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Last on

Thu 2 Sep 2010 11:30 BBC Radio 4

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 02 September 2010

Children's author Michael Morpurgo tells the story of Penguin books, which was founded 75 years ago by his father-in-law, Allen Lane. The idea for the iconic publishing house came when Allen was waiting for a train to take him from Exeter back to London. He went into a bookshop to look for something to read and all he found were badly produced, low quality books with gaudy covers. He realised that there was a gap in the market for high quality, well designed paperbacks available to everyone at the price of a packet of cigarettes.

Michael grew up in a house that was especially full of Penguins and Puffins because his step-father, Jack Morpurgo, was one of the editors there. He remembers being intimidated as a child when Sir Allen Lane came over for dinner. When they met again, Michael was in his late teens and had fallen in love with Allen's eldest daughter Clare. They decided to get married - something Lane was not overjoyed about. It was only seven years later that Allen Lane died of cancer, so Michael never really got to know his father-in-law and never understood what had motivated him.

In this programme, he delves into the Penguin archives and meets with family members and historians to uncover how Allen - who was not a literary man and left school at 16 - went on to revolutionise the publishing industry and change the way the nation reads. He explores the impact of Puffins, launched in 1940, on children's relationships with books and he reflects on what Lane felt about the infamous 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' trial in 1960.

He also hears from Penguin authors Nick Hornby and Sue Townsend about what it feels like to be part of publishing history.

Producer: Susie Warhurst
A Unique production for BBC Radio 4.

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