A book at bedtime: 40 between the covers (facing page). Sign of The Times: an anonymous commuter gets to grips with lawrence (right). Sole man: rocker Jimi Hendrix relaxes with a sottbaclr (below). Burning issue: copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover are torched by the nations moral guardians (bottom).
when they were 3n». so that’s two bob’s worth of years.‘ he remembers fondly.
‘Things like the South African book. Gui/1y Land by Patrick van Rensburg and l’ersecutimr [96/ took on thejob that Amnesty International now does; you can be absolutely certain that the fight against capital punishment came out of Koestler’s Hanged by the Neck and Hanged in Error; and the anti-nuclear movement was empowered by Bertrand Russell’s Has Man a Future." It’s probably difficult to realise now, when there’s a plethora of instant books and big articles about politics. how there was such a shortage of these in the early 60s. You didn’t have the colour magazines doing reportage of 5()()() words. and people like myself weren‘t watching TV because we didn’t have a TV. and therefore it was a bookish meeting point for those of us who were politically active. I can’t stress too much the importance of those Penguin Specials: it was all there was.’
Penguins weren’t the first cheap paperbacks. but they gradually came to be seen as the classiest. thus attracting the best writers. ‘What produced that change.’ notes Malcolm Bradbury. ‘was all those Specials about world affairs. and also Penguin New Writing. a magazine edited by John Lehmann. in the 30s it had been a very expensive. elite hardback periodical publishing people like Auden and Isherwood and Orwell. and suddenly in the 405. for 9d you could buy those distinguished writers plus the new writing about the war.’
By the time Bradbury’s own first novel came out in 1960. the reputation was secure. ‘1 was very proud when I went into Penguin. it was a great honour. like winning a prize. to be chosen
as a Penguin author.’ he recalls. That year. however. literary and not—so-literary eyes were focused on a 32—year-old novel. The publicity surrounding Regina vs Penguin lion/(S over Lady (‘lzallerlev's l.()l'(’l' — like the worthy yet
‘You’re the bastard that has ruined the trade with your ruddy Penguins.’
canny gambles on .S'pycare/ier and Tllt’ Sara/tie Verses in later years — produced a succes de scam/ale. paving the way for both the swinging decade and the public flotation of the company. which. it was said. made its founder a millionaire overnight.
Times changed and Penguin changed with them. In 1967 a hardback imprint. Allen Lane The Penguin Press — later to become Viking — was launched. But feathers were ruffled in the 70s with the publication of Shirley Conran’s Lace: it seemed as though Penguin had sold its
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birthright for a mess of potboilers. making room for the dirty story of a dirty man alongside the more respectable back catalogue. ‘lt was against the Penguin ethos at the time. and there were great shudders down all our literary spines.‘ says Bradbury. ‘In retrospect. it‘s obvious that this was good strategy. and that they were adjusting to a greatly changed marketplace.‘
Before he was converted to the faith. George Orwell had suggested. ‘If the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them.’ That’s just what was beginning to happen. and Penguin needed to spread its commercial wings to finance more esoteric departments. ‘There’s a lot of niche marketing in publishing. but Penguin's got more niche markets than most.’ claims Bradbury. ‘lt’s a very British institution. like the B BC and Channel 4. a cross between commerce. education and social do-gooding. It‘s the kind of thing we’ve been very good at in this country. and one of the valuable things about that background is that they’ve made it work right across the world.’
After 60 years in the top flight of publishing. from the Puffin Club (Snijfap Sporera.’) to the Penguin Reference Library by way of Peacocks. Peregrines and Pelicans. ‘Penguin’ has become synonymous with ‘paperback’. and the designations Classic and Modern Classic have infiltrated our perception of literature. The other imprints have gone the way of all fowl. and Jim Crace’s suggested replacements. Ptarmigans and Pterodactyls. are unlikely ever to appear. But even now. with a flood of quality paperback houses in the race. the wise old bird can run with the best of them — bless its pointed little head.
Penguin miniatures at 60/) are available in all good l)()()l\'.8'llr)p.\‘
The List 28 Jul-10 Aug 199519