Muhammad Ali with Jeremy and his wife Carole in their living room in Hampstead
Muhammad Ali sat on the couch in his house in Hampstead. An Israeli spy revealed how he helped win the Six Day War. Joan Collins whispered secrets. Alan Coren made jokes. Maureen Lipman gossiped. Poets shared their thoughts and visions, and Michael Winner made a scene: publisher Jeremy Robson has seen a lot – and now describes such moments in his new memoirs, which cover the lives and times of a man who is intrinsically involved in the literary scene of London from the sixties to the present day.
We learn that Jeremy was working in publishers Vallentine Mitchell in the early 1970s, when he was walking on a man from Israel with Wolfgang Lotz, a master spy who had worked deep in Egypt in the sixties.
"His story was extraordinary," recalls Jeremy. "Jewish, German by birth and an expert rider, Lotz had assumed the cover of a rich German horse breeder, opened a riding school and mixed the upper regions of Egyptian society."
His Egyptian friends believed that Lotz was an ex-SS officer who hid for a violent war crimes past, helped his cover by living an extravagant life in Germany before moving to Egypt – part of the Israeli trick to withdraw his credentials. to build. His information helped the Israeli Air Force to identify the air bases they attacked during the Six Day War in 1967, an important moment in the history of the Middle East. The result of Lotz & # 39; s work was a book called The Champagne spy – another bestseller.
We hear from a youth in North London and how Jeremy had studied law before the publication. He found work at rooms in Lincoln's Inn, so boring that he fell ill.
He turned to writing poetry, was Stand& # 39; S poet critic and immersed himself in a literary life, worked as an editor at various companies before he left his own stamp.
Jeremy Robson with Goons Peter Sellers, Michael Bentine, Spike Milligan and Prince Charles
In 1961 Jeremy organized a poetry and jazz performance at the Hampstead town hall. He employed Adrian Mitchell, Dannie Abse, Spike Milligan, Lydia Pasternak Slater – the sister of Boris – and Pete Brown.
He remembers how the reaction was amazing: "The town hall was completely sold out, there were long lines and people were struggling to enter."
But Spike almost did not make it – he called to say he was not feeling well. "Looking back, I am convinced that he had just a little bit of nerves, had seen all publicity and had never read his poems in public before," Jeremy adds.
The success was that Jeremy brought the event to the Royal Festival Hall, added Laurie Lee to the bill, and he became a poetry and jazz show.
Jeremy worked for the publication of the Wolfgang Foges legend on Aldus Books, and his description of Foges is a masterclass of characterization.
Foges was the son of a Viennese midwife. He had set up his first glossy magazine in the 1920s and eventually left for London in 1937. Using continental style publishing – heavily illustrated with integrated text – he made his mark with innovative subjects and styles.
He started Aldus in 1960 and among his authors were Carl Jung, Louis Macneice, Bertrand Russell, JB Priestley and Compton Mackenzie – a valued rota.
"At Foges, everything needed to be of the highest quality: writing, producing, editing and image content and saving costs," recalls Jeremy.
Such side dishes are the bread and butter from Jeremy's enchanting memoirs. The book evokes a world that vanishes – many of those with whom he has worked and published have died, but they are names that live on. We have Ernst Gombrich and AJP Taylor at the ready to meet pianist Alfred Brendel. We hear how he met Muhammad Ali – Jeremy published books about boxing, including the biography of Jack "Kid" Berg, the Whitechapel windmill.
In 1991 he insured Thomas Hauser's Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times, written with the cooperation of Ali. Ali would come to England and Jeremy sent him from one signature to another. Ted Hughes and Al Alvarez appear, just like Seamus Heaney, who asked Jeremy for his horrible typography & # 39; to excuse and added that if the poems he had submitted were "out of order, he would send more". of course, very much to do, he adds.
Harry Secombe and Dannie Abse
He talks about hanging with Harry Secombe – Robson Press published the Goon Show scripts – while Michael Winner earns a chapter for himself. Jeremy published his acerbic Sunday Times food columns.
"I got to know three Michael Winners: a rude, a very rude and an impossible," he says, before he arranges us with the biggest hits of the gruesome behavior of Winner, and then how sometimes his horror would fall.
The winner was offered an OBE and refused this on the grounds that "it was a prize for those who cleaned toilets in King & # 39; s Cross station".
But he also adds that the tumult of his horrible remarks prompted him to invite a Jamaican cleaner and her daughter to lunch at his home, and when he discovered that the daughter had never been in Jamaica, he paid for them both to have two weeks vacation there.
He invoices his book as an "anecdotal memoir", and from the pages a life of jazz, poetry and rubbing attracts attention with persons of interest. It feels like you are invited to a dinner of the greats and the good ones whose courses have been given in the past decades.
• Under Cover – A Poet & # 39; s Life in Publishing. By Jeremy Robson, Biteback, £ 25