Joan G Robinson (1910-1988)

Her contribution to Partners in Progress:

“The first I knew of Teddy Robinson having designs on the House of Harrap was when he announced his intention one day in 1953 of being known in future as George G Robinson. He then informed me that he was thinking of writing his autobiography.

“But why “George G”?” I asked.

“Because it’s a Good Name,” he said, in the pompous, middle aged voice he sometimes borrows from me. “I did think of calling myself Teddy Harrap, then I thought just a name with an initial sounded more extinguished.”

“You mean distinguished,” I said.

“Same thing,” said Teddy R. “No one’s very distinguished until he’s extinguished. I don’t suppose anyone will ever have heard of you until you’re dead.” He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment and then asked gently, “Do you like them best in bunches or made up in a sort of horseshoe shape?”

I said that wasn’t what we were talking about at all. We were discussing the names on books.

“Ah yes,” he said, “Well, I’ve always noticed that “George G Harrap” is the name most people like to have on their books. Not only interesting and nice to read books like Milly-Molly-Mandy, but great big deadly books with nothing but long lists of words in them – ”

“Dictionaries,” I said.

“That’s right. So I realised that it must be a Good Name. And when I (or perhaps you, if you’ll be so kind?) have written this book about me, that’s the name I intend having on the cover. When shall we begin?”

Well, of course, I knew then that it was all up with me and I’d have to write that biography myself. So I did.

When we received a letter from Harrap’s saying they were interested in our manuscript and suggesting an interview, Teddy R and I had a few words about who should go. Being rather shy of publishers myself I wanted him to, but he said oh no, that hadn’t been his idea at all. I was to be his business manager, and knowing when I’m beaten, I went.

But from the moment his book was in print a very odd change came over Teddy R. Instead of remaining entirely pleased with himself and all the world, he began scanning all the advertisements in any literary kind of paper he could lay paws on, his fur furrowed in anxious little lines across the bridge of his nose. He took to doing complicated little sums – tens into hundreds, tens into thousands, and tens into billions – on the backs of my cigarette packets. And he became obsessed with the idea that we ought to “keep in touch.” “Keep in touch with who?” I asked.

“Our Business Relations,” he said. “Mr Walter and Mr Ian. Couldn’t we ring them up or drop in to tea or something?”

“But they’re enormously busy,” I protested. “They’ve got hundreds and hundreds of books to think about.”

“Yes, but I’ve only got one,” said Teddy R. “Who cares about the others?”

“They do,” I said, and explained at length that just as much care and consideration and hard work went into every single one of the others as had gone into his.

“That’s what I was afraid of,” he said. “I think it’s our duty to remind them of mine. I shall write them a letter.”

He spent several days after this mumbling to himself in odd corners, working on a rough draft of his letter. From what I could overhear, without appearing to listen, it went something like this:

“Dear Mister Harrap, Sir,

(father, son, or brother),

speaking not as juvenile

but one man to another,

wouldn’t it be better, Sir,

to fill up every shelf

with several million copies

of that book about myself?

I know the public likes to choose

– but you know what people are –

Give the public what it needs.

Yours truly, Teddy R.

But on the day he received a copy of his book printed in German, closely followed by one in Dutch, everything was altered, and he felt a lot better.

“To think,” he said, “that they’ve been working on my book all the time and I never knew! Why, they might even get me on the cornflakes packets yet.” “.