THE HISTORY OF PENGUIN BOOKS
THIS PAGE: No. 3
In 1960 Allen, was 58 years old, weary after running Penguin for 25 years and was on the lookout for a successor. He found Tony Godwin, a successful and progressive bookseller who he appointed as Fiction Editor and then Chief Editor. Godwin had many of Lane's traits. He was an intuitive editor, knew what would sell and had ideas how to bring Penguin up-to-date and be competitive in a changing market. He looked for contemporary authors, and brought in Germano Facetti to modernize book covers and design. Godwin was asked to set up 'Allen Lane The Penguin Press', reflecting Allen's hankering to replicate 'John Lane The Bodley Head' and produce quality hard-back books. Allen fortuitously managed to obtain the lease for Vigo Street as his offices, returning to where he began in 1919.
Godwin had agreed to buy the rights to Siné's Massacre. Siné was a French cartoonist, and though he produced material that was risqué and tending towards the blasphemous, Godwin believed publication was in the tradition of Penguins. Penguin had published James Thurber, Ronald Searle, David Low, Peter Arno and others, and also Lady Chatterley's Lover. The tradition was a long one, going back to Lane publishing Joyce's Ulysses and Arno's cartoons while at The Bodley Head. The book was introduced by Malcolm Muggeridge, a well-known broadcaster and Christian, who approved its depiction of 'moral confusion in the State and Church'
However, Allen Lane wasn't so sure. He sent a copy to the editor of the TLS, who passed it round the office and reported back that it had not caused offence. Lane raised the matter at a Board meeting in October 1966. Godwin defended his position, and while the 'old guard' generally supported Lane, most were for publishing. It was not put to a vote. When the book was published in November 1966 the office was 'deluged with correspondence' from worried clergymen and indignant booksellers, some who he had known for years. One, from Una Dillon, said "For the first time in my life I have decided against stocking a Penguin" the work was blasphemous and "in exceedingly bad taste". Lane again raised it with his Board but by that time, with the book printed, sent to booksellers and in the public domain, it was too late.
Allen Lane decided to act. At about midnight George Nicholls, the warehouse manager, was telephoned and asked to meet Allen at the warehouse. When he got there, he found Sir Allen, and three others.
"He said George, open up the building will you. Those bloody Sinés - those were the exact words he said to me. So we opened up the building, we walked up to the warehouse. He said, I've got Singleton round the back with the farm wagon. He said I'm going to pinch all those Sinés. Crikey, I said. He said, George, that bloody Board outvoted me today but I'll have my own back on them". (in Steve Hare 1995).
They then loaded up the wagon and Lane took them to his farm and destroyed them. After that the books were listed as 'out of print'.
One might think Lane wanted to prevent a book that offended. But it was much more. He had already fought with Godwin over book cover design and was disappointed with the progress of 'Allen Lane The Penguin Press'. In his sixties he was also uncertain how developments in publishing and media would impact. He chose to blame Godwin for Siné and defiance of his command, and Godwin was asked to go. After over 30 years in charge of Penguin he had run out of energy and drive and was becoming ill. He was looking for a successor, but did not know how to let go. He had been used to absolute power and found the 'democracy' of the Board decision making something he could not handle.
9. Ulysses and the final Years
Allen Lane had always wanted to publish a paperback edition of James Joyce's Ulysses. He finally acquired the British paperback rights to Ulysses from The Bodley Head publishers (who still retained the rights deal he had originally financed himself in 1934) and Lane paid an advance of £75,000, then the highest in paperback history. After 35 years since he first tried, he was at last able to publish the paperback version, as Penguin no. 3,000 on the 23rd April 1969, the 50th anniversary of his start at The Bodley Head.
Allen Lane received many honours and awards for his contribution to publishing and education. He died in the following year (1970), a millionaire, having been knighted and made a Companion of Honour by the Queen.
To conclude with his biographer:
"In less than half a century, .., this one firm has changed the face of the book trade, has helped to make and break governments, has had a profound and beneficial effect on teaching methods in schools, colleges and universities, has given to authors vast new opportunities for passing on their art, their ideas and their knowledge, has opened a wide range of subjects to an audience which before shied away from topics which seemed the exclusive property of an esoteric, sophisticated and intellectual minority. Above all, Penguins, Pelicans and Puffins - the whole priceless but low-priced and unpompous Harmondsworth aviary - have led the way to making book ownership a possibility and a reality for all manner of men, women and children everywhere. Much of this stems from the influence of one man: Allen Lane." (J.E. Morpurgo, 1979, p.384-5)
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