Recollections of Nigel Sisson (1946-1950 School)
Recollections of Nigel Sisson, School 1946-1950 of his time in Pakistan as General Manager of Oxford University Press in 1968-1969 during martial law. Nigel attended Bromsgrove ((School House) from 1946-1950 and went on to Sandhurst. He served in the Middle East and Germany from 1952-1957. Nigel followed a career in publishing from 1958-1991.
Excerpts from an email Nigel Sisson wrote to OUP Pakistan about his time spent there:
I was blessed with a fine team in Karachi, the head office, but we were separated as you know from the subsidiary branches in Lahore and Dacca, then East Pakistan. Communication with Wajid in Lahore was relatively easy but all mail and documents to/from Dacca had to be sent by secure air courier on flights which could not overfly India so went round the bottom via Colombo. Every cheque for my signature had to come and go this way – imagine that! But it worked.
The key right-hand man for me in Karachi was of course Ignatius Fernandes, whose managerial and financial skills steered us all along through the most difficult periods, e.g. the Martial Law Constitution, which contained as I remember at least fourteen clauses which carried Capital Punishment! You can imagine why our printer felt unable to continue printing our local edition of ‘The Myth of Independence’ by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. I met Bhutto several times and also his family, including Benazir, then a girl in pigtails. During his imprisonment I was under constant pressure from his wife to go ahead with publishing his book. We were certain our telephones were tapped and we are under scrutiny, and I had to make several visits to the Interior Ministry in Islamabad to keep things in order. It was not easy.
Another person I remember well was ‘Manu’ who was a perfect guardian on the downstairs front door when necessary – I think he was a rather warlike Pathan, though I may be wrong, and he produced disgusting mugs of tea with various foreign bodies floating on top when I had visitors I wanted to get rid of quickly.
Unwanted American publishers, who called in transit and popped in out of curiosity, were especially given the Manu tea treatment, and they seldom stayed long.
One of my favourite memories of Manu was asking him to go to the police and pay a speeding fine for me, following my capture the previous day in a notorious speed trap on the road out to Clifton. This was a mile or so of open desert road between the city and the Clifton suburb where I (and incidentally Z.A. Bhutto) was living. I was trapped among many others by a mobile court, hidden under a palm tree, where there was no escape. A very large judge and a team of armed police carried out summary justice. There was some negotiation about the actual speed I was doing and the acceptable fine was agreed, but there was no question of paying by cheque, as I suggested. It was a ‘cash only’ transaction. I carried no cash so surrendered my driving licence on a promise to send Manu round next morning. The driver behind me in the queue, who also lived at Clifton, was similarly fined but had no cash and no licence to leave as security. So guess what – he had to leave his wife, Mrs Mary Bush, behind while he went to get enough cash from the bank, of which he was the local manager! Mrs B. was not amused!
We continued to publish the very successful ‘Ahmad & Rehana’ series in my time, and I had an excellent friendly relationship with Pat Clements. I have copies here in my file of Ahmad and Rehana Middle School Reader A and the Workbook A and would gladly send them to anyone if they might be useful in your archive. Just let me know.
Pat Clements earned useful royalties, of course, on her books and she needed to remit this income to the UK. At the time there was very strict control of hard currency exports and we were required to get advance permission (from Islamabad) in detail for any publishing project which would involve foreign currency remittance.
In Pat’s case, I remember, I had a series of meetings about this issue, during the course of which the official concerned (whom I liked but cannot remember his name) asked me what authority I had to commit these funds. I stated that as General Manager I was authorised by the Oxford University Press in London, where John Brown was Publisher. But then I was asked who gave him the authority to give me my power of attorney! So I wrote to the Publisher (then John Brown) and asked for help. He had worked pre-war in India and had some experience of the ways and means on the Sub-Continent! Several weeks later a large envelope arrived on my desk, with a short note from John Brown saying ‘I think this is what you want’. With it was a facsimile copy of an important looking document, which I took to my next meeting, and handed over. ‘This is what you need’ I said ‘It shows where Mr Brown’s authority starts. Have a look at it’. I saw when he first opened it he had it upside down, and then turned it round and tried to read it through. Which was obviously difficult because it was in Latin. It was the original charter, or equivalent, of the authority under which the University Press printed the Bible from I think the 15th Century! After a few minutes, my friendly official looked at me across the table over his glasses. ‘Nigel’ he said ‘you are a clever fellow. This is good enough for me!’ So we had a good lunch and I got the signature I need for Pat.
I was with the Press for over fifteen years, and then moved into all sorts of differing commercial publishing jobs, with lots of overseas work and travel and many new contacts, but the Press was a vital start to my career, which ended as a director of the Penguin UK Group.
End of excerpt
In September, 2012, a team from OUP Pakistan visited Nigel at his home in Norfolk to interview him about his recollections of his time in Pakistan. He was able to provide valuable historical information to help them recreate the history of OUP Pakistan. You can visit the OUP Pakistan website at http://museum.oup.com.pk. Upon entering the site please click the 'History of OUPP' or 'Gallery' links for further details.