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Doing battle with the jobsworths


First brush with the unions
Peter Mayer Publisher
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When I walked into Grosvenor Gardens, which is where the building that housed Penguin's editorial processes were, I discovered there was not only no office for me - no preparations had been made for me.  So they sat me at a table which was part of the reception room for visitors who came into the building.  It was a large table.  Took about a week to get a phone put in there.  And I sat there with all the visitors who were visiting different editors.

Well, I remember saying to John Broome… John Broome was the, I think he would be called today the HR person, but I think he was the perhaps then the personnel director or whatever.  And I said, "Well, I'm going to need a, not only a phone here, but I need someone to answer it.  And it's got to be someone discreet, since all these visitors are sitting all around me".

And I said, "Couldn't I have someone's office?"  They said… there was shock and awe and dismay.  The unions won't have it that you take someone's office away from them.  It's part of their contract.  So, I learned something about unions, and in particular the NUJ, because the editors were all either NUJ members or associated or spoken to by the regulations.  They were bound by NUJ agreements with the company.  I can't remember any longer whether the editors were NUJ members or not, but their hearts were certainly with the NUJ.

My heart was not with the NUJ, or not [against] the NUJ.  I didn't even understand unions because, for the most part, in America, there were no unions in publishing.  And if they were, they were not on the editorial end of things; they would have been in the bricks-and-mortar area of warehousing and transportation and so on.

Peter Mayer (1936-2018) was an American independent publisher who was president of The Overlook Press/Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc, a New York-based publishing company he founded with his father in 1971. At the time of Overlook's founding, Mayer was head of Avon Books, a large New York-based paperback publisher. There, he successfully launched the trade paperback as a viable alternative to mass market and hardcover formats. From 1978 to 1996 he was CEO of Penguin Books, where he introduced a flexible style in editorial, marketing, and production. More recently, Mayer had financially revived both Ardis, a publisher of Russian literature in English, and Duckworth, an independent publishing house in the UK.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: National Union of Journalists

Duration: 2 minutes, 43 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015