First Penguin Paperbacks
Penguin. It had what became the most recognizable logo in world literature; and was in its day a publishing revolution, allowing the masses to buy quality reading material for a mere sixpence – the price of 10 cigarettes as the founder of the company, Allen Lane, was wont to put it.
The idea for the series came about when Lane, returning from a visit to Agatha Christie , found himself on Exeter Railway Station with nothing to read, and only dull Victorian novels and cheap magazines on offer. He worked for publisher Bodley Head, so was able to put his idea into action rapidly, at first working from Bodley Head’s office on Vigo Street, but soon needing more space operating from the crypt of Holy Trinity Church on Marylebone Road.
Among the 10 books which were reprinted by Penguin (the name chosen as at once serious and fun) were The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers ; Poet’s Pub by Eric Linklater ; Carnival by Compton Mackenzie ; and Gone to Earth by Mary Webb. The imprint had a left-leaning tendency, and a mission to educate though also to make a profit – Lane indeed became seriously wealthy because of his venture.
Penguin got mixed reactions: George Orwell for example wanted it stifled at birth; J.B. Priestley was keen to see it succeed. And, happily, succeed it did, changing us from a nation of book borrowers to book buyers, firing imaginations for a few pennies.
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