Quietly speaking volumes

KINDRED SPIRITS: Adrift in Literary London by Jeremy Lewis, HarperColli ns pounds 17.99

AS Andy Warhol would have said, Jeremy Lewis was famous for five seconds. He was featured in an excellent television dramatisation of the Birmingham Six scandal: the campaigning MP Chris Mullin (played by John Hurt) rings his publisher and says, "May I speak to Jeremy Lewis?"

Well, that's it. The scene changes to something more exciting, but those few words would have made a great title, perhaps slightly doctored: Get me Jeremy Lewis, and Pronto. This book is not named after that piece of dialogue, largely because Lewis himself missed the programme and no one told him of the name-check.

A pity. The author of Kindred Spirits could have constructed a paragraph or three out of it. Since he coaxes an entire page out of the way in which Kingsley Amis made him a cup of tea, and five pages about having a slice of cake with the warden of All Souls, an actual televisual event would have loomed like a mountaintop in the flat landscape of his life. He is the exact opposite of those famous folk whose autobiographies reduce each achievement to a couple of lines of PR prose; in a one-and-a-half inch thick paperback, David Frost could spare only one-sixteenth of an inch to his entire time at university, tucked into a chapter about how he started in television.

This, by contrast, is Lewis's second volume of memoirs, covering his career, if that's the right word, in publishing and a short intermission as "England's most ineffectual literary agent". And the book is not an adjective too long. His strength is as a sometimes horrified observer, rather like James Stewart in Rear Window but without the window. He has a photographic memory - or possibly photographic imagination - for the down-at-heel decor of the publishing houses (publishing shed, in the case of the London Magazine) where he went through the motions of being an executive.

This is the real humour of observation: the staff who are the mainstay of the office and the oddballs who can bring an organisation to its baggy knees. He harks back to the time of doors and typewriters, before open- plan floors and VDUs. Lunch in those days lasted for most of the afternoon, while those kindred spirits of the title refer to both friends and what they had in their glasses.

This is the antithesis of Nineties laddism. No gamesplayer he, on or off the field. "Iron" and "John" are not his middle names. But he is also too old at heart to be a New Man; both his wife and daughters, to whom he is clearly devoted, have only walk-on parts in his account.

If there is such an institution as a Museum of Publishing hidden away in some dusty Bloomsbury basement, this will be the most consulted volume. Scholars will come for the latest research into Victorian sales figures and instead spend the afternoon with Lewis's anecdotes about turning up for a job interview with Andre Deutsch and being told he is exactly a day late. His words should be buried in a time capsule under the Publishers' Association premises and dug up to remind future print-free, interactive, CD-Rom generations what it was like to put witty words down on the page.

You will have deduced that this is no incisive guide to success in the world of publishing. He gives the impression that the books he published had more spine than he did. His single successful career move was being on the large side: he seems to have landed his first job by being hefty enough to heave filing cabinets up the office stairs without rupturing himself.

In fact, he surely must have been far more competent at his trade than he lets on. He once wrote an introduction to Diary of a Nobody; and I suspect him of being a Mr Pooter in reverse, wilfully underselling himself.

Certainly he is not always Mr Nice Guy. Although he has always been a non-combatant in the office jungle, he has a few missiles to hurl. If I were him, I should not like to bump into Carmen Callil, the ex-chatelaine of Chatto, in a dark bookshop. There are one or two arts producers who will not want him back on their programmes. The "vestal virgin" of Oxford University Press, a one-time colleague, may take a dim view. The next caller who asks, "May I speak to Jeremy Lewis?" could be a lawyer. This book will do as a character witness.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian, actor and broadcaster Sanjeev Bhaskar

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor