Monday, November 5, 2018

The Warwick Roger-Stephen Stratford chronicles

My 14-year-old daughter wants to redecorate her room so I dug out some photos of Murray Grimsdale’s exhibition at the Denis Cohn Gallery in 1977.  Murray painted the walls with fruiting bananas, agapanthuses and portraits of his wife May, subject of most of the paintings on show, one of which is outside the daughter’s bedroom. Rooting these photos out, I discovered a correspondence between me and Metro’s founding editor Warwick Roger

I was a contributor to Metro from early on. Memory has it that I had a freelance piece in issue #3 in 1981 but that can’t be right (I have never kept clippings) as I was at the Listener then. At least, I think I was. I do have a clear memory of visiting Warwick in the magazine’s early days in his tiny office perched perilously above Grafton Road: his knees were almost up against his chin while I sat in a canvas chair opposite his desk. Later we would sometimes meet by chance in Airedale Street near the Metro office and gossip, as journalists do. Almost as much as lawyers. Eventually I received this letter:

11 November 1985
Dear Stephen
Sorry it has taken so long to come back to you – busy time of the year and all that. Sorry too that I have no need for brief book reviews. Kingi [Michael King, then the main book reviewer] seems to be in good heart and you well know that Metro never does anything briefly.
Yes, you were right about Laurel & Hardy (Mannion and Adams). What happened? [This is about the magazine New Outlook I edited when it was left-wing but had since become a cheerleader for Michael Fay.] Please tell. The Ferret (to say nothing of our lawyers) needs to know. I’ll call you in a day or so.
Warwick Roger

4 April 1986
Dear Stephen
How nice of you to offer me the chance of gracing my organ with the Vincent O’Sullivan short story. I would be happy to do so provided that Mr O’Sullivan doesn’t have a contract of any kind with the litigious Mr Mannion. Could you please confirm that in your capacity as literary agent to the stars?
Incidentally, do you have any information for The Ferret about what happened in the bitter internecine struggle between Mannion and Adams? Answers on a postcard to : The Editor, Metro, P.O. Box 6842, Wellesley Street or in a secret phone call. You will be rewarded in another life.
Thank you for your kind words about North and South.
When you’ve convinced me that there is no legal impediment to publishing your client’s story and when you furnish me with his personal address, I will write and formally accept the story and send him a tax form.
Warwick Roger

12 May 1986
Dear Stephen
Do you want a job?
Warwick Roger

22 May 1986
Dear Stephen
Thank you for your distracted letter of May 17.
I am pleased to learn of your desire to become involved with my organ and although your demands, especially for money, are absolutely outrageous, Mr Palmer and I have reluctantly decided to accede to them except in the matter of the BMW.
As Mr Palmer is unable to write coherently at present you will, I am afraid, have to do with a letter of appointment from me.
Yes, we’ll pay the amount you suggest. Four weeks’ holiday a year to be taken at times that are mutually convenient. I intend to take a week off in August and three weeks in January during which times you are welcome to be me, so it wouldn’t be convenient for you to take your holidays then. By the time you get this letter you may have learned of certain developments in the ownership of Metro department. These developments will ensure the continuation of your fortnightly paycheck.
If it’s convenient for you, why don’t you start on Monday 21 July?
I look forward to getting a call from you confirming the start date.
I think you’ll enjoy being associated with this organ.
Yours faithfully,
Warwick Roger
P.S. I don’t mind you doing the occasional Listener book review.

I stayed at Metro as deputy editor until early 1993 when I left to start the books/arts monthly magazine Quote Unquote and lose all my money. The Metro days were good times, mostly. Every morning I looked forward to going to work, and that was because of Warwick, mostly. He could be a total prick at times, but he was brilliant. I’ll take a brilliant prick over a competent dullard any day.

And here is one of the photos of that Murray Grimsdale exhibition:

Sadly it is in black and white so you miss the lovely delicate colours, but you do get to see a rear view of Peter Wells descending the stairs. Peter worked at the gallery then; neither of us can recall who the photographer was. Possibly Sally Tagg: the photo is identified only as “05997/34a”.