By Francis Atterbury, April 2014
“Can you come in to discuss a book we need to make?” A simple enough sounding request and who could possibly demur. It was Friday and the meeting was arranged for the following Monday.
The call had come from Lloyd’s of London, the oldest insurance market in the world and one of the most respected institutions in the City. And so it was that I arrived on the 11th floor of the, frankly still amazing, Lloyd’s building in Lime Street on Monday morning and, over an interesting cup of tea, listened to what was needed.
“Her Majesty The Queen is coming to Lloyd’s to unveil a plaque to commemorate our 325-year history and the Chairman wants to present her with a book celebrating both this history and our association with the Royal Family over this time. The visit is arranged for Thursday next week and we’re just starting to write and assemble photography.”
So; nine days (if you count the weekend), little copy, no structure, a date that can’t be changed and the recipient is The Queen. No pressure then. Lucky we love a challenge.
The Lloyd’s Communications Team is one of the best organised, best educated and dedicated group of people I’ve worked with and so with Felicity seconded from writing the Annual Report to write, Kassy researching photography and Kate managing the process we really had no excuses not to come up with a very erudite and interesting publication. The question was, can it be done in time?
Size is important, and for a book of this status, it needed to be large scale, so we chose the Large 13 x 12 inch format. Extent. You can’t give the Queen a book comprising a few sheets of paper, it must have substance. So minimum of 60 pages. Structure and content. It’s a book about dates and spans 300 years, so we chose centuries as our chapter breaks – 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st – with the chapter starting with a main photo on the left and a synopsis on the right. Content followed with one important photograph on each right hand page and dated, descriptive text on the left. Sounds simple now, but devising and simplifying this structure took most of the day but, once done, we could begin designing the book.
Back at Hurtwood, we charted a production schedule based around a pass for press on Thursday, binding Friday and delivering on Wednesday. As if. But it’s good to have a plan.
This was a book that we all wanted HM The Queen to read and enjoy; we weren’t trying to create a trophy. We were making a book that was, at its heart, a family album and so we wanted her to enjoy reading and looking through the book. Perhaps conjuring thoughts of past generations as well as real memories of her own immediate family and friends some of whom were no longer alive.
The book was photography led and covered historic visits of monarchs from George III through to George VI and Queen Elizabeth as well as HM The Queen herself and even a cameo appearance from the future Edward VIII; It covered coronations, jubilees and funerals as well as great historic events such as the sinking of the Royal George in 1782, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, two world wars and space exploration before arriving at the more recent events witnessed by The Queen in person: visits with Winston Churchill and Earl Mountbatten, ceremonies and dedications by her parents, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and King George VI as well as her own visits as both Princess and Queen and events featuring her own children arriving up to date with the ringing of the Lutine Bell to announce the birth of Price George, the future George VII.
Against each of the magnificent photographs found by Kassy, Felicity wrote compelling and interesting text. All copy edited and overseen by Kate.
It was moving, and by Wednesday we had pretty much got all that we needed. Unfortunately, it still looked a mess and, to be honest, I think some were worried it may not come together in time. However, it was now in our domain and the Hurtwood Press team got stuck in with an all-night, tea-fuelled session and, when everyone arrived at Lloyd’s on Thursday it had morphed from just seemingly random text and pictures into a coherent and interesting book.
It’s always a lovely moment, when the book emerges from chaos and, as the famous Beatrice Warde poster says, becomes ‘verified in proof and fixed in time’ as a book.
Somewhat relieved, with a real book at our hand, we could begin tightening the copy and weeding out and replacing weaker photography. By the end of Thursday we were on the home strait.
Friday, we introduced our proof reader, Jane, to the book and she and Kate spent the day reading, correcting and editing the detail, looking for (and finding) inconsistencies and minor errors and making certain that the people pictured were captioned properly.
Finally, at 6pm on Friday the book was passed for press.
We printed over the weekend and at 9am Monday it was at the bindery. Putting all other work aside for a day, we concentrated on this book. The case was foil blocked,the text pages folded and sewn.
If something really is no-fail, we always hand deliver, no one can afford to fall at the final fence and at 1pm on Wednesday, two books, beautifully bound and slipcased (yes, we even managed the time to make a slipcase), were hand delivered to the 11th floor of 1 Lime Street.
The Chairman, who had been keen for news all day appeared ‘as if from nowhere’ and said it was “very nice indeed”. This, I am reliably informed is about as good as it can possibly get.
The next day, I was fortunate enough to join almost 7,000 other people at Lloyd’s to witness Her Majesty’s visit. Whilst I didn’t see her presented with the book, I was told that when the lady-in-waiting tried to take the book from her, The Queen held onto it and kept reading to the end, enjoying the read and enjoying the memories it invoked.
Now that’s why you make a book.