Today, a rip-roaring tale of the world of publishing.
When I have to go to London, I quite often stay overnight at the Harpo Club. (This place was deliberately set up in opposition to the Groucho Club. At the Groucho Club, true to its namesake, people talk and yatter nonstop, but at the Harpo there is, if not exactly silence, at least more moderate conversation, and people occasionally do sit in silence for up to 10 minutes at a time.)
I found myself there one evening recently, sitting with a writer and two publishers, Roger and Arthur, discussing the art of writing an autobiography.
"The most extraordinary case I ever came across," said Arthur, "was the book written by Stan Wetherby."
"Who on earth was he?" said the writer.
"Wasn't he a ghost writer?" said Roger.
"Spot on," said Arthur. "He did a lot of the rock 'n' roll star autobiographies in the 1980s and 1990s. Very dependable bloke apparently."
"Did he make all his rock stars sound the same?" said the writer. "I mean, if you get the same ghost writer doing 10 different lives, aren't they all going to sound like each other ?"
"Not if you're good at it," said Arthur. "Anyway, I had never met him, but one day it was announced that he had come to see me at our offices, so I had him in. Tall, thin bloke, with a small ponytail. He explained that in the writing of all these rock 'n' roll memoirs, he had heard lots of stories which he was never allowed to print, because the star came out of them very badly, or because they were a bit near the knuckle, that sort of thing. So he was now proposing that he did a book of his own, under his own name, called Confessions of a Rock 'n' Roll Ghost Writer and dish a lot of dirt. I thought it was a great idea."
"I don't remember this book coming out," said Roger.
"And with good reason, as you shall see," said Arthur. "Anyway, I asked him to submit some sample chapters, and a few weeks later he sent some to me. Cracking stuff, and well written too. The only trouble was..."
He paused, and sighed.
"I happened to mention to another publisher that I had been in talks with Stan Wetherby. 'Oh,yes ?' he said. 'Funny little fellow, isn't he?' I said that little was not the word I would choose, as he had towered over me. But the other chap insisted that Stan Wetherby was unusually small. So it became clear that the Stan Wetherby who had come to see me was an impostor.
"Anyway, I asked my Stan Wetherby to come in and talk about things, and when he appeared, I closed the door and challenged him. I said I knew he wasn't Stan Wetherby. So who was he?
"Well, he huffed and puffed and then he came clean. He confessed that he was a music agent who knew all the inside stuff on lots of stars and wanted to write a pop music industry exposé, but that he hadn't got a well enough known name to do it. So he thought that if he used Stan Wetherby's name ...
"'Hold on', I told him. 'If you can write this well, you don't need to have a well-known name. Just write it for yourself!'.
"He looked embarrassed at this and eventually confessed that he hadn't written it himself. He'd got a ghost writer to do it for him. I asked him who. He hummed and hawed and eventually said he'd got Stan Wetherby to do it for him..."
"Hold on!" I said. "Do you mean to say that Stan Wetherby, a well-known ghost writer, had been hired to ghost write his own fake memoirs, which were actually someone else's reminiscences?"
"Yes," said Arthur.
We all thought about this for a moment, then pelted him with cushions and left him for dead, while the rest of us went off to the Groucho for a late night drink.Reuse content