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would be the first to admit that there is no fortune in this
series for anyone concerned, but if my premises are correct
and these Penguins are the means of converting book-borrowers
into book-buyers, I shall feel that I have perhaps added some
small quota to the sum of those who during the last few years
have worked for the popularization of the book-shop and the
increased sale of books".
Allen Lane, 'All About the Penguin
Books', The Bookseller, 22 May 1935
In 1935, if you wanted to read a good
book, you needed either a lot of money or a library card.
Cheap paperbacks were available, but their poor production
generally tended to mirror the quality between the covers.
paperbacks were the brainchild of Allen Lane, then a director
of The Bodley Head. After a weekend visiting Agatha Christie
in Devon, he found himself on a platform at Exeter station
searching its bookstall for something to read on his journey
back to London, but discovered only popular magazines and
reprints of Victorian novels.
Appalled by the selection on offer, Lane decided that good
quality contemporary fiction should be made available at an
attractive price and sold not just in traditional bookshops,
but also in railway stations, tobacconists and chain stores.
He also wanted a 'dignified but flippant' symbol for his new
business. His secretary suggested a Penguin
and another employee was sent to London Zoo to make some sketches.
Seventy years later Penguin
is still one of the most recognizable brands in the world.
The first Penguin
paperbacks appeared in the summer of 1935 and included works
by Ernest Hemingway, André Maurois and Agatha Christie. They
were colour coded (orange for fiction, blue for biography,
green for crime) and cost just sixpence, the same price as
a packet of cigarettes. The way the public thought about books
changed forever - the paperback revolution had begun.
'We believed in the existence
in this country of a vast reading public for intelligent books
at a low price, and staked everything on it'
became a separate company in 1936 and set up premises in the
Crypt of the Holy Trinity Church on Marylebone Road, using
a fairground slide to receive deliveries from the street above.
Within twelve months, it had sold a staggering 3 million paperbacks.
Traditional publishers tended to view Penguin
with suspicion and uncertainty, as did some authors.
'The Penguin Books are splendid
value for sixpence, so splendid that if other publishers had
any sense they would combine against them and suppress them'
But it also had its supporters.
Books are amazingly good value for money. If you can make
the series pay for itself - with such books at such price
- you will have performed a great publishing feat. Yours sincerely,
J. B. Priestley
'If a book is any good, the
cheaper the better'
In 1937, Penguin
moved to new offices and a warehouse at Harmondsworth, near
the future Heathrow Airport, and began to expand. 1937 also
saw the launch of the Penguin
Shakespeare series and the Pelican
imprint - original non-fiction books on contemporary issues
- and the appearance of a book-dispensing machine at Charing
Cross called the Penguincubator.
As conflict in Europe drew closer, Penguin
Specials such as What Hitler Wants achieved record-breaking
sales. One of the bestselling titles during the war was Aircraft
Recognition, used by both civilians and the fighting forces
to recognize enemy planes. Penguin
also started an Armed Forces Book Club, bringing entertainment
and comfort to soldiers cut off from friends and family.
'A Penguin could fit into a
soldier's pocket or his kit bag … It was especially prized
in prison camps'
Two of the company's most famous names were launched in the
1940s. Puffin was born in 1940 as a series
of non-fiction picture books for children. They proved to
be such a great success that Puffin started
publishing fiction the following year, with Worzel Gummidge
among its first titles. In 1946, Penguin Classics
were launched with E. V. Rieu's translation of The Odyssey,
making classic texts available to everyone. Today this world
famous series consists of more than 1,200 titles (including
Penguin Modern Classics), ranging from The Epic of
Gilgamesh to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
The 1960s brought a revolution in popular culture and Penguin
was at the forefront. The company was charged under the Obscene
Publications Act in 1960 after publishing Lady Chatterley's
fought back and was acquitted, marking a turning point in
British censorship laws. People formed huge queues to buy
the book and Penguin
sold 2 million copies in six weeks.
Firmly established as a major force in publishing and British
became a public company in 1961. The share offer was 150 times
oversubscribed - setting a record for the London Stock Exchange.
A new imprint was set up in 1967 under the name of Allen
Lane The Penguin Press - a new venture for Penguin
that allowed it publish in both hardback and paperback.
Sir Allen Lane died on 7 July 1970 and tributes flooded in
from the literary world. That same year, Pearson,
the international media group, bought Penguin
and the company continued as a major and vital publishing
The 1980s brought more change and expansion for Penguin
- it acquired Frederick Warne, best known
for its Beatrix Potter titles, in 1983, set
up the Viking imprint in 1984, and bought the Michael
Joseph and Hamish Hamilton book-publishing
divisions in 1985. The company then moved to Wrights Lane
in Kensington, but kept its site at Harmondsworth.
Like every other period in the company's history, Penguin
continued to publish controversial books throughout the 1980s,
including Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses.
Audiobooks were launched in 1993, bringing a mix of classic
and contemporary titles to a listening audience and using
only the finest actors to record them. Penguin
has since continued to explore new technology. It was the
first trade publisher to have a website, at www.Penguin.co.uk,
and the first to open an eBook store.
In 1996, Penguin
took a 51% stake in Rough Guides, the acclaimed
travel and music publishers, which became wholly owned by
in 2002. And in 2000, Pearson bought Dorling
Kindersley, publishers of highly visual and dynamic
travel, reference and children's books, and added it to the
Group in the UK.
retained its position as a champion of free speech when it
successfully defended a libel suit brought by revisionist
historian David Irving in 2000 after the publication of Professor
Deborah Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust. The company also
published Michael Moore's controversial Stupid
White Men in the UK in 2002 after attempts in the US to
2001 saw Penguin
moving to its current home at 80 Strand in Central London.
Today the company has offices in fifteen countries - from
US (formed in 1939) to Penguin
Ireland (opened in 2003) - and keeps
more than 5,000 different titles in print at any time. In
the twenty-first century the Penguin
Group can cater for every stage of a reader's lifetime, with
books from Dorling Kindersley, Frederick
Warne, Ladybird, Penguin,
Puffin and Rough Guides,
the home of reading.
To celebrate its 70th birthday in 2005, Penguin
is publishing 70 Pocket Penguins
by authors ranging from Homer and Anton Chekhov to F. Scott
Fitzgerald and Jamie Oliver. At just £1.50 each they follow
Allen Lane's ethos of making great writing affordable and
available to everybody - now you can own a piece of the Penguin