Outside Edge: The angriest man in the arts has had enough. Margaret Park reports

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PLENTY of people on the Arts Council and in government waved handkerchiefs in joyous farewell this summer at the news that the publisher John Calder, their bete noire for more than 20 years, has finally decamped to France. They should be bracing themselves for one last exocet from the angriest man in the arts: next month Calder is to publish a manifesto on all that infuriates him about Britain's attitude to culture. This includes everything from lack of public funding to the way literature is (not) taught in schools. The manifesto will also explain why, on the other hand, he thinks France has got everything right.

He is reluctant to reveal any more about the pamphlet's contents. 'You'll have to wait for the launch, it will be very widely circulated,' he says gruffly. 'All I can say is I would have stayed if Britain hadn't effectively become completely closed to the arts.'

Calder has been wildly Francophile since at least 1955, when he became the British publisher of Samuel Beckett, who was then living in Paris and writing mostly in French. Since then, he claims his company, Calder Publications, has published more French writers here than any other British publisher. It also received a few Arts Council grants before the uncultured Eighties took over. 'The whole trouble started with Thatcher,' says Calder who believes nothing much good has happened in Britain since Jenny Lee was Arts minister in the 1960s. 'Then art was something to be celebrated and something that all classes should enjoy,' he reminisces.

At the age of 63, Calder has finally given up the battle to civilise Britain. Instead, he and two partners, Emmanuel Dougier, a French set designer, and David Applefield, an American publisher and author who has lived in Paris for 12 years, are setting up a new international arts centre in Montreuil, a Parisian suburb just outside the 20th arrondissement. This is one of the so- called 'Banlieue Rouge' - Communist-run boroughs whose sympathetic climate lures artists of all types.

The centre is to occupy a former foundry in an otherwise neat residential street and will house studios for sculptors, painters and photographers, and will stage plays and readings in French, English and German. It will also be home to the publisher's Beckett archives. But doesn't Calder's fierceness and uncompromising anti-commercialism perhaps make him a little unsuited to teamwork?

'He's a Beckettesque character himself really,' says Applefield, 37, who publishes English guides to French life and a literary magazine called Frank. 'He doesn't meet the profile of a good commerical risk, but I hope we complement each other. He comes across as curt, but he's very humane. His work is his life, he spends all his time selling books around the world. He carries a little suitcase that he's never unpacked in 12 years.' Perhaps, after all this time, he's about to.

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