Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Bill Fishman at 90

If you thought Bernard Kops (posting before last) was not quite a spring chicken, our William J Fishman - Bill - is a bit ahead of him. Queen Mary, part of the University of London, where he was a Professor, is hosting a 90th birthday afternoon tea for him on the 20th of this month. I'd known of Bill for many years, and knew him slightly personally, before we published him first in 2004. He'd been published by Duckworth (save for his first book, The Insurrectionists, which was Methuen) very successfully from the Old Piano Factory there. A publishing address worth having for sure. When Duckworth changed hands Bill was chucked out, even though his books sold steadily. Well, that was good news for us, and we steadily brought back to print East End Jewish Radicals 1875-1914, East End 1888 and Streets of East London - all classics of social history, and all reprinted by us at least once since we first published them between 2004 and 2008. All have sold into four figures. We also reprinted, for the first time in paperback, his Insurrectionists, last year - though that has done as badly as the others have done well! There's not a lot of shops that stock the books - but all reorder steadily, especially Eastside and the Museum of London. East End 1888 crops up on course lists in the USA. It was a good move to take them on, and good for Bill, who spoke at quite a number of events with the books available again.

But what about the man himself? Recently someone got in touch who met Bill on his arrival at university, dressed as a punk, with a mohican. Bill grinned at him and said you need to read Kropotkin ("my boy"). He did of course, and still does. Bill was in great demand for his East End walks, the idea pioneered by him, and for his memories of the Battle of Cable Street. He always bought a copy of the Big Issue even if he'd just bought a copy round the corner. And in conversation - always great value. The last time we met he talked about meeting Gandhi while in the forces, active in support of Indian independence. He picked up quite a lot of Hindi when stationed overseas, to the surprise of some Indians round where he lives in London - being hailed in Hindi by this very elderly-looking Yiddisher fellow.
I'm proud to be Bill's publisher, looking forward to the tea and many more years of conversation with Bill, and his wonderful wife Doris.

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