Society of Young Love

Posted on June 1, 2006 in Uncategorized

The Society of Young Publishers can be – and in our cases has been – a life-transforming institution. Of course the SYP has great events, with carefully chosen speakers on important subjects for anyone beginning or furthering their career in publishing, but it was its other raison d’être – the social one – that literally made all the difference for us.

Norman Franklin: Throughout the years, the Society has placed varying emphases on its professional and social functions. In the early 1950s it was going through its first and most earnest phase. I was a junior editor and dogsbody at Routledge and Kegan Paul, then one of the last remaining publishers in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral where British publishing had been based from Wynkyn de Worde until the Second World War. Now, after many changes of ownership, Routledge is a small cog in the vast Taylor & Francis (now Informa) machine … and is based near Didcot. I knew next to no one in publishing and joined the SYP to broaden my circle and to learn as much as possible. The SYP meetings were held at the offices of the National Book League in Albemarle Street, opposite the old John Murray offices, meeting, as now, after work. I was asked to second for membership a girl who was at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, with another girl I knew, who worked at the Cresset Press. I was introduced to this beautiful and fiercely intelligent young woman who was also a member of the SYP. Jill Leslie was a junior designer (a typographer, as they were known in the 1950s) working at Chatto & Windus, then independent, now part of Random House. Her boss was Norah Smallwood who was much celebrated in her lifetime, but both ferocious and terrifying to anyone young. 

This chance encounter at the SYP between junior editor and junior typographer might have come to nothing had we not bumped into each other again three weeks later. We saw each other again after that and, as was the way in the 1950s, it was not too long before we announced our engagement. But then came the shock: Norah Smallwood insisted that Jill resign as soon as we married. It wasn’t just that married women were expected not to work at that time, but also that Norah Smallwood fretted that trade secrets might pass across the marital bed. While Jill was working her notice at Chatto, one of the secretaries asked her how to join the SYP, obviously thinking it a superior marriage bureau!

Andrew Franklin: My parents met through the SYP in 1952 and married in 1953. I was born four years later and owe my existence to the institution where my parents met. My mother had left publishing long before I was born but I still vowed that I would not go into the industry when I left university. However, two years in the Civil Service put me straight and I saw the error of my ways! By the time I joined publishing (via bookselling in Hatchards, Faber and Faber) and then Penguin), I was already happily married, thus my motives for joining the SYP were entirely professional. I wanted to learn more, make publishing friends and contacts, and understand what other people in publishing did.

However, when I joined in the early 1980s, the SYP was going through one of its less distinguished phases, and the meetings were at best casual and at worst shambolic. I didn’t believe the institution had much future; I was sure it was in its death throes. How wonderful to be so completely wrong!