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Postponing publication of The Satanic Verses in paperback


Persecuted and victimised for defending our freedoms
Peter Mayer Publisher
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There were all sorts of issues.  Peter Carson and I, he was my closest associate at Penguin, he was our chief editor.  He's unfortunately no longer with us.  But he certainly knew of every step that I, we would take.  He was part of the committee that regularly met to decide what to do.  And we had meetings with Pearson, our owners, about what we should do.  Michael Blakenham, to his eternal credit, Lord Blakenham, was in support.  I think he was very nervous about it - so was I - but he said, Peter, you're the head of Penguin and if your decision is to refuse to throw in the towel, I'm in support.

I think there were many people, or some people, on the Pearson board who had the views that I mentioned earlier about some at Penguin who perceived that a harm - maybe unintentionally - but a harm had been done to the Muslim community, and they wanted or would have liked to have seen me want to withdraw the book

I took the view, and I take it today, that, once you give into terrorists, you're finished.  I'm pretty tough on this subject.  I think, and I respect and understand, people being terrorised by terrorists.  Violence is frightening, and terrorism is frightening.  I think it's, sadly, one of the prices we have to pay for our freedoms, but if we give up our freedoms, then we've given up everything, right back to the French Revolution.  So, as I also have said, the issue for us was freedom and censorship, and we never backed down and never considered backing down.

But, I got letters in my letter box, as I started to mention, written in blood, telling me that either I would die or my daughter would die.  Funny, they never mentioned my wife, but they always mentioned me and my daughter, and I turned those letters over to the government people who were supporting us or guarding us.  I did that in both Britain and the US.

I was up for, getting qualified to buy a cooperative apartment in New York, not because of this, but the… that was just something that was happening.  I was living somewhere else, and either a rented accommodation or someplace that I wanted to sell, because I am now living in America or whatever.  And you had to be voted on by the board if you were a proper person to live in their midst.  And I had to defend myself in front of them, because they thought that I might be too dangerous to have… to live in their apartment house.

And I remember saying at a board meeting, you mean I, who am victimised and who have done nothing wrong - I've only kept to the rights and privileges that we all as Americans have by publishing this book - you mean I am too dangerous for you?  You mean you are too cowardly to stand up for our rights, including your own rights.  They said, well, what if the gunmen come and want to kill you, and they knock on the wrong door and they kill my children?  I said, oh, you mean if they knock on the right door and kill my child.  That's okay with you.  Is that what you're saying?  Well, we didn't mean to say that.  But you're saying you don't want a bad man or bad people to knock on your door and kill your children, and you won't run any risk for that?

And British Airways had a similar view with regard to Salman, that he may… he may have been too dangerous to fly on a British Airway flight.  I think he was not permitted to do so.  I believe.  You'll have to check this.  Because you might endanger the other passengers.

Well, Salman was innocent, and so it was a case of punishing the innocent.  And Peter Carson and I gave, each year, a party at the Hessischer Hof, a restaurant hotel in Frankfurt at the time of the Frankfurt Book Fair.  And the hotel cancelled not only our celebration, but also our rooms - we were sleeping there - because they took the same view, that we were too dangerous.  So I remember threatening the Prince of Hesse, who owns the hotel, and I said this sounds like the Nazi period, the National Socialist period, because the innocent are the ones who are blamed for everything.

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

Duration: 6 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015