The Worst of Times: I thought, this man is crackers: Nicholas Monson talks to Danny Danziger

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I became editor of The Magazine (a free London glossy) in 1982. It had just been launched and had no money behind it, and, with horror, I realised that it was losing more than pounds 40,000 an issue.

I managed to turn the magazine round, breaking even by the third issue. But it was carrying pounds 150,000 worth of debts secured on my name, and all I had was a half-share of my flat, worth a third of that. I realised that the chances of the magazine surviving and me not ending up bankrupt for quite a large sum of money were unlikely.

When the bank said I had three or four days left before they called in the receivers, I was in despair. I would wake up at four in the morning in a mucksweat, wondering why on earth I had let myself get involved in all this.

I remember kneeling by my bed, and praying: 'Look, God, if You can just get me out of this, You would be doing me the greatest favour. You can punish me thereafter, if You want, but I have got to sell this magazine.'

The next morning, a note was waiting on my desk, which said that Jocelyn Stevens wanted me to call him. And I thought, 'Crumbs, Jocelyn Stevens. He was managing director of Express Newspapers until about four months ago.' So I gave him a call, and there was this barking voice, saying: 'Nicholas Monson, I like your magazine. Meet me at Wiltons tomorrow.'

So I went along there, and just as I was about to walk in, I saw an old friend of mine who had been dogged by bad luck ever since leaving school, and who carried with him this unfortunate aura. He came up to greet me, extending his hand, and much to my shame I retreated backwards, saying, 'No, no, Michael, please don't touch me, I can't explain why, but don't]' He was totally bewildered, but I just didn't want any of his bad luck transferred on to me.

Jocelyn Stevens was waiting for me inside the restaurant - handsome, leonine, quite impressive really. Dressed in a well-cut suit and a Turnbull & Asser shirt, he struck me as a bit of a dandy. In fact, by the end of the meal, he had passed on some sartorial wisdom - that a man's suit can be cheap, so long as his shirt is expensive.

He was very enthusiastic about The Magazine and told me that it reminded him of his early days at Queen, the magazine he published with Mark Boxer as editor, which represented a time of his life he had enjoyed more than any other.

The following day, I met his partner, Graham Sherren, and we began negotiating, and eventually it became clear that the trading position of the magazine was even worse than I had realised.

At nine o'clock every morning, I would bring along my advisers to Centaur Communications, the Stevens HQ, for some ritual humiliation. Jocelyn Stevens, Graham Sherren and all their advisers were big men - all 6ft 3in to 6ft 7in - and they were comfortable; they had money, there was an aura of power and bigness about them.

And they used this to great psychological effect, because all my team were small. I had this tiny 5ft 2in lawyer, and a 5ft 6in accountant. They were great, but every time these big people wanted to make a point, their whole bodies would lean into us, and Graham Sherren would use his cigar like an offensive weapon; and after he had made his point, he would tip the ash into the ashtray, which invariably happened to be right under our noses.

They behaved like school bullies, but having gone through 10 years of the British boarding school system, I could take that. Because he couldn't make any visible indentation on me, Graham Sherren once said, 'Nicholas, you have got a skin like a rhinoceros,' which in his terms was a compliment. What he didn't realise was that I was supremely fatalistic because I had assumed by then that they weren't going to buy the magazine, and I was going to kill myself. My plans were not whether I was going to commit suicide, but when and how. I was actually debating, 'Am I going to slit my wrist in a warm bath, Roman-emperor style, or hurl myself off Beachy Head?' But they did buy it, which at first seemed marvellous, the end of all my problems.

However, it then appeared that my pact with God - to let me sell the magazine, and fling anything He wanted at me afterwards - was going to be fulfilled, because I certainly had six months of hell working under Jocelyn Stevens.

At first he was very nice, but he is extremely volatile and, I would say, almost impossible to work for. He sacked most of the staff of The Magazine over a six-week period; it became like a ritual blood- letting. One day he triumphantly told me how many people he had sacked during his time at Express Newspapers, and I worked out that it amounted to two people every working week of his 10-year tenure.

You would know when he was about to get rid of somebody, because the pattern was the same every time. It was gratuitous, psychological thuggery; he would choose a victim, work himself up into a temper over the most ridiculous of things, and start screaming, ranting and bellowing, going into every personal failing of the victim - man or woman, it made no difference.

Having sacked somebody, a sense of relief and calm would descend; and then his eyes would swivel around the office, until they descended upon some other person, and that person knew then that their time was up.

I tried to say to him, 'Look, Jocelyn, it would be no bad thing if at times you applauded people for how hard they work.' And he replied: 'Not being sacked is the way that I congratulate people.'

My wife, Hilary, was working as the managing editor, and doing a very good job, but he eventually turned on her. He would come to me and say: 'Do you realise what that stupid bitch has done?', referring to my beloved wife] Hilary hadn't done anything at all, but I would have to say to him: 'Yes, yes, Jocelyn, I quite understand,' because it would have been pointless to disagree. Eventually, he humiliated Hilary to such an extent that she couldn't take any more of it and resigned.

The next day he turned to me, and he said, 'Do you realise what you have done?' And I said, 'No'. He said, 'Because of your behaviour, Hilary Monson has resigned, and it is all down to you.' I thought to myself, 'This man is completely crackers; I am married to this woman, I go back and see her every evening, I share a bed with her, and he is saying that she has resigned because of me.'

So I said, 'Right, I can't take any more of this, I'm leaving.'

'Ah,' he said, 'you are resigning.'

This was more than an arcane debating point: I couldn't resign because then they wouldn't have to pay me out my contract.

So I said: 'No, I am just walking out.'

'You resigned.'

'No, I haven't'

Anyway, the whole matter was taken to the lawyers, and I was duly paid off.

Two or three years later, Centaur sold The Magazine at a huge loss, but the new owners made pounds 2m when they sold it on to Reed.

I can't say that Jocelyn Stevens is all bad. Frankly, if it hadn't been for him buying the magazine, I might have done something silly. I might have killed myself, who knows? I do remember at that time feeling overwhelming despair - and he was the one who saved me.

Nicholas Monson is a writer.

(Photograph omitted)

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