Posted Wednesday, June 26, 2002

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 What caused the "falling-out" was not Granta's terror of Irving and his lawyers  . . . It was, in fact, the greed and duplicity of Cohen's hero, Richard Evans. -- Private Eye

Private Eye

London, Wednesday, June 26, 2002
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The Führer, The Jackal, The Professor and his Publishers


NICK Cohen's Observer column on 16 June was essentially a lengthy advertisement for Telling Lies About Hitler, in which Professor Richard Evans demolishes David Irving's revisionist "history" of the Holocaust, and a furious attack on publishers who had allegedly been too cowardly to issue the book. But whoever briefed Cohen has been telling a few porky-pies of their own.

Prof Richard EvansEvans, professor of modern history at Cambridge (right), was the main expert witness for the defence in the libel suit between David Irving and the Penguin author Deborah Lipstadt a couple of years ago. He assembled a vast dossier listing all the distortions and misquotations in Irving's books, which persuaded the judge to find in favour of Penguin. After the trial. Penguin considered issuing Evans's dossier as a book, assuming that as it had already paid him £80,000 for the research he wouldn't require a hefty advance as well. But Evans wanted more, and sold the rights to Heinemann. When Irving threatened to sue, however, Heinemann bosses lost their nerve and pulped it.

"At the time, Heinemann's collapse before Irving's bombastic assault, didn't seem to matter too much," Cohen wrote.

"Granta Books, an independent house, was saluted in the liberal press for standing up for freedom and buying Telling Lies About Hitler." But then Granta tried to bully Evans into signing a four-book deal. "He wasn't keen to commit himself to churning out manuscripts until he retired -- and the money wasn't great. There was obviously a bad falling-out and Evans refused to spend a decade writing for Granta. Telling Lies About Hitler was at the typesetters. Granta pulled it. Evans found for the second time that a comforter of neo-Nazis and a demonstrable liar had more clout in literary London than the professor of modern history at Cambridge."

Fortunately, the left-wing publisher Verso had now stepped in and saved the day.


IF all this were true, it might justify Cohen's ferocious assault on Granta's editors for "abandoning their principles" and betraying their commitment to "freedom of speech, thought and publication". Apart from the fact that Verso is publishing the book, however, it is pure fantasy.

What caused the "falling-out" was not Granta's terror of Irving and his lawyers (in fact, it had already published a book on the Irving trial, by the journalist Don Guttenplan), nor its cruel desire to keep a poor starving professor on the treadmill until he died. It was, in fact, the greed and duplicity of Cohen's hero, Richard Evans.

What happened was this. When Heinemann pulled out, Evans spoke to the Granta editor Neil Belton. Though not over-enthusiastic at the idea of publishing Telling Lies About Hitler, since Granta had already bought the Guttenplan book, Belton agreed to do it. Evans then mentioned two other semi-academic studies he wanted to write: far from having a multi-book deal foisted on him, it was he who proposed it. Belton suggested another idea -- a biography of Karl Marx -- and Evans was happy to add this to the list.

As well he might have been. Granta, a small independent publisher, was proposing .to pay the professor its biggest advance ever. For the Marx biography alone, his fee would be £130,000.

Evans at home

Since Evans said he was keen to sign, Telling Lies About Hitler was sent to the typesetters last spring for publication in September. But then, in the words of one of those involved, "all of a sudden he went very quiet". Calls went unreturned, and still he hadn't actually signed the contract. Evans's agent, Peter Robinson of Curtis Brown, found his author equally elusive. Still, Evans did turn up at the Granta summer party in July and said how much he was looking forward to the book's publication. Just three days later, the notorious super-agent Andrew "The Jackal" Wylie faxed a letter to Granta announcing that he now represented Evans -- and that the four-book deal was off.

Charmingly, Evans hadn't even bothered to tell Robinson that he was being sacked: the first the agent knew about it was when Granta rang up in some puzzlement after receiving the fax.

Seeing the huge sums earned by Simon Schama, David Starkey and Niall Ferguson, Evans had apparently decided that he too should be a millionaire, Wylie, famous for luring authors such as Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis with the promise of riches, duly negotiated a deal worth almost £1m with Penguin for a two-volume history of Nazi Germany.

But even the Jackal couldn't persuade Penguin to buy the rights in Telling Lies About Hitler at the same time, so Evans told Granta's editors they still had a moral obligation -- although he had never signed a contract and had double-crossed them.

They thought otherwise. "We'd had enough of Evans," one said. "He'd behaved very badly and dishonestly." Evans's parting shot was a warning to Granta executive Can Lynch: "You'll have egg on your face if you don't publish."

Nick Cohen's Observer piece is the fulfilment of this threat. While lambasting Granta, which behaved in good faith throughout, Cohen didn't refer to the role of the Jackal. Nor did he say that Penguin turned down Telling Lies About Hitler, or that Verso eventually agreed to take it only if Evans received no advance. Could it be that a certain valiant-for-truth Cambridge professor forgot to mention these inconvenient details?  


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