Friday, June 22, 2007

Andrew George Elliot

Publishing News reports that Constable & Robinson have bought Elliot Right Way Books, a firm that I remember with great admiration and respect.

The firm was founded 63 years ago by Andrew George Elliot, and it looks as if his sons have been running it recently. Andrew was a splendid man, author of many books of his own, including one on how to organise yourself for business life, which I read as a young man and found most useful.

Andrew Elliot's chief contribution, however, and it is a far from negligible one, is that he wrote factual books about sex at a time when such practical guides were almost unobtainable. More to the point, his books were full of good sense, good advice, and wisdom. In the 1940s and '50s, reliable, sensible information about even the simplest sexual matters was almost never provided, particularly for teenagers. You won't believe that, but it's true. Elliot did his best to change that situation permanently.

Writing under the pen-name Rennie MacAndrew, Elliot produced about ten books over a ten-year period from 1939. These included Approaching Manhood: Healthy Sex for Boys, with a matching version for girls; the Encyclopaedia of Sex and Love Technique; and Lifelong Love: Healthy Sex and Marriage.

There is every indication that these books were immensely successful in terms of sales; and they deserved to be. But at the time you wouldn't have found them on display in any bookshop. Most of them were sold through the post, I suspect. And you won't find them mentioned in any history of bestsellers, either. However, the British Library lists a copy of The Red Light: Intimate Hygiene for Men and Women, dated 1949, as the 15th, revised, post-war edition; which gives you some indication of the book's success.

If memory serves, Andrew Elliot also published some kind of memoir about his experiences as a publisher. It was possibly Who's Who and What's What in Publishing, 1960, which you can find on Abebooks and similar sites. In that memoir, Elliot relates that he once published a book about how to make money breeding pigs; and also a similar text about chicken farming.

A year or two later he got a letter from a farmer. The farmer said that he had bought the book on pig farming and it had made him hundreds of pounds in profit (read tens of thousands in today's money). If he sent back the book about pigs, asked the farmer, would the publisher be kind enough to send him a free copy of the book about chickens?


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a charming gentleman, indeed.

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Gladys Hobson said...

In the 1950's, and probably much earlier, sex books could be bought at a small medical shop down a lane off Wheeler Gate, Nottingham. It was embarrassing buying such things and folk would leave the shop with their purchase well wrapped in brown paper.
Gladys Hobson

Anonymous said...

It seems pretty remarkable that one man, who didn't blow anything up or hold anyone hostage, could have that kind of effect on an individual. And I wonder how many other lives did he similarly touch in that very real way, not just some airy-fairy feeling, the kind we all get from being moved by something we've read.

Here's a man that deserves my breaking out the last shot left in a bottle of 30-year old scotch that I won't be replacing any time soon (given how expensive scotch that old is). I say, "To him."http://www

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Anonymous said...

When I was in the Civil Service (DTI) in the 1970s and there was a shortage of cheaper grades of printing paper we received a letter from Mr Elliott. I was instructed to send back the standard reply and to my surprise received in the post a copy of his book "The Guilty Madmen of Whitehall" with froeword by J Enoch Powell. It was fool of good sense and one of his ideas teaching financial acumen to schoolkids seems finally to have come to the notice of the government! John Dearing

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