My Mentor: Caroline Law on Richard Ingrams

'RICHARD was an ideal boss, being kind in his way and unusually easy-going'

To describe Richard Ingrams as my mentor isn't quite accurate. In terms of my career, he was something less intimate but more significant: saviour.

Three years after leaving university, I was working in the arse end of the book publishing industry. My boss was a hypercritical monster. One day, he screamed at me because he couldn't find a paper clip; the next day, I heard there was a lowly job going at The Oldie.

The magazine's Soho offices were filthy. Richard, who'd invited me in for an interview, could not be located. Eventually, he shuffled in from the street, clutching a large bag of crisps, and sat down behind his desk where he was almost obscured by a teetering mound of unanswered post. We stared at each other. When the silence became intolerable, I made my excuses and left. A week later, I was offered the job.

I stayed at The Oldie for two happy years. Richard didn't guide my career, nor did I manage to learn the things he could have taught me - to write copy on the back of an envelope with no need for revisions; to have a healthy disregard for readers' complaints (some of which he'd publish under the heading "Nothing better to do"). What he did show me was that work isn't something to dread, that the office can be a perfectly pleasant place to pass the day. Promoted to assistant editor and chief sub - despite having no subbing experience - I spent my days chatting to contributors, editing copy and surreptitiously "managing" the pile on Richard's desk.

Richard never said much. With him, one often had a feeling that the funniest conversations and the most important work were going on elsewhere. But I didn't mind that we were second best to Private Eye. I had finally found a niche, and Richard was an ideal boss, being kind in his way and unusually easy-going: nothing buoyed his spirits like the subscription manager's tantrums.

Caroline Law is the editor of The Week

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