In , drawn to the world of books and writing, he started his career with the literary agent A D Peters. Two years later he moved on to Curtis Brown, where he managed its foreign rights department. Peter always relished the company of those European publishers who had done so much to revitalise British publishing after the war—including Deutsch, George Weidenfeld, Ernest Hecht and Klaus Flugge. The firm started out in Artillery Mansions, a gloomy red-brick block on Victoria Street, but for many years he shared offices in Great Russell Street with fellow agents Elaine Greene and, for a time, John Wolfers; and from there he moved to offices in Stoke Newington. Among the members of staff who joined the firm was the equally young Deborah Rogers, who in due course set up on her own and soon established a reputation as an outstanding literary agent.
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The Literary James Bond Magazine
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Ian Fleming was at a dinner party in the summer of when he mentioned to a fellow guest, the thriller writer Eric Ambler, his dissatisfaction with the foreign sales of his James Bond books three so far. Ambler recommended his agent Peter Janson-Smith of Curtis Brown, who specialised in foreign rights, and whom he was now helping to set up on his own. Fleming met Janson-Smith for tea at Kemsley House, The Sunday Times office where Fleming still held a day job as a favoured and peripatetic foreign manager. He must have noticed that Janson-Smith cut a somewhat Bond-like figure: tall, suave, charming and notoriously attractive to women. Within a month, Janson-Smith had sold the first four Bond books to a Dutch publisher.
Convivial literary agent to Ian Fleming who ensured his Bond novels were read around the world
This is the appreciation I wrote the following week, based on an interview I conducted with him in the run-up to his 90th birthday celebrations. In , Peter Janson-Smith was pondering how he could leave the employment of literary agents Curtis Brown and set up on his own. He knew he had the capability, but the cash flow challenges seemed daunting. He would have to recruit authors, secure publishing deals for them, wait for their books to be written and published, then a further six months for the first royalty cheques to come in. Shortly afterwards, Ambler was at a dinner party and heard a fellow guest complaining about his lack of overseas book sales. The writer was sure that his hero had universal appeal, even though he was a very English character, yet only one foreign-language deal had been signed. Fleming had concluded his own deal in the UK with Jonathan Cape and had a US agent, but he was able to place his translation rights with Janson-Smith, who acted with alacrity. The large garden of the Queen Anne rectory made for a wonderful playground, but his brother and sister were much older, and his mother disapproved of him mixing with the children of the village. His closest friend was Ken, the gardener, who took him on regular bicycle rides into the village to collect milk in a can, and who gave him a plank to swat wasps feasting on an old vine flourishing in the greenhouse.
By Raymond Benson. Peter Janson-Smith passed away on Friday, April 15, , at the age of He was a giant in the world of British publishing, a major figure in that arena for nearly seventy years. In short, I owe much of my career to him. It was a warm event celebrating the life and career of a dear person to all of us. Sometime in the late s, I talked him into allowing me to interview him for a piece that I could present as a profile of an unsung hero behind the scenes of James Bond.