London, January 3, 1998
THANK YOU for your letter. Your friend Michael Naumann's memory is at fault - perhaps affected by the shame of being a German publisher who asks for an author to be sent to prison, as in the darkest Victorian times (knowing Michael, I think that the comparison with similar incarcerations during the Third Reich would be less fair).
Probably at the instance of our mutual friend Rolf Hochhuth, Michael approached me to buy the rights in my Winston Churchill biography for Rowohlt Verlag, which had published several books by me. Meeting me Alster-side in Hamburg, having read the manuscript, he expressed great enthusiasm for the project, said that he had heard rumours about me and - I remember the wording vividly - "I would not care if you were the Gauleiter of Vienna, this is a book I want to publish."
Months passed, and I began to get approaches from a rival publisher, Herbert Fleissner, head of Langen-Müller Verlag, who began to hint that he wanted the Churchill biography. I told him that I knew what he was after, and he was wasting his time as I had a firm and binding contract with Rowohlt. Fleissner then told me, to my astonishment, that the book would never be published by Rowohlt. "I know for certain," he said. "They have problems ." Over the next weeks he explained to me that Michael's No. 2 had told him at the Frankfurt Book Fair of internal difficulties caused by Rowohlt's Belegschaft (work-force), who were threatening industrial action if they went ahead with the Irving book.
In retrospect, I see that this was just a pale precursor of the hurricane-force assault that has been made on my career over the last ten years. I refused to believe Fleissner, stating again that we had a binding contract. Alas, Fleissner proved right: months passed, and Rowohlt made no attempt to go into production with the first volume which was delivered to them. Instead, they started legal action to recover their advance, offering various threadbare pretexts. They hadn't a leg to stand on, because it was by now plain that they had passed the point where they ever intended to publish the work, and were now being forced by industrial blackmail to violate their contract with me. Encouraged by Fleissner, I issued Rowohlt with an ultimatum to publish or lose the rights. Fleissner then took the book under contract, and eventually published it - a step I greatly regretted because (a) Rowohlt is a far superior publisher in every respect and (b) Fleissner is a cheat, as Hochhuth had long warned me (e.g., secret extra editions, of which the author is never told, etc).
To our astonishment, Rowohlt Verlag (i.e. Michael) sued for recovery of their advance, despite their highly dubious moral entitlement under the circumstances. Why they did so is beyond my ken, as Michael is a nice enough guy in every other respect. My Munich lawyers, a highly respected firm, said there was no question of Rowohlt's entitlement to return of their advance. Rowohlt were defeated in the first round in Lübeck, but again to everybody's astonishment appealed; they won in the second round, which left me in a quandary as, not being a multi-million dollar firm, I could never afford to continue to fight such legal actions at such a range. The court granted them judgement in a colossal amount, roughly ten years of my net income an author, and they then pursued the recovery of that amount in the London High Court, having been given (one wonders, by whom) a totally false impression of my wealth. The High Court gave them a charge on this property, whereupon any normal litigant would have sat back smug and satisfied. Not Mr Naumann - or perhaps his London lawyers; perhaps the tail had begun to wag the Hamburg dog.
AT THIS POINT, I must remind you that throughout those years - the early 1990s - I was living here under siege, as London Jewish organisations were organising physical assaults on me in the street, plastering buildings for hundreds of yards around with signs calling for violence against me: "Irving speaks and rostock burns!" (I saw them doing it, at 6 a.m. one morning - gentlemen in yarmulkes); the police had to erect steel barricades to protect this building against their organised mass demonstrations, there were barrages of anonymous death threats on the phone, obscene anonymous packages, and people tailing me in the street (and afterwards phoning Benté to say so). If I tell you that Scotland Yard officers asked permission to photograph the interior of these premises, "In case we have to come and rescue you, sir!", and that we had new fire extinguishers installed throughout the building, and a basket with a wire rope permanently concealed inside our first floor corner window so we could lower the baby to safety if the mob set the building on fire, you will get the flavour of those months.
Rowohlt's lawyers later claimed to have tried to serve documents on me during those months. They did not. The first I knew of all their continued persecution was at 3:50 p.m. one Friday afternoon when police from West End Central police station - the same officers who had done duty on the barricades below - came to my front door with the words, "We're awfully sorry, Mr Irving, but we have orders to take you to Pentonville Prison for three months." (Note: not to court, or before a judge; straight to prison). I just had time to shut down the computers; Benté and the baby were left with three pounds in cash to survive with, as I had not got to the bank.
British newspaper editorials exploded in fury at this extraordinary action, and it is small wonder that Mr Naumann now hides behind (totally untrue) stories about "bankruptcy" and so forth. It turned out that all his lawyers had been asking for was an Affidavit of Means; as things turned out, by an extraordinary coincidence I had one with me in the prison cell, sworn for another action, and when we came face to face two weeks later in the High Court, where the judge ordered my immediate release, I just passed the document along the bench to the lawyers, who saw for the first time that I am not a multi-millionaire. (That no doubt is when the decision was taken to go after the Gold in the Swiss banks and the insurance companies instead!)
What puzzled me at the time was why the lawyers at that High Court hearing tried to get the judge to order the confiscation of my passport. Another puzzle: Months later, I obtained from the office of the Australian prime minister(!), under a court order, a verbatim transcript of the High Court hearing in London where my imprisonment had been ordered*; it turned out that the lawyers had asked that I should be imprisoned for two years . . . expressing the view that three months was not enough. I wonder what Michael has to say about that.
* See Global Vendetta, on this site.