Respect and respectability

I am reading and much enjoying Lynsey Hanley’s book, Respectable, about social class in Britain. Like her, I read Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy at quite a young age although with my solidly middle class background I did not feel, as does Hanley, that Hoggart could have been writing about my own childhood.

However, it’s not the content that I want to write about here. Rather, it’s the book production standards which display a slackness one would not have expected from a firm like Penguin. Here is a spread:

Just how did the quoted matter on the left hand page slip through the proofing process? You would think that anyone with half a book production brain would spot that it is set in Times – especially so when there is quoted matter on the right hand page, set correctly in Bembo. In case you think I’m being unnecessary picky, there are actually several instances of this in the book – I’ve chosen to show the one where there are two pieces of quoted matter on a double page spread.

The typography in the book is actually very classical in style and quite nice, and I’m glad to see that Penguin still provides the typeface name on the title page verso. Quite why the book is set in a typesize of 11.76/14.76pt is, however, a bit of a mystery. How would you happen on such an odd size?

Mass book production has always depended on fast turnaround but you do expect good practise from the firm whose high standards were set by one of the greatest 20th century typographers. Hans (‘Half-Point’) Schmoller would not have been amused.

Indexer, hooray for the

Today is National Indexing Day: a day of celebration for all those who are concerned with maintaining good standards in book editing and production.
Sam Leith in the Guardian has a nice piece about the subject, hailing the ‘unsung heroes of the publishing world’.
He spell out why an index is so vital:

the index is, in any nonfiction book, more useful than almost anything else in the apparatus. It is a map of the text; a cunningly devised series of magical shortcuts that can in the good case save a scholar many hours of work, and in the bad one save a bookshop-browsing cabinet minister from having to buy a former colleague’s memoirs.

The bean counters who run so many big publishers these days don’t, of course, always see it this way. If there has to be an index at all, then surely it could be generated by a computer? Similar arguments are often applied to the necessity of employing specialist copy-editors and proofreaders. Proper publishing needs all three, I say.
Leith also mentions the clever way some comic writers have used the index as part of their work. This has been highlighted in blogposts by the indexer and editor, Paula Clarke Bain, who is one of the driving forcers behind National Indexing Day (she has tweeted a dozen or more times already). A great example can be seen in the recent Alan Partridge book, Alan Partridge: Nomad, which contains gems such as:


Corsodyl Mouthwash, brand ambassadorship of 24 (buy Corsodyl Mouthwash, the best mouthwash there is)
Countryfile, that woman who sued 10
Haddaway, a man that looked like 257
Jam bombs 149
Jambon 149
Netflix, Christ’s opinion on 265
Phalanx, nice use of the word 73
Quite superb physical condition (QSPC) 35, 36, 37, 41, 106, 276

More information about a June conference in Oxford on the state of the art of indexing can be found here. The Society of Indexers can be found here.

Winston Churchill and the poop of France


I have been rereading David Reynolds’s masterful account of how Winston Churchill wrote his five volume history, The Second World War. This was an enormous undertaking, for which the great man recruited a research and writing team which included an ex-Cabinet Secretary, the Army general who had been his chief wartime military adviser, another retired general who was on the Advisory Committee for the Official Military Histories, a retired naval commodore, the future Warden of St Anthony’s College, Oxford, and a young barrister and historian who had won the MC in the Far East. This group, nicknamed the Syndicate, were responsible for researching and drafting most of the material which went into the five volumes, published between 1948 and 1953.
I will write more one day soon about Churchill’s writing and production methods, but what caught my eye on this occasion was Reynolds’s account of some of the proofreading howlers which bedevilled the first edition of the first volume, The Gathering Storm. To meet the demands of his American publisher, the book had been first published in New York by Houghton Mifflin in June 1948, but Churchill did not regard this as the definitive edition. He insisted that his London publishers, Cassell, incorporate all the textual errors from the US printing – and more besides – into the UK edition, before final publication in October. Even so, more errors were discovered after many of the sections had been printed and this resulted in two pages of Errata and Corrigenda being incorporated into the book before the Index (unnumbered, but following p.610). Further errors were then identified just before the final binding, so this list was added to by another tipped-in slip which is shown below. The most embarrassing error overall was probably the one which is corrected on this slip, which described the French Army as the ‘poop’ rather than the ‘prop’ of France.


At this point, Churchill called in the proofreader who had worked on his pre-war biography of Marlborough, Charles Carlyle Wood, He was invited to lunch at Chartwell on 4 October 1948 and given the galley proofs of Volume II, Their Finest Hour.
Wood had in fact offered his services more than a year before, but had been politely rebuffed. He wasn’t really to Churchill’s taste – he had once described him as ‘indefatigable, interminable, intolerable’ – and he certainly didn’t endear himself to Desmond Flower of Cassell’s, who complained that he was altering the sense and wording of some passages and that he had removed 219 commas and added 217. But Wood persisted, and remained on the team for the remainder of the project. He also worked on Churchill’s later books, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.
At the conclusion of this series, in 1957, Churchill told Wood that his own writing career had now finished. In a friendly personal letter, seen below, he sent him a ‘bonus’ payment of £200 and thanked him for his efforts over the years.
Wood died in 1959. He is remembered here by his granddaughter on her family history page.


Pic: Christies

Source: David Reynolds, In Command of History, Penguin 2005.