n 1934. Allen Lane was looking for a selection of books to kick-start his new project. Penguin. Snubbed and refused by a succession of hardback publishers. he
ten titles at £40 each plus royalties. Years later, Cape told Lane. ‘You’re the bastard that has ruined the trade with your ruddy Penguins.’ When reminded how instrumental he was in the launch. Cape retorted. ‘Like everyone else in the trade I thought you were bound to go bust. and I thought I‘d take 400 quid off you before you did.‘
That. in a nutshell. is the story of Penguin Books: a recognisable bargain for the customer, a killing for the company. But Lane’s shrewdness doesn’t detract from the service that the world‘s most famous imprint has provided for 60 years. bringing literature. politics, philosophy. art and science to the people on a scale matched only by public libraries. Once the privilege of the wealthy. book ownership became the presumption of all.
To celebrate its anniversary (the first ten (X1 paperbacks. including Andre Maurois’ Ariel and Hemingway‘s A Farewell to Arms. were published on 30 July. 1935). Penguin has brought out a series of 60 miniatures at 60p each. The list represents not the best of the stable. but the enormous range. featuring authors from Graham Greene and Alasdair
Gray to Sigmund Freud and Virginia Woolf. Oscar Wilde and Penelope
turned to Jonathan Cape, who offered him
owl, looks back at the legend.
Lively to Marcus Aurelius and Mark Tully. These baby Penguins (awww!) seem to have been designed for the hip pocket rather than the
jacket. As author Jim Crace points out. portability was always part of the remit. ‘The important thing was that Penguin published affordable pocket books. and those two words shouldn‘t be forgotten. The rapid expansion of our bookshelves in the 50s and 60s was due to Penguin because they were the ones we could afford. but pocket is also a fairly democratic notion.’ 'l‘rue. you wouldn‘t expect to see someone on the tube reading a morocco-bound volume of Homer. but there‘s no anomaly in spending the journey with EV. Rieu’s prose
' translation of The ()(lyssev. the first Penguin
Classic. and until the Chatterley trial the company’s top seller.
Although it’s common to imagine that paperbacks were meant to be disposable. a glance at most shelves will show that this is far from the case. For many working-class families. Penguins were the first books they owned. and were treated as a curator might his ‘ valuable
tion. That so many have survived to haunt the dusty corners of second-
Mightier Than The Sword
Penguin books are 60—years-old this month and they are still going from strength to strength. Former Pufﬁn pupil. David Harris. now a wise old
bookshops refutes any suggestion that they weren‘t built to last.
And if age cannot wither them. neither has custom staled their infinite variety. Steve Hare. editor ofAllen Lane and the Penguin Editors (Penguin. £12) claims. ‘There is no subject they have not covered in some way. and usually in an authoritative way.‘ Hare has all but one of
The publicity surrounding Regina vs Penguin Books over Lady Chatterley’s Lover — like the worthy yet canny gambles on Spycatcher and The Satanic Verses in later years - produced a succés de scandale.
the first 1000 (anyone out there got a copy of
Georgette Heyer’s The Unﬁnished Clue‘?). and
as editor of the Penguin Collectors' Society‘s
journal-cum-fanzine. he is well placed to comment on changes over the years. ‘The main difference now is that in the 40s and 50s
Penguin had the absolute luxury of having no
real competitors. If they decided to publish
Andre Gide or Kafka it was little more than a
case of writing to the hardback publishers and
asking. "What can you let us have?”
()ne of l-lare‘s pet interests is the lithographed series of Puffin Picture Books. first brought out in wartime to capitalise on the curiosity of evacuated city kids meeting the countryside for the first time. ‘lt's atypical Penguin venture.’ he says. ‘partly opportunistic. but partly idealistic. because these children were deprived and here was a chance to help them in some way.’
Idealism and education were always present.
In 1937. the first Pelican was Shaw’s Intelligent Woman '3' Guide to
.S'm‘ialism. while the Penguin Specials of the 30s
did more than the press to
alert the population to dangerous dictators. For
novelist Jim Crace it was
‘ those of the early 605 that
shaped him. ‘I was in my
po-faced teenage political mode (which I haven’t
‘ grown out of. I ought to
‘ i say!). and l avidly ’ followed them from when they were l/6- to
18 The List 28 .lul—lf) Aug I995