That’s the inscription inside our copy of Everyman’s England by Victor Canning, a collection of essays about various people and places in 1930s England. I first met Victor when I worked in radio drama at the BBC. He was very well known as a thriller novelist and I wanted him to write some plays for Afternoon Theatre. He was quite a bit older than me but when we met we instantly became friends and subsequently in the early 1980s Dee and I spent several happy weekends with Victor and his wife, Adria, at their lovely home in Herefordshire.
Then one day in a second hand bookshop Dee found a copy of Everyman’s England. We took it with us on our next visit and Victor was astonished. The book had been published in the 1930s but had gone out of print before the war and he thought it had vanished without trace. He inscribed it for us though and we still have it.
Scroll on to 2005 and the launch of Crimson Cats audio books. Victor, and indeed Adria, were long since dead but casting around for an interesting travel book we thought of Everyman’s England. Nice idea, but the book, although long out of print, was still in copyright. At that time copyright lasted for 50 years from the death of the author (these days it is 70 years) so it had to be cleared before we could use the text. I spoke to the agent who handled Victor’s estate. She had never heard of the book but promised to pass on my request to the copyright holder.
A few days later I had a call from an actor called Charles Collingwood. I knew Charles, again from my BBC days and because he plays Brian Aldridge in the long running British radio soap opera, The Archers for which I had written scripts in the mid 80s. I couldn’t think why he was ringing me but then he told me he was Victor Canning’s heir. Adria had been his godmother, Victor had left his estate to Adria and when she became ill Charles had taken care of her, so she had left the estate to him.
You couldn’t make this up, could you?
I asked Charles if he was happy for us to produce an audio version of this book (abridged of course) and he said yes. I then said that as it had been out of print for so long I wasn’t prepared to pay anything up front for it but would pay him a royalty on sales. He agreed to that too, so while I was on a roll I asked if he would also read it for us. After a pause he said: “Would that also be on the royalty only deal?”
“Oh, yes,” I said. Another pause and then he said, “Oh, why not?”
In fact it has sold well over the years so it has been a win-win situation.
But there’s yet another twist to the tale. In 2011 our audio version was bought by someone who worked in print publishing. He was very taken with it and asked about its provenance. We told him the tale and the outcome was that a publishing house called Summersdale decided to re-publish the original book in its entirety. So the literary story came the full circle. We have a copy of that too, old and new side by side.
I think Victor would have been pleased.