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Why I published Hitler's Generals by David Irving

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CEO of Penguin Books: the early days
Peter Mayer Publisher
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This happened in my first year at Penguin.  Jim Rose had been the CEO of Penguin, and he was the brother-in-law of Pat Gibson, of Lord Gibson, who was the head of Pearson.  And I think [Pat] was also the chairman, or something like that, of the National Trust, and he had been part of the Pearson grouping that hired me.  I think I told you about meeting Michael Blakenham, who was then Michael Hare, became Michael Blakenham… became Viscount Blakenham.

And Jim did not retire when I became the CEO.  I think he normally would have or should have.  But he stayed on for quite some time and that caused me a great deal of difficulty, because, as you said yourself in asking me a question about some of the unusual things I may have done when I came to Penguin, people said, well, this kid, or this man, Mayer, he won't last long.  He's doing things so differently from the way they were done at Penguin before him.  And he doesn't know better.  He's an American and so on.  And besides, he's an employee.  Jim Rose is the family.

So, they started, those people who were disaffected by many of the things I did, went behind my back to Jim.  Jim, do you know what Peter's doing now, or what next month is going to happen?  And something like that.  And can you stop it?

Well, technically, he couldn't because I had been given the job, and I had the contract.  And he was the chairman, and I was the chief executive.  And… but he could see me, and I liked him.  People's opinions about Jim Rose varied greatly within the company, but I rather liked him.

I thought, he was not a professional publisher, so it was not likely that he was going to get it right.  He was there for about seven years, and he was picked, I suppose, because he was certainly a journalist and a cultured gentleman, but particularly because he was the brother-in-law of Pat Gibson.  He had married Pat Gibson's wife, Dione.  And, to his credit…

[Q] Sister?

Pat Gibson's sister, yes.  Thank you.

To Jim's credit… well, it's hard to say hiring me was to his credit, but he either had been told by Pearson, hire somebody else to replace yourself because you're now 72, or he noticed himself that it was not going well, whatever it was, but Ron Blass, and maybe Andre Deutsch, suggested me to Jim Rose.

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: Penguin Books, Jim Rose, Pat Gibson

Duration: 4 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015