It’s been a very exciting couple of months at Biteback Publishing. Call Me Dave has caused somewhat of a stir and has seen the largest print run in our company’s history. We’ve also published Alan Friedman’s internationally bestselling biography of Silvio Berlusconi – My Way – as well as two acclaimed accounts of recent political campaigns: Joe Pike’s Project Fear and Tim Ross’s Why the Tories Won.
November brings plenty more: the return of the ground-breaking Provocations series and Tony Travers’s fascinating look at fifty years of the London boroughs.
London’s Boroughs at 50
By Tony Travers
Tony Travers takes us from the ‘swinging’ London of the ’60s to the global metropolis of today with London's Boroughs at 50. Containing a section on each of the city’s boroughs, Travers also looks at some of the personalities who have led or impacted on them, including Ted Knight, Ken Livingstone, Dame Shirley Porter and, of course, Boris Johnson.
The ‘R’ Word
By Kurt Barling
As a Londoner with English, Irish, Nigerian and German roots, Kurt Barling is able to speak with some authority about the impact of skin colour on life in Britain. In The ‘R’ Word, an invaluable contribution to the discourse surrounding race and racism, Barling asks whether we can truly step out of our skins and leave the colour behind.
If you’re a reader of these fantastic and accesible polemics, don’t miss An Evening of Provocations at Waterstones Piccadilly on 25 November, where Zoe Williams, Joan Smith and Peter York will join series editor Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to present and debate their own unique takes on a range of topics.
We're bringing you a wealth of new non-fiction titles to get excited about this October. Firstly, there’s the book that’s causing a media storm, Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott’s Call Me Dave; we also have bestselling author Michael Jago’s biography of Rab Butler, the great nearly- man of British Politics; Why the Tories Won by Tim Ross, an unprecedented examination of the Conservative’s victory in the May general election; Vin Arthey’s true life tale of Cold War espionage, Abel, which is a must read for those eagerly awaiting the release of Steven Spielberg’s new film Bridge of Spies, and much more besides – we’re sure you’ll find something to enjoy!
Call Me Dave: The Unauthorised Biography of David Cameron
By Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott
Michael Ashcroft & Isabel Oakeshott's unauthorised biography of the PM arrives with the largest print run in Biteback's history. This explosive book provides an unparalleled insight into the life of David Cameron, from his blissful childhood in rural Berkshire, through Eton and Oxford; gap-year adventures in Russia, his early days as a party apparatchik, a stint as a PR man, and his rise to political power.
Abel: The True Story of the Spy They Traded for Gary Powers
By Vin Arthey
In February of 1962 an American pilot named Gary Powers was shot down in Soviet airspace, the condition of his release was the return of a Colonel Rudolf Abel, also known as Vilyam Fisher. The story of this infamous exchange is adapted to the big screen this month in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Bridge of Spies. Abel reveals the true story behind this tale of Cold War espionage, tracing Vilyam’s tale from his childhood in Newcastle to Moscow, the streets of New York and back again.
Why the Tories Won: The Inside Story of the 2015 Election
By Tim Ross
Following the most closely fought general election in decades, senior political journalist Tim Ross endeavours to piece together the inside story of the election. Through new interviews with leading politicians and candid private accounts from key players in this most dramatic of battles, Ross explores why so many experts failed to predict the final result – not only a Conservative victory but their first majority in over two decades, a far cry from the ‘knife-edge’ result we were primed to expect.
1956: The Year that Changed Britain
By Francis Beckett and Tony Russell
Francis Beckett and Tony Russell's extraordinary volume 1956 transports us back in time on a whirlwind journey through the headlines and happenings of a defining year in British history. Read Francis Beckett on the changing attitudes to sex in the ‘50s in this exclusive blog post.
Rab Butler: The Best Prime Minister We Never Had?
By Michael Jago
In this robust and insightful biography of Richard Austen ‘Rab’ Butler bestselling author Michael Jago looks to answer whether Butler really was ‘The Best Prime Minister We Never Had’. The book details his political career, from his time as Education Minister, from which he emerged as the progressive face of the post-war Tory Party, to going on to spend four years at the Treasury before the gradual but relentless eclipse of his career after Anthony Eden’s accession.
My Way: Berlusconi in His Own Words
By Alan Friedman
An entertaining and revelatory portrait of a most controversial and intriguing figure, Alan Friedman captures the life of Silvio Berlusconi through interviews with friends and foes as well as hours of exclusive conversation with the man himself. Featuring revelations about Berlusconi’s most private moments, politics and front page scandals, this candid book divulges the unvarnished version of what is, by all accounts, a truly extraordinary life story.
Company Confessions: Revealing CIA Secrets
By Christopher Moran
Award-winning author Christopher Moran uses private correspondence and declassified files to examine how the CIA treads the fine line between justifiable censorship and overbearing redaction, while revealing the extreme lengths that the CIA has gone to in order to make sure its secrets are kept safe.
Philip Larkin was wrong: sexual intercourse did not begin in 1963; it began in 1956. So did the ’60s, though no one really noticed this had happened until the Beatles released ‘Love Me Do’ in 1962.
It was the year of the invasions of Hungary and Suez, of home-grown British rock ‘n’ roll, of Nikita Khrushchev’s ‘secret speech’ revealing the crimes of Stalin, and of Look Back in Anger and the angry young men. It was – so Tony Russell and I maintain in our book about 1956 – the year in which the world we now live in was born.
Before 1956, women were expected to see sex merely as a commodity to be traded for a wedding ring. In David Lodge’s 1987 novel How Far Can You Go?, Dennis and Angela wait for many years for their wedding, while they get their degrees, he does his National Service, they get jobs and save money. In 1952, he puts a hand on her breast outside her blouse. In 1953, he strokes her leg to stocking-top height. In 1954, he puts a hand inside her blouse and onto her bra.
But the governing class lived by different rules. Sexual intercourse only began in 1956 for the hoi polloi; toffs had had it for years. The early ’50s were remarkably tolerant about the peccadilloes of celebrities and the political and upper classes, so long as they were conducted discreetly.
The same politicians who upheld laws against homosexuality quietly covered up for their colleague Tom Driberg, whose exploits with men were common gossip in the Strangers’ Bar.
It was well known in political circles that Harold Macmillan’s wife had for years had an extramarital affair with Robert Boothby, and that the fourth and youngest of the Macmillan children, Sarah, born in 1930, was biologically Boothby’s child. In the circles in which they moved, it does not seem to have affected the way in which Macmillan, Boothby or Lady Dorothy were regarded.
So sex was, after all, not invented in 1956. It was democratised in 1956, and not without controversy. A few months after the May production of Look Back in Anger, its author John Osborne showed that he could see dimly a revolution brewing in the relationship between men and women – and it was a revolution this revolutionary playwright did not like at all. ‘What’s gone wrong with women?’ he asked in the Daily Mail in November:
‘Never before have women had so much freedom, so much power, or so much influence … It seems very obvious to say that women have arrived, that at last they are coming into their own, but what is not so obvious is the price we are all paying for it.’
Despite John Osborne, the freedom of Tom Driberg to have homosexual affairs, and Lady Dorothy Macmillan to have heterosexual ones, started to spread down for the first time to the middle classes, while the Wolfenden committee worked on its report recommending the legalisation of homosexuality.
Politicians now know they cannot get away with any behaviour that those who elected them cannot. In fact, as we write, politicians are probably judged by harsher standards than any other people today.
1956: The Year that Changed Britain by Francis Beckett & Tony Russell is out 13 October and available to pre-order here.
Well, this week certainly has not been dull. And as with any roller coaster ride, it’s had its highs, its lows – and I’m still a bit dazed. I published, and was then damned!
Some of you will say: “Serves you right, you shouldn’t publish books that question anything about David Cameron or his government”. To that, I reply: ‘bollocks’.
I run a non-partisan publishing company, which publishes current affairs books across the political spectrum. This week, I’ve been accused of being a Tory lackey and, at the same time, totally disloyal for publishing a biography of the Prime Minister which dares to offer the odd criticism and private revelation.
I got a bit annoyed on Sunday night when I realised that neither the Sky News or BBC newspaper reviews were covering the Daily Mail’s front page with the first extracts from Call Me Dave. They always get frit when faced with a contentious story such as so-called ‘Pig-gate’. The lawyers go into a frenzy and the editors always play safe. It’s a shame that the paper reviewers on the two channels didn’t question it. It’s happened to me before and, on one occasion, I told the producer that we were supposed to be previewing all the papers, and that if we weren’t allowed to even mention a particular story I’d refuse to go on altogether.
I don’t like being censored. And this comes to the crux of the matter: whether the ‘Pig-gate’ story – an anecdote in Call Me Dave that caused such a global sensation that it almost broke the internet – should have been printed at all. I am still in no doubt that it was right to keep it in the book. Whether it would have made the credibility threshold for a newspaper is a side issue. It is in a book, not a newspaper. When I first read it in the manuscript, I certainly noticed it was only single-sourced – but the authors were entirely upfront about that. Contrary to much of the sloppy reporting of the story, it was never presented as fact. I was comfortable with the way it was written up and, more to the point, so were the lawyers.
What would the reaction have been had I insisted it were taken out? Had anyone found out, I’d have been accused of censoring something and protecting my so-called ‘Tory mates’. You’d think from the reaction that Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott, aided and abetted by me, had accused the Prime Minister of murder (or something). It is no more than a tale of student high jinks – and the authors leave readers to judge for themselves whether it happened or not.
The sight of a former News of the World political editor getting on his high horse amused me greatly. Look in the bloody mirror, mate. The irony seemed to be lost on him.
As you see, I am a great believer in a publisher’s role being to publish and not write the books which he takes on. I have published many which say all sorts of things I disagree with – even loathe and abhor. But I am a publisher, not a censor.
If something is libellous, I will intervene. If I think a fact is wrong, I’ll question it. If I genuinely think something has been misinterpreted then, again, I will question an author about it. But a biography has to be a full account of someone’s life, warts and all. That’s what Call Me Dave is. The fact that the Mail has chosen to publish more or less only the critical bits is not something that I or Michael or Isabel have control of.
This book is a serious work. It is certainly far more than its serialisable parts, as those who bother to read the entire 600 pages will no doubt confirm. I guarantee now that several of the reviews will commence with words roughly as follows: “I was expecting this book to be full of tabloid trash. Yes, the bits in theMail are certainly in the book, but it’s a really balanced account of the Prime Minister’s life.” That’s certainly what the reviews ought to say.
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The other thing that has royally pissed me off this week is that this is some sort of vanity publishing exercise subsidised by Michael. Let me lay that one to rest too. He has exactly the same terms as any other of our authors. Same royalties. Same terms and conditions. There has been no subsidy to Biteback Publishing. Not a penny. The only difference is that he is giving his royalties to military charities.
Some people have even been to look at our Companies House accounts and discovered – shock horror – that in our first few years we made financial losses. Name me a publishing company that hasn’t. This, apparently, was further evidence that we are just an Ashcroft toy, given that he has invested a seven figure sum in the company.
What a pity these people have no idea how business works. This money is not a gift. It is not a subsidy. It is an investment which he expects to recoup. It is now close on two and a half years since he put a penny into Biteback. We were profitable during the last financial year, and we will be in this one too. Michael has got where he is today not by being a charity, but by investing in businesses that he thinks have a good chance of making a profit. I like to think that we are repaying that faith.
Michael is a perfect investor. On not a single occasion has he sought to either influence the direction of the business or dictate whether I publish a book or not. Never have I even consulted him over whether I should commission a book. Indeed, I’ve on several occasions published books by his sworn enemies – Denis MacShane’s Prison Diaries being one.
The only occasion I can recall when I felt I had to ask his views on something was when Peter Hain and I were being sued by the Attorney General of Northern Ireland. This could have cost the company a lot of money, and ended up with Peter and me in prison. While the prospect of visiting us in the Maze amused him no end, he had no hesitation in endorsing my strategy to fight this outrageous case, and in the end we won.
I realise that people have a certain view of how business operates and how a relationship between a businessman and someone like me must operate. As ever, truth is stranger than fiction. I’m sure people imagine he pulls my every string, with me performing the role of a puppy dog puppet. These people don’t know me very well, and they don’t know Michael.
The first time I met him was back in 2003 when he had written a book, Dirty Politics, Dirty Times, on his battles with The Times. He called me in to read the manuscript and ask what I thought. I was locked in his boardroom for two hours. “Jesus, I thought, what am I going to say if I think it’s total crap?” It wasn’t – but if it had been, I’d have told him. When I had finished reading it he asked for my comments. “Two thing,” I said. The first was a minor detail, but then I said: “The bit about Tom Baldwin taking cocaine… Your lawyers will tell you to take it out. If you do, you’re not the man I think you are.” He looked me straight in the eye, smiled, and said: “I think you and I are going to get along, Mr Dale.” And we have. Famously.
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As a publisher, I don’t normally give details of print runs for books that I publish, partly because it’s a mug’s game. You never get it right, and you virtually always print too many or too few. But in the case ofCall Me Dave, I’m going to make an exception and give a big ‘f**k you’ gesture with my middle finger to all those who wittered on Twitter about it being in the remainder bins on Day One.
Most political biographies do well if they sell 5,000 copies. Some – whisper it – don’t even make it into four figures. But I knew with a serialisation in the Mail that this book was destined to do somewhat better. Our biggest selling book to date has been Damian McBride’s Power Trip. We did an initial print run of 5,000 copies but had to reprint on the day of publicatio,n such was the demand. In the end it has sold around 24,000 copies in hardback, paperback and eBook.
Anyway, back to Call Me Dave. My initial intention was to print 6,000 copies and see how it went. But on the first day of the Mail serialisation I doubled it to 12,000. Over the week, the orders from bookshops and other outlets (including one major supermarket chain) have flooded in – and I mean, flooded – with the result that on Wednesday morning I counted up the pre-orders which totalled a massive 33,000.
So I took a deep breath and told my colleagues to order an initial print run of 35,000. That’s three and a half times more than our previous biggest print run for a book. I don’t believe for a minute that all will be sold because all books are subjected to a rate of returns, but 10,000 of these are firm sale, so that’s not a bad start.
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An early sign of whether a book is going to do well is to look at the Amazon sales rankings. It’s actually quite rare for any political book to make it into the Amazon Top 100, let alone the top 20. By Tuesday morning the book was at Number 12. So it is competing with bestselling novels and cookbooks. Biteback has only twice had books in the top 20 before.
Anthony Seldon’s officially approved Cameron at Ten peaked, I believe, at around 92. Hey ho. Amazon use algorithms to guess how many they’re going to sell of a book pre-publication. Sometimes it panics me, because they order huge amounts, and I think to myself: “They’ll never sell that many.” But they do. So that’s another 4,000 sold then…
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One other amusement for me were the tweets that reckoned I was only publishing this book because I once worked for David Davis and must thus loathe David Cameron. Oh dear. I’ve never once published a book because of any supposed political agenda that I might have. I have none whatsoever with this book, except for it to sell as many copies as possible – just like any other book.
Cameron came up to North Norfolk for a day when I was a candidate there. We maintained good relations during the leadership contest. If we’re in the same room, we always have a very jovial chat. Four years ago, he rang me to ask if I would go and speak to his Patrons club. He rang me the morning after I’d been there, and we had a 20 minute chat.
The thought that he and I are enemies is laughable. I am sure there are people in Number Ten who are not exactly gruntled at the events of this week, but I would be very surprised if either they or the Prime Minister broke off diplomatic relations. They’re bigger than that.
Call Me Dave is published 5 October, click here to pre-order your signed copy!