and thin. But no sooner did he get back to England than he got a good job with the British government as… I can't remember what the Race Relations office was called, but he was… he wasn't the chief of it, but he was on it. And that's what he was doing when I knew him. And he I met at a party. We had quite a connection with Nigeria at that time, because André had started a firm in Nigeria, and there was some party or other with a good many old African hands at it, and he was one of them. And he made what I described in the book as a stately swoop, which tickled me a lot at the time, and we took up together. He didn't want a romantic affair, I didn't want a romantic affair. Neither of us wanted to cause any trouble to anybody, including each other. You know, it was just really a friendly and quite successful sort of sexual affair. And I used to go and see him about once a week, in his flat, and we used to have supper together and I would stay the night. It was not a very respectable set of affairs, but it was very, very nice, really. Lasted for seven years.

[Q] And how old were you when you met him?

I was, I suppose, still in my 50s, but late 50s. I mean, it went on well into my 60s. It was… and when it ended, it just went off quietly. Gaps became longer, and that was it. Of course, Sam, who was older than I was, he would never have admitted it, but he was also getting gradually less sexy, and actually, without his knowing it, his heart was getting bad, because he died of a heart attack. But, um… I mean, there was no sadness or anything there. It ended quite friendlily. And by the time it ended, I was perfectly happy to think of my sex life over and done with.

[Q] You don't miss it?

No. I'm free of all that nonsense.

[Q] Did I get this from your book, or is it George Melly saying something about when you finally lost interest in sex, you felt like you'd been unchained from a lunatic.

I think that it was George.

[Q] Oh, was it George?

Melly.

[Q] George Melly, it was. Terribly funny. Is that in your book?

Yes, I think it was… I loved that book. No, I didn't quite feel unchained from a lunatic, but one does feel life's become much simpler. Room for other things, now.

Born in 1917, Diana Athill is a British literary editor whose publishing career began when she helped André Deutsch establish his company. She has worked with many notable writers, namely Philip Roth, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rhys and VS Naipaul. Following the publication of her memoirs, she is now hailed as an author in her own right.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Africa, England, Nigeria, Grenada, Barry Reckord, Kwame Nkrumah, Haile Selassie

Duration: 9 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008