More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 68

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More Thrills than Skills: A Half-life in Journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

Several times I travelled to the Frankfurt Book Fair with the well-known publisher, Charles Skilton.

We both shared an undiluted enthusiasm for the excitement of the annual event. I actually never missed a Frankfurt Book Fair from 1971 to 2006. For Charles, this was the highlight of the publishing year, the world’s great gathering of books and book people. He often recalled that he had attended the very first Book Fair after the war, held in 1948 with a distinctly sparse post-war selection of books arrayed on trestle tables.

As the Fair developed in the ’50s and ’60s, into the world’s largest gathering of book people, it became a fixed point of focus in the international publishing year. I dabbled in publishing, but I would also attend to sell my own ideas for books I might write or promote. This was frequently successful. The Little Scots Cookbook might not have been the most stunning financial deal but others were rather more so.

The first year I went, 1971, there was an interesting group of people seated on Charles’ stand. There was Jim Haynes, founder of Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre, the first paperback bookshop in Edinburgh and a dyed-in-the-wool rebel. He was arraigned in the Sheriff Court in Edinburgh in 1963 for wheeling a naked blonde across the stage during a drama conference at the Edinburgh Festival. He started the magazine, Suck, and edited International Times. For many years, he was the Professor of Sexual Politics at the University of Paris. Jim probably knows more people than anybody else in the world. He was, and is, an avid people collector and has always run open houses of a Sunday night at his flat in Paris. He’s one of the most remarkable men you might hope to meet.

I met an outstanding publisher there, as well. John Calder had published the classic work, Last Exit to Brooklyn, by Hubert Selby Jr., and had ended up in court as an alleged pornographer. He was decidedly a copper-bottomed intellectual, managing to persevere in business much against the odds. He trailed endlessly around the bookshops of Europe and America personally selling his eclectic, highly literary list. He recalls the day he arrived at Thins in Edinburgh, where he would normally make no sales at all. The proprietor, Ainslie, was a mite more welcoming in his Scottish brogue. “I see the university is now recommending your dirty books, so I suppose we’d better have some.”

Then there was a rather attractive woman on Charles’ stand: tall, slim and with long black lustrous hair. Minister’s daughter Tuppy Owens was an eminent and renowned writer on matters sexual. We became firm friends, metaphorically speaking, and she encouraged me to become her roving correspondent for The Sex Maniacs’ Diary which she published every year. This was regarded by the authorities as a subversive publication in those days. In 1970, all the materials for the diary were seized by Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Squad. On Charles Skilton’s advice, Tuppy went to the best (and most expensive) brief in London: Sir David Napley.

Napley wasted no time. He called a meeting between Tuppy and the Boys in Blue. She got her materials back and the coppers got to keep hundreds of her ‘dirty’ magazines for, as Napley put it, “your personal and private gratification”.

I wrote pieces for the diary about romantic hotels, night clubs and acrobatic possibilities all over the world from Iceland to Bangkok. It went very well and was great fun. Tuppy’s letter of introduction opened doors, so to speak, all over the world. I used her letter at the President Hotel in Bangkok, a de-luxe five star joint. The manager was an amiable Scot with the unusual but distinctly Bangkokian name of Shakeshaft. I asked Duncan about the arrangements for shared occupancy of one’s room of an evening. “Oh, you need a Green Card,” quoth he and fished in his desk for a piece of green card the size of a business card which he duly signed. This was simply presented to door staff or security to smooth one’s passage, so to speak,

We duly strongly recommended the hotel in the following year’s edition of the Sex Maniac’s Diary. ‘Don’t forget to ask Mr Shakeshaft for a Green Card’, the 200,000 readers were advised.

Soon, all hell broke loose with missives of complaint from Shakeshaft , his employers and their legal advisers.

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