Pioneering women

Gollancz, Livia (2 of 7) National Life Story Collection: Fawcett Collection

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  • Subjects

    Journalism and Publishing

  • Recording date

    1991-11-01, 1991-04-02

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home

  • Interviewees

    Gollancz, Livia 1920-2018 (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Mowry, Linda (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 2: Contract not renewed, "narked" about it. Players coming back from war wanted jobs back. Union would not do anything, probably because she was a woman. Freelanced, got into New Theatre when Old Vic there (late 1940s). Marvellous Shakespeare, Sheridan, well-known actors and actresses, top in London. Really enjoyed it. One of two horns so she could freelance elsewhere. Phoned in Manchester by Michael Mudie of Sadler's Wells Opera (forerunner of National Opera), vernacular opera begun by Lilian Baylis) to replace first horn. Mudie wonderful conductor, but developed disseminated sclerosis and couldn't conduct by mid-50s; best conductor of his generation. Joined Sadler's Wells and stayed four years, two years as principal, then had problem with teeth, thin enamel (because of mother's poor wartime diet?). Moved to 2nd horn. Had learnt all operas (job she should have done before going to Covent Garden), and gave it up. Career change. Decided she would really like to do medicine. Had matric exemption (by skin of teeth) but instead of buying the certificate she spent the 15 shillings on the opera. Needed the certificate to get into pre-med studies. Went to Senate House at London University and was told that three months earlier they cut off her year and she would have to take the tests again. In the last year at Sadler's Wells (by using deputies) she studied physics, chemistry, and biology at Regent Street Poly during the day and played at night. Was supposed to go away on tour, and while debating what to do ran into father who said, "Come to the firm, we'll give you a good time". Joined Victor Gollancz Ltd in 1953. [10:00] Started with filing, general office procedures, typing labels for review list. After 3-4 weeks he decided to make her into a typographer. Family artistic sense helped here. Printer told her what was needed for Gollancz typographical covers; she went to father's flat where she would not be disturbed, did advertisement for 'Times Literary Supplement' and Gollancz' Spring list. He okayed it and it came out only a half-inch short. Did jackets and advertisements, edited a book after a couple of years, went to production meetings, put on the board. Father taught her the whole business over a period of 10-12 years, became an ongoing thing through her life. Had to learn to work social hours and build up new set of friends who did not work anti-social hours. Played horn as amateur with Chelsea Opera and amateur orchestras until 1966 when she decided it was too hazardous; was bored with practice. Took voice lessons, switched to Chelsea Opera chorus till teacher said she should train her voice first and she left. Became a publisher during her father's last American tour when he left her in charge. When he died the following February she took over. Some people left the firm, others made invaluable contribution, particularly John Bush in business side of it. Walking. Back in the days of the BBC Scottish Orchestra, a friend who was a member of the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club tried to take her up Ben Lomond. Livia lasted ten minutes and went back to the hotel. In Manchester for 3 months, replacing Sidney Colson, Beecham (Sir Thomas) would not have her (because she was a woman?). Old friend from Hallé days took her out to Kinder Scout and she got keen on walking. In 1948-49, when her mother's friend invited Livia to summer in Cortina, Italy, to improve her children's English, she went with public party to climb an easy mountain with a guide. Not much opportunity to walk with Sadler's Wells, but after giving up playing - tells of great fun camping with group from orchestra when Sadler's Wells went on tour; she had old London taxi. [21:00] First proper holiday after Sadler's Wells was to return to the Dolomites for hut to hut walking tour. Joined the Ramblers for railway walks. All holidays (only a fortnight) were walking holidays. At the end of the 1950s re-met Ladies Scottish Climbing Club friends and began doing weekends with them; became a member. 1959 Dorothea Gravina led a party of women (Scottish Ladies Climbing Club and Ladies Alpine Club) to Himalayas. Livia went on this, met Ladies Alpine Club, went to Alps often during the Sixties, became a member of that (and then Alpine Club). Couldn't walk for about ten years due to strange bump on heel; returned to walking in 1980. Back to firm. 1959 went on first American trip. Then she and father took it in turns. Got to know New York, then they would both go at different times. Gradually other people in the firm went, firm changed, others took over, she phased herself out. Thought about retiring at about 67, always knew she wanted to retire at 70. Keen to bring young people on in the firm, and likes having people do more than one job. She learnt thoroughly because she was always given several things to do. Taking over the firm, saved time by not going to the hairdresser, etc. Went to mother at weekends, which gave mother focus, and Livia a quiet place to work. Turned over jacket copy to chief reader, Jon Evans. Sisters. Thinks unmarried sister, Vita, is very independent. Painter. Studied history at Cambridge, but did shorthand-typing; became office manager, went into another architectural firm, put on drawing board, decided she wanted to paint, took early retirement, went to art school, sells portraits and landscapes. Sisters who married are also very independent, Julia least because she had four children and was very much a housewife. Diana, who died at 46, married a German prince, had art school training which enabled her to earn a bit.

  • Description

    Life story interview with the musician and publisher Livia Gollancz (1920-2018)

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