Forty years ago, as a young man with a wife, two children and a Labrador to support, I was approached by Penguin Books and asked to write a book in a series they were doing on popular geography. They would pay me £400, and I would liaise with Prof Peter Hall, Professor of Geography at the University of Reading. I would write the book, and he would write the foreword.
I was moderately busy, with a full-time job as Economic Adviser to the Post Office Corporation, and two part-time jobs as a councillor on the London Borough of Lambeth (with Cllr John Major), and as a member of the Greater London Council (which I subsequently abolished). My parliamentary ambitions were on hold, as Conservative Central Office had indicated that, in their view, I did not have the necessary qualities to represent the Party in the House of Commons.
My book, “Tourism, Blessing or Blight?” was published two years later. It looked at the environmental and social implications of unconstrained growth of tourism, and it was bitterly attacked by the British Tourist Authority. Its Chairman at the time was Sandy Glen – aptly named for someone whose job it was to promote travel to attractive destinations. Though I say it myself, it was slightly ahead of its time.
My book cost the discerning buyer 40p, in the newly decimalised currency. 15,000 copies were printed, and 15,000 discerning buyers bought them all within weeks.. However, no further copies were ever printed, for reasons I never understood. The Pelican lady I had negotiated with was on the commissioning side of the business, and the sell out of the book had vindicated her judgement in backing this unheard of author. The sales and printing people worked in a different building, and they didn’t seem to communicate.
No royalty cheques ever arrived, and the £400 went quickly on nappies and dogfood. I decided not to become an author.
I thought no more of my book until Daughter No 2 went to University 25 years later. She read Tourism, and found that my book was on her reading list. The book itself was unavailable, and those who wanted to gain enlightenment from it had to read photocopies in the library. My daughter told me, politely, that she had not found it an easy read. However, quotations from it appeared from time to time in the examination papers.
A sequel was written in 1999 “Tourism Reassessed: Blight or Blessing” which its author kindly says was “inspired by” my important work.
Again, the book vanished from my thoughts until last week, when a fellow MP asked if he could read a copy. When I went home and looked through the shelves, no copy was to be found.
Nowadays, you can buy everything on the internet, so I did a spot of surfing. Sure enough, there is a market in the book. I could buy a copy – for the princely sum of £50. From 40p to £50 in forty years is a better investment than anything else in my portfolio. With my £400, I should have bought 1,000 copies, which would now be worth £50,000. That would have been a real blessing.