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Not being paid what I was worth


The inimitable André Deutsch
Diana Athill Writer
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I was doing all the nice bits, you see, the bits that interested me. I was doing the… the editing side. I was an editor, really, I wasn't a publisher ever, because I'm too, sort of, useless about money, but I knew about producing books. I could… to begin with, we had to turn our hand to anything. I mean, I could lay out a book. I could do… design an advertisement. I could… I even did a few… made a few book jackets. But that was the side of it that I was involved with. André did the wheeling and the dealing. I mean, I used to occasionally go over to New York, and usually with him, but sometimes by myself, to buy books and things. And I was not really good at that, because I was no good at bargaining or… I could read and decide that we wanted to do a book, but I wasn't… I have no business smart at all.

[Q] And were relations between you always okay? I mean, were there ever times when you wanted to just pack it all in and throw your hands up and walk out, and say, that's it, I'm off, or…?

I always enjoyed the job too much. There were times when André drove me up the wall. He was… had a terrible habit. He always had somebody in the firm that he was down on, and he would make their life absolute hell. And this was… could be… make one very… He did it to me for a short time, once. He would… he was like a sort of little searchlight, and it would fix on somebody, at which point they could do nothing, nothing right. And it was awful, because it would make them do things wrong. They would get so tense that everything they did was in fact wrong.

But he could never praise anybody. Never could say, 'You're doing well'. And I went, right at the beginning, through this myself with him once. And then it dawned on me that really one just had to take no notice. And also, you could always defuse him if you had made a mistake, by saying, 'Oh André, I've made a terrible mistake'. And that took the wind out of his sails. 'What have you done?' 'Oh, I've done this and that.' 'Oh, well, it could be worse.' And he'd be perfectly alright. But you see, I saw him drive people almost into nervous breakdowns, from time to time. And I don't know what it was that made him do it. And then he could never actually sack anybody. He would say this person was impossible, he would go around telling everybody this person was impossible. He would create an atmosphere that was so awful that finally, if the person had any sensitivity at all, they would leave, because they would just feel they couldn't go on. But once it happened to a very nice man indeed, who was a completely square peg in a round hole. I mean, he'd been taken on for a job that was not his kind of thing. He was an intelligent man, but he ought to be doing something different. And André became so awful to him, about him, and he would be awful about people to the switchboard operator, to everybody. And I finally said to him, 'You know, you can't go on like this about him. You can't. You've got to pull yourself together and tell him it's not working.' And he said, 'I can't, I can't. You've got to do it.' And by that time, I was so sorry for this poor man that I thought, 'Well, I suppose I shall bloody well have to'. And I had to go downstairs, sit in his office and tell him, 'Look, my love, it's not working, you've got to leave'. And he went white as a sheet, this man. He hadn't a clue that this had been going on. It was awful.

And I took him… I never forgave André for that, really, making me do that awful thing. And he did various things like that, and there was a time, also, when he'd been demanding… he always demanded sympathy, you see, for himself. His love affairs and things. One had to… everybody had to listen to him worry about… when he was having a fit of jealousy for no reason at all, he used to have to drive around, which meant he drove around where he thought she might be having dinner with someone at a restaurant. And he used to say, 'Come with me'. And I said, 'No, I'm not going to come driving around with you'. I said, 'It's disgusting behaviour'. So then he would get somebody else to do it, you see? On and on, this would go. But I was once heartbroken, or very depressed. I wasn't quite heartbroken. And I was going through a rather bleak time. And André and Nick, and Nick's wife and André's girlfriend… I mean, they used to go to the cinema or the theatre or restaurants every week together. They made a foursome. And I thought, well, it'd be quite fun, really, at this miserable time, and I'm really getting a bit depressed, if they just occasionally said to me, 'Well come to the cinema tonight', to me.

So I said to André one day, André, 'I'm having a horrid old time at the moment. Do you think you might occasionally ask me to come to…?' 'Don't be so sorry for yourself!' And at that point, actually, that point, I really did think for a whole night, I thought, am I going to put up with this any longer? For hours, I've had to go on listening to him, and then he does this. I thought we were friends. I thought… I didn't think we were twin souls, but I thought we were good friends. He's simply not capable of being a friend. Can I stand it anymore?

Diana Athill (1917-2019) was a British literary editor whose publishing career began when she helped André Deutsch establish his company. She worked with many notable writers, namely Philip Roth, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rhys and VS Naipaul. Following the publication of her memoirs, she came to be 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: New York, André Deutsch

Duration: 6 minutes, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008