Soter’s New Book Fulfills 30-Year-Old Promise

Taxi trio (from left to right) George Soter, Martin Lester, and Tom Soter in London, 1986.

Thirty years ago, Tom Soter spent several days in London, driving around town in the back seat of Martin Lester’s cab. He was involved in a project that he was sure everyone would be interested in: a story about “The Knowledge” – a three- to four-year training program for London taxi cab drivers that was like no other system in the world. It would also be about Martin Lester himself, a quirky London cabbie.

Soter returned to America with high hopes for a sale of the piece – and with a promise to Lester that he would send him a copy of the story after it was published. Lester asked: “Will my name be in the story?” Soter replied: “You’re the star of the story!”

A few months later, in April 1986, Lester wrote Soter, saying: “Looking forward to hearing from you with good news.” In June, he wrote again, ostensibly to send Soter an article on cabbies in The London Standard, but obviously hoping for news of the article.

London taxi garage, 1986.

Soter submitted the idea to a number of his regular clients, including Diversion, Newsday, and The New York Observer, and also to Travel & Leisure and The New York Times. No one was interested. He finally gave up.

Soter felt bad about letting Lester down, and it wasn’t until 2016 that he could make it right. Using transcriptions from the original interview recordings, he wrote a new piece, “Travels With Martin,” that he included in his book, You Should Get a Cat.  Not knowing whether Lester was still alive or not, Soter wrote to Lester’s son, Spencer, at the 30-year-old address he had for Martin Lester.

On July 17, he got this reply: “My name is Lorraine Maxwell (nee Lester),  daughter of Martin Lester and sister of Spencer Lester. Our old neighbour from Broadfields Avenue, Edgware has just informed me about your book, with a chapter about ‘Travels with Martin.’ We are all very excited about it – she’s going to post the letter onto me.  Would be lovely if we could get a copy.

Martin Lester in the 1960s, preparing for a taxi-driving test called "The Knowledge."
Martin Lester in the 1960s, preparing for a taxi-driving test called “The Knowledge.”

“Just an update – Martin (now 77) retired a couple of years ago and now lives in Bushey with my mum, Barbara.  They have 5 grand-children, 4 girls and a boy ranging in age from 15 – 24.  Spencer is still a taxi-driver.

“Dad was really excited to hear about the book.

“Look forward to hearing from you.”

Soter replied: “I was delighted to get your e-mail and equally delighted that your father is still with us. I was very disappointed when I was unable to publish an article on him, and was glad to do it, finally. As they say, better late… I will send you, your father, and your brother each copies of the book, if you can just send me the appropriate addresses. In any event, thank you all for your patience and hope you enjoy the book!”

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