MAXWELL HOUSE EC2
By Francesca Fenn, Aug 13 2015 02:04PM
We are aware that everyone who uses any Step Outside Guide appreciates the brilliant quality of the production of our books. This is entirely due to Margie's expertise in this area, learned through an illustrious career in publishing. Here are some great stories about her early days in the field:
By Margie Skinner
I started my career in publishing working for Macdonald & Co publishers based in London, EC1. Unfortunately the company name led to the common misapprehension that my job was serving burgers! In reality I was a secretary in the production department. I won’t tell you quite how long ago this was, but here are some clues……
Maxwell House was not only the eponymous name of the building I worked in (more of that in a minute), but also the coffee of choice. A ‘cappuccino’ was an exotic name bandied about by those recently back from Italy. There were no computers, but I felt chuffed that I had an electric typewriter! I also worked for a lady who had, it seemed, OCD when it came to letter presentation; I did a lot of re-typing! Fax was new, so much communication was by telex. This involved tedious hours queuing to feed a metal monster with a carefully nursed long paper strip peppered with holes.
And talking of monsters, the company was owned by a shy and retiring chap called Robert Maxwell. We would see him often, standing by his lift waiting to be whisked up to his penthouse office. There was one other lift in the building which served the hundreds of other staff! Maxwell anecdotes are legendary, but I was close to the source. One morning he sacked everyone in the company for threatening strike action – a decision delivered by letter onto our desks. But after a (presumably good) lunch there was another letter re-instating us! He accosted someone who had the audacity to smoke outside his office, asking him how much he earned a month and on hearing the reply whisked out a chequebook, writing the man a cheque for said amount and sending him off with ‘I never want to see you here again’. I don’t know if anyone ever told him that the man was not in fact an employee, but was a visiting printing rep who pocketed the cheque and was quite happy to never be seen there again!
Maxwell House was a short walk from Liverpool St Station, on the corner of Worship Street and Apold Street. To reach it from the station I would walk down a narrow dark alley, long since swallowed up by the new station design called, ironically, ‘Sun Street Passage’. The area has now changed beyond all recognition – and some might say that I have too – but I have fond memories of my time there. It was an interesting start to my journey in publishing; and instilled in me a resolution that I would never become a megalomaniac publishing magnate. So you are safe!