This slender stapled volume inside a wonderfully minimal cover is the brainchild of John Bell (1922–2008), a senior editor at Oxford University Press, who wrote comic verse in his spare time. The text is a set of comic verse on the trials and tribulations of publishing and of the hot metal typesetting machines of the time in particular, somewhat similar to the Guardian’s San Seriffe. It speaks of a time when the physical, technical work of publishing a book and the conceptual side were done in adjacent buildings, rather than on different continents.
The poems were published originally according to the introduction in The Lantern, OUP’s house magazine, in 1951–1953, before this limited edition of 1984 published shortly after his retirement.
The book was printed by the Perpetua Press, a side project of University Printer Vivian Ridler operated at his house in Stanley Road (jokingly alluded to in the Apologia), according to the colophon in an edition of 200 copies. Five university libraries have it in their collections, so it looks like they thought it was funny. The Perpetua Press also published his wife’s poetry; Ridler’s obituary describes its work as “a model of typographic design”.
OUP continued to print in-house at its lovely headquarters on Walton Street before sadly separating the roles of publisher and printer in 1989, much of its output on Monotype’s hot metal machines until near the end. A small museum is located on-site if you’re ever in Oxford and interested in looking round. Its old rival Cambridge University Press (also spoofed in the Apologia) continued to print its own books until 2012. The Guardian’s obituary describes Ridler as the “last great” university printer at Oxford.
There’s never been an HMS Bembo, but there have been three HMS Benbows.