was incorporated in a blaze of idealism and innovation. Its four
founders - Ken Banerji, John Boothe, William Miller and Brian Thompson
- had all been executives within Granada publishing. In September 1972,
they joined forces in order to attempt something new and ambitious in
the world on publishing.
It was a company founded on socialist ideals and a
strong emphasis on co-operative spirit. The aim was to provide a
wide-ranging service, including fiction and non-fiction in both
casebound and paperback, and also paperback editions of books published
by hardcover houses. From the start the company looked at new ways of
presenting books and in a bid to make books more affordable introduced
'midway editions'. Such paperbacks – a halfway house between hardbacks
and paperback reprints –- are both widely produced by other houses as
well as ourselves.
Quartet aimed at quality and variety. It was keen
to publish outside the normal spectrum and thereby establish itself as
a new, refreshing force in British publishing. For example, it produced
sets of colour prints in book form, but with a detachable binding so
that the prints could be used individually. It also nurtured Virago,
the feminist publishing imprint, which was set up in association with
Quartet in 1974. Groundbreaking books, which alarmed other publishing
houses were welcomed in Goodge Street. The Joy of Sex
was published in 1973 and became an instant bestseller.
By the time I took over in 1976, Quartet has
established a reputation in the field of politics, sociology and
biography: biographies of Vita Sackville-West and Jack Kerouac, were
successes as were autobiographies by Frank Lloyd Wright and P. J.
Kavanagh. Jazz became one of the greatest strengths: our books about
Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dextor Gordon and Billie Holliday were
acclaimed by connoisseurs. We attracted novelists such as Angela
Carter, David Pryce-Jones, Thomas Keneally, Dennis Potter and Colin
Spencer and in paperback we published many famous names, including
Brian Moore, George Mackay Brow, Anais Nin, Robert Kee and Ruth Prawer
Before long we became leaders in the area of
photographic books, publishing outstanding names such as Helmut Newton,
Angus McBean , Bob Carlos Clarke, John Swannell and Norman Parkinson.
We translated a wide range of fiction and non-fiction from Arabic and
Eurpean languages. Naguib Mahfouz (first Arabic winner of the Nobel
prize for Literature) was one of our authors and our Quartet encounters
series included writers not just from the near continent but also from
Greece, Albania, Poland and Norway.
Quartet had never fought shy of controversy. In
1979, we published the memoirs of Leni Reifenstahl, the great
cinematographer who filmed the 1936 Berlin Olympics. At the age of
ninety she was still encounterng hostility and prejudice, but
eventually the book succeeded in receiving world attention.
Quartet today has, by a process of healthy
evolution, moved on from the house that was started by the four
founders. Thus the political publishing of the 1970s has evolved into
books on social issues (Prozac Nation, Drive-By,
etc); music publishing formerly focusing on jazz musicians has moved
into the fields of pop and rock (recent books on Frank Zappa and Tupac
Shakur have been very successful); translations on early 20th century
classics (by Broch and von Doderer for example) are being followed by
contemporary writers (Peter Esterhazy, Emmanuel Carrere). Granada, the
company the founders left has been swallowed and swallowed again in a
process that has changed the face of the booktrade. Once great
publishing names are now controlled by the businessmen and accountants
that run the conglomerates. Quartet continues to evolve but has not
overlooked past values.
A commitment to find an alternative to the
mainstream provides the key to Quartet’s fine tradition of leftfield
publishing. Our aim will always be to publish titles that larger houses
are wary of and to do it with success. Our publishing continues to be
risk-taking, but with a sharp eye towards the zeitgeist.
Our main strength is an ability to offer something
different, without losing sight of the commercial realities, with a
constant endeavour to rebuild upon a firmly founded list. We have been
supported through lean times by the successes of our founders. Bestsellers such as Prozac Nation, Bitch,
The Abolition of Britain, my own
collections of interviews and three volumes of autobiography, and an
idiosyncratic eye for the current music scene (our sales of our two
Tupac Shakur books are now in excess of 50,000 copies) continue to
underline the virtue of our list and to consolidate our publishing
On a personal note, I have always considered
publishing to be an art rather than a science. It consists of instinct,
together with the ability and courage to take risks; it also requires a
certain faith. This is an old-fashioned view, but through commitment to
basic principles and belief in people rather than statistics, Quartet
will continue to publish exciting new work whilst remaining faithful to
its founding principles.