Sex for pleasure? It didn't do much for our publishers

For a vicar's wife to be so light-hearted about professional seduction is surely irresponsible
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The Independent Culture
THESE ARE difficult times for those of us attempting, in a cerebral yet sensitive manner, to resolve contemporary issues of spiritual, personal and professional satisfaction.

On the one hand, a low-grade tabloid, discussing alleged developments in the life of Samantha Janus, star of the brilliant Game On, victim of the embarrassing Babes in the Wood, quotes a former boyfriend as saying that a night with Samantha was "almost a religious experience".

And on the very same day a vicar's wife called Anne Atkins writes an article headlined "Why it's OK to sleep your way to the top", in which she speaks out against sex for pleasure and defends those who use it to advance their careers.

Even by the pragmatic standards of the modern Church of England, the Atkins argument is something of a shaker. Responding to a recent survey in which one in 20 women, and one in five men, supported the concept of career seduction, she argues that desire, which she describes as "the sentimental Sixties attitude to sex", is, historically, a bizarre anomaly. Down the centuries, people have married for reasons of commerce and social advancement. "It is self-righteous and hypocritical to assume that having sex for pleasure is fine, but if it is done for advancement it is despicable," she writes. "Such arrangements can, and often do, work well."

I can't help feeling that for a vicar's wife to be so light-hearted about professional seduction is a touch irresponsible. If Anne Atkins wants to see the grim results, she needs to look no further than the British publishing industry.

During the sentimental Sixties, the book business was in a sprightly state. A new generation of editor-entrepreneurs, most of whom were from Eastern Europe, had taken charge of the major houses. The paperback revolution was in full swing and the new permissiveness, unleashed by the triumph of Penguin and DH Lawrence at the Lady Chatterley trial, had introduced a young, hip audience to the joys of reading.

Unfortunately, the same spirit of hedonism soon had the industry in its thrall. Publishers began smoking joints at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Editors would disappear at lunch time to play cameo roles in pornographic films. Affairs between colleagues, once shameful secrets, became almost a matter of professional pride.

By the late Seventies and early Eighties, any semblance of dignity had disappeared and the entire book trade was in thrall to illicit pleasure. "Lunches" would extend late into the afternoon. Sales conferences became excuses for orgies. An editorial meeting at a respected paperback house had to be delayed after two juniors were found naked beneath the boardroom table. Authors, relatively unworldly in such matters, were occasionally obliged to join the bacchanal - virtually their only chance to get an editor or publicist to discuss their books.

It became a problem. At a party, one ambitious writer sidled up to the managing director of the publishing firm that had commissioned his novel and asked her whom he should sleep with in order to get on. The MD was so insulted and hurt that the writer even had to ask that she turned down his next book.

Of course, a few highly active individuals, more often than not in the publicity or marketing department, built a successful career on an intimate network of those whom they had "seen", but these were hard-eyed, sophisticated people with a Filofax for a heart. Most of the others slept with the wrong people, or with the right people but at the wrong time, or simply fell in love and were unable to move on and let go in the generally approved fashion. Pretty soon, their careers hit the buffers: they had slept their way to the bottom.

The general effect is evident today. American, German, Swedish and Dutch media firms noticed the vulnerability of our crumpet-crazed books industry and gathered like vultures. One by one they swooped down, picking off the most prestigious houses and replacing their dazed, exhausted executives with besuited, career-minded androids whose only idea of pleasure was a generously proportioned sales report or a well-turned balance sheet.

A few former publishers, now scrimping a living by writing film tie-in volumes or editing scripts for TV sitcoms, may still argue that the death of a previously healthy publishing sector was a small price to pay for all that pleasure, all those Samanthine near-religious experiences, but I have my doubts. Surely, for the sake of our culture if not our moral health, we should ignore the urgings of vicars' wives and avoid the snares of career seduction.

Miles Kington is on holiday