A few months ago I was telephoned by the deputy editor of an inflight magazine called Ligger . 'Do you know Ligger magazine?' he asked, wasting no time getting down to business. 'It's not like other airline magazines, it's not travel-focused. Our readers are business people aged 25-55 who read the quality national press. I'd love to send you a copy of Ligger .
Look, we want to commission a profile of Sir Norman Foster. We're keen on Sir Norman because of his international stature, particularly his work in Europe. Our picture researcher will source the photographs. We always have specially posed portraits. Thing is, we're in a hurry.
How would next Friday be?'
Now, I do consider myself modestly well acquainted with the work of Sir Norman Foster, but I was very busy and could not possibly turn my mind to such a project in the available time. The deputy editor was undeterred. 'We can pay, ' he said, mentioning a modest fee. 'No, ' I said.
Later that day I mentioned this exchange to my wife.
'What a pity, ' she said. 'I mean you have written a lot about Sir Norman Foster. It wouldn't have taken you long . . .'
Next morning I was back on the phone to the assistant editor. 'Look, by juggling my commitments around a bit I think I could fit it in.' 'Great, that's wonderful.'
Having failed to get an interview with the architect himself because he was abroad, I begged a lot of facts from the Foster office and spent the next three days trying to shoehorn what I know of Sir Norman's illustrious career into the allotted 1200 words. This was difficult - just naming the better-known projects added up to hundreds.
However, by the end of the week I was reasonably pleased with the result that I faxed away. My narrative started dramatically alongside the 'armadillo' conference centre in Glasgow docks, flashed back through the architect's career, and ended in triumph at the topping-out of the Reichstag.
A week later I got a phone call from the editor of Ligger . He wasn't at all happy with the profile. For a start there were not enough personal details in it. Also it read as though I hadn't been able to interview Sir Norman. Could I not rework the quotes so it read like an interview? No, because there were no direct quotes. I had not been able to interview the architect. Anyway what sort of personal details did he want? 'Where does he live, who is he married to, children, lifestyle . . . You don't have any of that in.'
'Look. I understood you wanted to know about his career and his work in Europe.'
From this point on the conversation went downhill fast. Two days later I got my final call from Ligger . It was the deputy editor again. 'I hear you've had words with our editor, ' he said, and laughed. 'He's quite something, isn't he? Well, I just thought I'd let you know that we've dropped the Foster item. Sir Norman wouldn't even spare our photographer 15 minutes for a celebrity picture. Ligger isn't like other inflight magazines; we only use specially posed portraits.'