In 1961 a test case ended up in the House of Lords. The case was called Shaw v Director of Public Prosecutions and it has since become as famous to law students as Donohue v Stevenson or Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company.
It goes a little something like this…
Mr Shaw was a publisher, a bit like The Friday Project is. The only difference is that, while we publish good wholesome books*, Shaw published a book called ‘The Ladies Directory’.
It was, as you’ve probably worked out, a kind of Yellow Pages of prostitutes for discerning gentlemen who preferred to let their fingers do the walking.
So concerned were the Lords that Shaw’s book would encourage the proles to start paying for sex that they created a new common law offence – that of ‘conspiracy to corrupt public morals’. The offence – incidentally – carries a theoretically unlimited penalty, and was later used against Felix Dennis et al in the infamous Oz trial. However, since the 70s it has rarely been used, mainly because there are no public morals left to corrupt.
These are, after all, the modern public morals that brought us Chantelle (and then invited her to present a British Book Award – more on this later) and Preston (a musician of such negative charisma that, under his stewardship, ‘Ordinary Boys’ becomes a gross exaggeration).
These are the morals that encourage on-the-spot fines for swearing into a mobile phone in public and allow Ken Livingstone to be branded an anti-Semite but that make folk heroes of east end murderers and prime-time presenters of Jim Davidson and Freddie Starr.
And worst of all, these are the morals that no longer consider the wearing of hats mandatory for gentlemen. I maintain that the decline of formal hat wearing can be shown to be directly inversely proportional to the increase in anti-social behaviour.
So, yes, the public morals – by and large – can go fuck themselves. They’re gone. But nonetheless I found myself thinking about them today when Pond plonked himself next to my desk, clutching a proof copy of I Have America Surrounded, the biography of Timothy Leary that we’re publishing later in the year.
“This is really good,” he opined, as if we’d publish anything that was less-than.
“Yes,” I concurred.
“But, seriously, doesn’t it make you want to try acid?”
Actually, yes, it does.
Now understand that, as a rule, I don’t do drugs. Not in an annoying, precious, disapproving way. I just don’t. Like some people don’t, as a rule, do yoga. Give me a Mojito or six any day, and easy on the club soda.
And yet, and yet, reading through John Higgs’ tales of Leary, and Huxley and tuning in and turning on and dropping out, I had to admit, the whole thing sounds absolutely bloody great.
Now, this is, of course, one of the marks of a great biography. You wish you’d been there, met the characters, drunk the Kool Aid. But is it supposed to go so far as to make you want to drop acid? And not because it sounds dangerous and exciting, but because it sounds so normal and yet so interesting. By publishing I Have America Surrounded are we going to blow the public morals completely out of the water by creating an entire nation of Learys? Will Superdrug start stocking d-lysergic acid diethylamide next to their designer sex toys?
Or am I just being paranoid?
And so to The British Book Awards. Clare and I went to them last Wednesday and they were amazing. Amazing for the following reasons…
1) Chantelle presented the first award. Lauren Bacall, the second. Chantelle, then Lauren Bacall. Chantelle first, Bacall second. Somebody actually made that decision.
2) There was a special celebrity room at the back of the drinks reception into which the likes of JK Rowling and that old woman from The Royle Family were smuggled for special cocktails and whatnot. Clare I were tempted to brazen it out and go in, but in the end decided it was more fun to try to guess what was on offer behind the curtain. Clare guessed bar-fly jumping. And judging by the bouncing a ripping noises, she was right.
3) Piers Morgan was robbed. Prize-wise, obviously. Not actually.
4) Because the event was being filmed for Channel 4, we were all asked not to clink our cutlery if we could avoid it. Being a room full of publishers, everyone made a point of being a clinky as possible.
5) My name was on the guestlist next to Jimmy Carr. That’s the closest I ever want to get.
6) Amanda ‘most powerful person in publishing, unless you count people who actually work in publishing’ Ross is an incredibly bossy woman. No wonder she’s so powerful. Richard and Judy seemed nice though.
We got a cab back to Victoria and I walked home in my tux, listening to my iPod. What does a man have to do to get mugged in this town?
One final thing: Adam Kay has made a new song. It’s called the NHS song. He also has a blog. We’re hosting them both. Go, see, why don’t you?
Right, I’m going home to smoke some crack. I urge you to do the same.
* Fact: each of our first three books contained that ‘c’ word. This is certainly a record