My Foyles adventure

<p>On 14th July 1903 William and Gilbert Foyle sold their first book from their parents' kitchen table. Of the many who have passed through Foyles' employment, however briefly, not a few have remained in the book trade. As the business celebrates its centenary, they share their recollections</p><p>Karin Scherer</p><p>Marketing manager, Hatchards</p><p>I applied to Foyles, and had the strangest letter back inviting me to come for an interview on a certain day. What was so bewildering was the fact that they gave a time span of two hours, not a fixed time. When I arrived, there were dozens and dozens of other candidates waiting--presumably they had all received the same letter.</p><p>Miss Christina Foyle interviewed me herself. Her office was very small and so overheated that I nearly passed out, not just from the temperature but from the overpowering amount of Chanel No 5 perfume that she wore. </p><p>The interview itself was pure magic. Miss Foyle was desperately looking for something on her desk, and it was like watching someone swimming on dry ground. She only looked up twice: once when she asked me whether I played an instrument--my bemused answer was that I played the flute--and the second time when she asked whether I liked cats, to which my thoroughly confused answer was a shy "yes". I really could not work out what either had to do with the job of a bookseller.</p><p>After my second reply Miss Foyle gave me the most dazzling smile, told me to go and see her assistant and hoped I would be able to start the following Monday. Definitely my shortest and most job-unrelated interview.</p><p>Rita Delavigne </p><p>Mrs Delavigne joined Foyles, aged 20, just after the Second World War, as William's secretary</p><p>Miss Foyle always looked "well-kept". She had short, black, naturally curly hair and greeny/blue eyes that twinkled (like her father's)--the Irish look--and she had a beautiful smile. She could look very severe, but when she smiled her face lit up. </p><p>Miss Foyle was always "on duty". She usually wore a straight black or navy skirt (just below the knee length) and a freshly-ironed, silky-white blouse (not ironed by her--she had a housekeeper who "did" for her). She had a slim figure but a big bust, very slim legs and always wore hand-made shoes (or very expensive ones). She often used to wear the same outfits but always wore good shoes and stockings. </p><p>You knew if she was around because of the whiff of a beautiful perfume in the air either before her "entrance" or after her exit. She would stand with her head slightly to one side and backed off a little, with a "don't come too close" air. </p><p>She once gave me a beautiful orchid she had worn at some function she had been to which I was thrilled with. She also gave me some nail varnish (just after the war these were still luxuries). I always remember her sending me to some cocktail party on her behalf to see what "free items" might be given away. On my return I said to her, "I went in open-mouthed and open-armed--but nothing I'm afraid." She laughed. She had a sense of humour that I shared.</p><p>The above is an extract from FOYLES: A CELEBRATION</p><p>Dan Franklin </p><p>Managing director, CCV, Random House </p><p>I never worked in Foyles, but in the first years of the 1970s I seemed to spend much of my time there. As my first job in publishing, I had taken the position of sales assistant at the small but distinguished firm of Peter Owen Ltd. </p><p>Peter Owen's list was dominated by translated fiction, which was no easier to sell in those days than it is now, so Foyles was crucial. It ran on extraordinary, Dickensian lines that made it as difficult as possible for a customer actually to purchase a book. Nevertheless, some of the stock did seem to turn over and I would go at least once a week to tell the manager of the fiction department that he needed another five copies of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha or whatever. </p><p>My most vivid memories of Foyles, however, were of "doing subscriptions" with Mr Rush [the then general manager]. This involved climbing up to a little room in the attics of the building and joining a queue of reps waiting to see the great man. One day I was standing in the queue behind the Cape rep; in his hand he held an advance copy of the book that I, as a recent graduate of Malcolm Bradbury's English and American literature course at the University of East Anglia, was longing to read more than any other--Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. This, I knew, was almost certain to be the "Great American Novel", that elusive beast that we UEA students had spent three years tracking down.</p><p>Much too shy to ask to look at the jacket and blurb, I watched helplessly while the rep plonked it down in front of Mr Rush and muttered something about how Tom Maschler was really keen on this particular book. I don't think Mr Rush even read the blurb before saying, "Two".</p><p>Susan Lamb</p><p>Managing director, Orion Paperbacks</p><p>I only applied for the job because my mother wanted me to stop lazing round the house. I worked on the ground floor in fiction. I didn't know anything--I'd never even heard of Dick Francis--and had a very jaundiced view of reading. But Foyles is where I started picking up on popular fiction.</p><p>It was in the days when you used to write out a chit for customers and get commission on it. As I was the only English-speaking person on the ground floor customers would gravitate to me, so I made a lot of commission--I remember getting about &#163;30, which was a lot of money then.</p><p>People used to have to traipse all over the shop looking for what they wanted, so I came up with a bright idea--having a bestseller table in the fiction department. It annoyed all the other booksellers in the store. It was the year of Antonia Fraser's Mary Queen of Scots, The Anatomy of Britain, Everything You Always Wanted To Know about Sex and so on, and the idea took the bestsellers out of their departments.</p><p>There was a huge amount of thieving. I remember Christopher Foyle--we used to have to call him Mr Christopher--spending a lot of time pursuing thieves down the street. There were certainly elements of "Are You Being Served?" about Foyles.</p><p>Jonathan Lloyd</p><p>Managing director, Curtis Brown</p><p>I have memories of calling on Foyles at 9 a.m. every Monday for a year as a junior central London rep. The challenge was to see how many departments you could get a new title into. I think the record was nine. Also, there was much discussion in the book caf&eacute; on how to get round the system of getting your orders stamped for approval and save the long queues. I have a feeling that I managed to steal the official stamp and therefore approved my own monstrous subs!</p><p>Helen Fraser</p><p>Group m.d., Penguin UK</p><p>The hairiest moments were during the three-day weeks (for it was then). Areas of central London would be blacked out for the afternoon to save power. As a warning, and to allow shops to close, the authorities would turn off the power five minutes before the blackout. Whenever this happened there would be a tremendous noise of books being scraped off shelves and footsteps hurrying out. When the lights came on again, there would be large gaps on the shelves of one's previously well-stocked department.</p><p>The Reverend Dr D G Duncan</p><p>Former manager, Foyles theological department</p><p>Practically every visitor to pre-war Foyles, and certainly those to the theological department, would have met its manager. In the shop's early years William Foyle bought the Rev Dr D G Duncan's library and took him on too. William made good use of this "wonderful and most forceful" Baptist preacher, who had a marvellous way of bringing Foyles into his sermons--for which Foyles paid him a guinea a time. </p><p>Dr Duncan was a man after William's heart: "Dr Duncan asked me to preside at a Temperance Meeting one Sunday. He suggested a collection, which came to about 17/6d in coppers. Walking home, he said, 'You know, Foyle, I feel rather dry.' So do I, Doctor, I replied, and we went into a famous hotel. He ordered a bottle of Scotch, which he paid for out of the collection." Dr Duncan retired in July 1930 at the age of 85, after 22 years' service to Foyles. </p><p>The above is an extract from FOYLES: A CELEBRATION</p><p>Bill Scott-Kerr</p><p>Publisher, Corgi/Black Swan</p><p>In 1985 I applied for a job at Foyles, was ushered up to the umpteenth floor, stood in a queue with other hopefuls and, eventually, was gestured in to see the grande dame. She offered me pen and paper, and told me to write my name. I got half way through writing it when she said "thank you" and made it clear that the "interview" was over. I left and never heard from Foyles again. I don't know too many people who failed to get in.</p><p>Carla Alonzi </p><p>Foreign rights manager, HarperCollins</p><p>I loved working there. I'd even go in on my day off in case I was missing anything. It was such a gentle introduction to London life and a fertile ground for making like-minded friends among other arts graduates. Kate Farquhar-Thomson [OUP] and I met there in 1987 and have remained firm friends ever since. I met my partner in Foyles--I was head of children's, John was head of transport; John is now European sales manager for OUP. Many a romance blossomed down the pub during my 18 months.</p><p>The drawback was the uncertainty. There was an unspoken rule that we never called each other around 5.30 p.m. of a Saturday evening because if the phone rang it meant you were out of a job. Miss Foyle would come in on a Monday, look at the clocking-in cards for latecomers and, on that basis, decide who was to go.</p><p>But it was the most fun I had ever had working. Once on a business trip in Copenhagen I had lunch with a Danish publisher; we discovered that he too had worked at Foyles in his youth and that the same business/work conditions prevailed then as during my sojourn some 25 years later. n </p><p>FOYLES: A CELEBRATION (&#163;12.99, 0954495209), published by Foyles Books, can be ordered direct from the shop (020 7437 5660). Trade discount available.</p>