Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

20 January 2022

Rosemary Goad

At National Life Stories we are sorry to hear of the death of Rosemary Goad, a former director of Faber & Faber, who was recorded by Sue Bradley in 2002 for the National Life Stories project Book Trade Lives. Book Trade Lives collected oral histories to capture the experiences of people who worked in publishing and bookselling in Britain from the 1920s onwards. Here, Sue remembers Rosemary and the agreement that allows us to hear her voice today.

Portrait photo of Rosemary Goad in an officeRosemary in her former office at 24 Russell Square, 2015. Photo © Robert Brown.

‘Their interview is closed for how many years?’ People could be incredulous that National Life Stories gave interviewees the option to embargo their recordings. ‘For the rest of their life? But it’s a public collection. Shouldn’t the records be open to everyone?’ In fact, when I started work in 1998 as the interviewer for Book Trade Lives, it felt like an act of faith to archive any oral histories at all. ‘Who will be listening anyway?’ was the question I heard from interviewees. ‘It’s like stocking a library with books,’ I’d say, repeating the answer I’d recently been given, ‘but now we’re collecting oral histories. And you can’t always tell in advance who readers or listeners will be.’

Rosemary had helped me prepare for my Book Trade Lives job interview, although she barely knew me at the time. She supplied pages from The Bookseller with family trees of publishing mergers and shared just enough low-down on one of the interview panel to make me feel that if I wasn’t an insider myself, at least there was someone kind enough to give me clues. When I was offered the job, I rang to thank her in Dorset, interrupting what sounded like an animated conversation. ‘I must go,’ I heard her say to whoever was there. ‘A friend’s on the phone with some rather good news.’ That was followed by a series of equally generous, and hugely enjoyable, social occasions. But it would be nearly four years before we sat down together in her London flat to begin her Book Trade Lives recording.

Remembering her maternal grandmother (Edith Milburn) [Tape 1 ide 1]

Remembering her maternal grandmother (Edith Milburn) [Tape 1 Side 1]

Rosemary Goad joined Fabers as a secretary in 1953, initially sharing a room with Valerie Fletcher, soon to become Valerie Eliot. ‘As I saw it,’ Rosemary said, ‘the firm was ruled by men but the women had quite an interesting time.’ She began to do publicity work – ‘the way I perceived my way out of being a secretary’ – while working as assistant to the editor Charles Monteith, and eventually acquired authors of her own, many of whom became life-long friends. Along with Joan Smith and Rachel Ingalls, they included PD James, whose books she continued to edit after retiring. Not that she claimed any credit. ‘You’re really more the continuity girl on crime editing, I think’.

Fabers in the early-mid 1950s ‘The women had quite an interesting time’. [Tape 5 Side 1]

Fabers in the early-mid 1950s ‘The women had quite an interesting time’. [Tape 5 Side 1]

Rosemary was made a director in 1970, the first woman employee appointed to the board. When she had arrived, secretaries in publishing were expected to have private means – ‘You could not have lived on the salary’ – and she later introduced schemes to improve terms and conditions for staff. ‘Once we had a union, [salaries] became much fairer.’ By the time she retired in 1988, the firm had been invigorated by a new regime, headed by Matthew Evans and Robert McCrum, to which Rosemary brought her warmth and discernment. In his own Book Trade Lives recording, the publisher Andrew Franklin, who worked at Fabers in the early 1980s, remembers Rosemary’s ‘extraordinary grace’ and her distinguished taste as an editor. Defender of the slush pile to the end – ‘I know there’s a lot of rubbish, but I always thought it was good, particularly for young editors, to look at what was coming in’ – she retained her trademark decency in an increasingly competitive publishing world. But Rosemary was not naive. In a poem written for her leaving party, her friend Seamus Heaney identifies her ‘unfooled smile’.

After those four years of waiting – she had seemed reticent about it and, rightly or wrongly, I didn’t want to push – Rosemary agreed to the interview on condition that it would be closed to public access for her lifetime. We started in July 2002 and finished the following March. The recording runs to around seventeen hours. A summary will soon be available, so I won’t pre-empt it here except to say that the interview – which takes the form pioneered by National Life Stories – follows Rosemary’s own life, from childhood and education to work before and after Faber, and that her recall of others goes beyond the well-known figures. Typically, her recording offers some discreet but revealing – and often very funny – glimpses of publishing life at the time, but the central and most vital presence is Rosemary herself.

On being recorded [Tape 20 Side 2]

On being recorded [Tape 20 Side 2] Transcript

Now, twenty years later, that recording can be shared. Which is, in the end, the point of the closure option. Without it, Rosemary may never have agreed and we wouldn’t be able to hear her voice at all. The same applies to many other National Life Story interviewees, a significant number of women among them. There is no need to spell out today what a loss their absence would be. Those anticipated listeners quickly arrived, and their numbers continue to grow exponentially.

‘I’ve always thought it was important to enjoy work, but I never thought one was making a great mark or footprint of any kind,’ said Rosemary. What could be a better basis for an oral history interview? I don’t suppose she would mind people cherry-picking memories about Faber celebrities – on the contrary – but those who take time to listen to the rest won’t be disappointed. Rosemary led a remarkable life of her own and she looks back on it here with insight and relish.

Rosemary Goad, 4 November 1928 – 11 September 2021.

Rosemary Goad's interview can be found by searching C872/78 in the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue. For more information about Book Trade Lives see the collection guide Oral histories of writing and publishing. Book Trade Lives was recently digitised by Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Sue Bradley edited 'The British Book Trade: An Oral History', British Library, 2008 and 2010. These days she listens out for animals in oral histories. Sue is a member of the Newcastle University Oral History Unit and Collective and a Research Associate on FIELD (Farm-level Interdisciplinary Approaches to Endemic Livestock Disease) in Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy. Her article, ‘Hobday’s hands: recollections of touch in veterinary practice’, appeared in Oral History vol 49, no 1, 2021.

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