YOU'RE BOOKED!

Inside Publishing

Pan celebrated its 50th birthday this week with a grand party at Holland Park's Orangery.

Pan was founded by Alan Bott, owner of the Book Society, with Collins, Hodder & Stoughton and Macmillan between them holding just under half the shares. Its first titles included books by Kipling, Priestley and Agatha Christie. Over the years the ownership changed, until in the Eighties Macmillan became the sole owner. In 1995, the family firm of which Harold Macmillan had been so proud itself became part of a German conglomerate.

Pan's president, Alex Macmillan, the present Lord Stockton, is an increasingly rare sight on the literary scene. Indeed, he was absent last week, though his younger brother David was on hand to welcome such guests as Lord Jenkins, Sir Robin Day, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Lynda La Plante, Rachel Billington, Ken Follett, Andrew Neil and Hammond Innes. Congratulatory messages came from Wilbur Smith, Peter Mayle and Colin Dexter, who wrote in verse, while Jackie Collins appeared in person, looking almost as exquisitely airbrushed as her book jackets.

These days, it seems, celebrity means nothing if you haven't got a novel listed on your CV. This week, two more TV personalities have embarked on new careers: Alan Titchmarsh, whose gardening gloves have already embraced Songs of Praise, is at work on Mr McGregor, a light romance set around a TV gardening programme with falling ratings. And Robert Llewellyn, best known as Kryten in Red Dwarf, is at work on a retelling of Pygmalion. Called The Man on Platform Five, it's about two posh girls who make a bet that one of them can transform the nerdy trainspotter on Luton station into a man one of them will fancy. An obvious twist, really, though GBS would doubtless have something to say about it.

At last week's presentation of the pounds 30,000 Orange Prize for Fiction - women's fiction, that is - the chair of the judges, Professor Lisa Jardine, irritated most of the mere males present, and not a few of the women, by asserting that men didn't really read novels by women: they merely read the reviews and pretended. In fact, the surroundings suggested strongly that men don't read at all. For every book in the Gladstone Library at the old male-only National Liberal Club is fake.

Publishers are apt to get very excited about a genre known in some quarters as "hocus pocus" - that is, books about pyramid power or those suggesting that Jesus once lived in Chipping Sodbury. Perhaps they're right to do so: Anthony Cheetham, the portly chairman of Orion, says that advance orders for The Bible Code have reached 74,000. Written by an Israeli mathematician, Michael Drosnin, it purports to demonstrate the predictive powers of the Bible, allegedly showing that two world wars and the assassinations of Kennedy and Rabin are all in the good book. I wonder: did it also predict Conservative meltdown?

Delia Smith is slipping. Literally. For the 12 weeks ending 17 May, Booktrack figures reveal that the woman who got us all obsessed by sticky toffee pudding and decreed that we should put a slice of lime in our G&T has been eclipsed by Rick Stein, atop the Top 50 with Fruits of the Sea, which has sold 9,092 copies. In at three is his Taste of the Sea, with 3,329. Poor old Delia could manage number 5, her Complete Cookery Course outsold not just by the ubiquitous River Cafe Cookbook but also by Annabel Karmel's Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner. Is this the end of civilisation as we know it?

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