I have in my lifetime, had the privilege of knowing some very remarkable people, but few if any, greater than Tommy Macpherson.
Between the ages of 19 and 24, while serving behind enemy lines during the Second World War, Tommy won three Military Crosses and three Croix de Guerre. He was also a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur and was personally awarded the Star of Bethlehem and a papal knighthood by the Pope. If you think this is remarkable, he escaped from the Germans three times, survived and returned to Oxford where he gained a triple Blue, for athletics, rugby and hockey, and then to top it, was awarded a first class honours degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. A giant among men.
Tommy and I first met when he was president of Achilles (the combined Oxford and Cambridge athletics team). But I didn’t discover until Tommy was 90 when he wrote his remarkable autobiography, Behind Enemy Lines, what he’d been up to between 1940 and 1945. He was always described by his contemporaries as a man who ‘had a good war’ – how about that for an understatement. Equalled only when he told me about one of his escapes from the Germans. He leapt off a train and ran into the hills pursued by Germans soldiers who captured him. He was then put up against a wall and about to be shot, when a German officer intervened and he was put back on the train. Tommy’s only comment on this near death incident was that it was, ‘to my great relief.’ Nothing sums up the man better. We remained close friends for 50 years, and I consider it a privilege to have known him, because he is not at all what you would expect of such a military hero. ‘His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, “This was a man.”
Last week, a reader from Canada sent me a copy of KANE AND ABEL to be signed. Not an unusual event, you might think, but it turned out to be an uncorrected proof copy for distribution to the press, dated September 1979. Naturally I wanted to get my grubby hands on it, as I hadn’t come across one myself for over 30 years. I offered the reader a limited 30th anniversary edition, plus a copy of my next book in exchange, but he declined the offer, so I sent it back to Canada today.
Here is something for the book trade to note: the price of a hardback copy of that book 33 years ago was £5.95. You can now buy the eBook for £3.49 and in most bookshops a paperback for around £5-£6, so it’s no wonder publishing and the book trade are experiencing difficult times.
Nevertheless, if anyone else has – and it seems unlikely – a proof copy of any of my earlier books, Kane and Abel in particular, and are willing to exchange new lamps for old, please get in touch.
In addition, if anyone has an edition of Kane and Abel that was printed specifically in 1995, would they please let me know.