Pub­lish­ing game­keeper who turned po­etic poacher

Un­der Cover

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - By Jeremy Rob­son Much early material came from Spike

Bite­back Pub­lish­ing, £25 Re­viewed by Hester Abrams

JEREMY ROB­SON ought to be ex­hausted. Hav­ing stepped down from run­ning pub­lish­ing houses only to write his mem­oir and bring out two new vol­umes of po­etry, he surely de­serves a quiet life. Yet this mem­oir, sub­ti­tled A Poet’s Life in Pub­lish­ing, re­veals a man so gre­gar­i­ous it’s clear that re­tir­ing is not his style.

I know how so­cia­ble he is, since I have been to a few Rob­son book launches over the years. Pretty starstud­ded they would be, too, with ac­tors and politi­cians of a cer­tain era, many of whom be­came his life­long friends. Wine and laugh­ter would flow, no mat­ter who the au­thor was — and lat­terly it was Rob­son him­self.

So I picked up this “Anec­do­tal Mem­oir” with amused ex­pec­ta­tion. Peo­ple Poet and pub­lisher — and pugilist: Rob­son with his au­thor Muham­mad Ali

said he had so many sto­ries to tell, he must write them one day — much as he had per­suaded the Goons, Alan Coren, Mau­reen Lip­man, Joan Collins, Bar­bara Cart­land and more, to put their ex­pe­ri­ences, sketches, even lists, be­tween

cov­ers. (Michael Caine’s Not Many Peo­ple Know That, and Cricket’s Strangest Matches rank among Rob­son’s best­sellers, along with Eve­lyn Rose’s Com­plete In­ter­na­tional Jewish Cookbook.) Mil­li­gan and Peter Sellers, pa­tients of Rob­son’s doc­tor fa­ther.

Though the book is about th­ese peo­ple, it’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. Rob­son keeps him­self cen­tre-stage, demon­strat­ing his own maxim that “the art of good edit­ing… means hav­ing a good ear to­gether with a large dose of hu­mil­ity”.

He is rev­er­en­tial, but not ex­ces­sively. “I came to know three Michael Win­ners,” he writes. “One rude, one very rude, and one im­pos­si­ble.”

Much is very funny, with the hero barely be­liev­ing his luck, whether things go to plan or ap­pallingly wrong: Muham­mad Ali was quixotic and gen­er­ous, but failed to ap­pear for his own book launch. Uri Geller and Sh­mu­ley Boteach were hav­ing an event for their book when Michael Jack­son rocked up, nearly caus­ing a riot.

Rob­son be­gan on Fleet Street’s TitBits, then worked his way to Al­dus Books un­der the ter­ri­fy­ing-sound­ing Vi­en­nese refugee mav­er­ick Wolf­gang Fo­ges, where his big break was David Ben-Gu­rion’s opus The Jews in Their Land. Back then, pub­lish­ers could fol­low their pas­sion and au­thors were not “prod­ucts”, he laments.

The rev­e­la­tion for me is in the par­al­lel ac­count of a half-cen­tury of po­etry writ­ing and per­for­mance. Rob­son launched hun­dreds of live po­etry and jazz con­certs with his friend Dan­nie Abse and stel­lar casts of the likes of Lau­rie Lee, Ted Hughes and Michael Gar­rick. Th­ese gave him pro­mot­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and his own voice.

Like one long party, it was en­joy­able but I felt before the end I’d per­haps had one too many sto­ries. As for Rob­son, I have a feel­ing he’s still go­ing strong out there, com­pos­ing poems and mak­ing friends, while a band plays on.

He had so many sto­ries to tell, he had to write them

Hester Abrams is a for­mer di­rec­tor of Jewish Book Week

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