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The anniversary of the Chatterley ban

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Will Gompertz | 14:03 UK time, Monday, 1 November 2010

50 years ago tomorrow, a unanimous verdict of "not guilty" was arrived at in the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, in the case against Penguin Books under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 for publishing DH Lawrence's novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Lady Chatterleys Lover

Fox photographer George Freston poses as a London Underground commuter on the day Lady Chatterley's Lover went on general sale. Fox photographer Les Graves is on his left.

The trial and subsequent acquittal of Penguin Books was the culmination of a story that started back in 1928 when Lawrence's third and final version of Lady Chatterley's Lover was published in Italy. The trail caused a sensation. Members of the public, as they always do, wanted to decide for themselves what was morally good for them and rushed to the shops eight days later when the book was officially published, as you can read in this BBC account.

From the BBC's The Chatterley Affair, 2006

From the BBC's The Chatterley Affair, 2006

To mark its victory, Penguin is publishing a commemorative edition with documents and letters relating to the trial and afterword essays by Geoffrey Robertson QC and Steve Hare.

Steve is a friend of mine. He has many wonderful attributes, among which is an obsessive knowledge of Penguin Books and all matters related. I think I'm right in saying he has the world's largest collection of Penguins, most of which he has read. And so, thanks to the publishing ethos of the firm's founder Allen Lane, he is one of the most knowledgeable people I have met.

His essay describes how the intelligentsia of the day came out to support Allen Lane and Penguin in their time of need. Enid Blyton was a conspicuous absentee, having been asked but having refused to attend the trial. In the essay is this, Steve's meticulous timeline of events as they unfolded, starting in Florence in 1928:

Lady Chatterley's Timeline

June 1928 First edition of the third and final version of Lady Chatterley's Lover is published, privately printed in Florence by Giuseppe (Pino) Orioli, a friend of the author Norman Douglas, in an edition of 1,000 copies, signed and numbered by the author. Richard Aldington and other of Lawrence's friends organize its distribution. By January 1929 Customs is seizing copies at English ports.

1929 Lawrence issues a cheap popular edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover "offered to the public at Sixty Francs", published in Paris by Edward Titus, the husband of Helena Rubenstein - to counteract various pirated editions circulating in Europe and the USA. This and the Orioli edition are the only authorised versions produced during Lawrence's lifetime. He attempts to produce a santised version for the British market: "So I begin to be tempted and start to expurgate. But impossible! I might as well try to clip my own nose into shape with scissors. The book bleeds." (D.H. Lawrence in A Propos of Lady Chatterley's Lover, 1930)

2 March 1930 Lawrence dies in Vence, France, where he is initially buried. His widow Frieda later arranges his exhumation, cremation and reburial in at Kiowa Ranch, New Mexico, where she lives until her death in 1956.

1932 Frieda sanctions an expurgated version to be published in the USA by Knopf and in the UK by Martin Secker, who also edits the British edition.

26 January 1933 Authorized edition of the final version published by The Odyssey Press, Paris under the direction of Frieda Lawrence.

September 1946 Abridged and expurgated paperback published in the USA by Penguin Books, Inc.

March 1950 "Commemoration editions" of 10 Lawrence works are published simultaneously by Penguin, accompanied by a booklet, An Appreciation, by Richard Aldington to mark the 20th anniversary of Lawrence's death. The 10 books are Aaron's Rod, Kangaroo, Etruscan Places, The Lost Girl, St Mawr and The Virgin and the Gypsy, The Plumed Serpent, The Woman Who Rode Away and Other Stories, Selected Essays, Selected Letters and Selected Poems.

1954-5 "One of those periodical swirls of trouble about 'obscene libel', or, in plainer language, 'dirty books'. Within a few months five publishers of good reputation found themselves in the dock with their authors." AP Herbert (Introduction to Obscenity and the Law, Norman St. John-Stevas, 1956).

1955 Denys Kilham-Roberts, Secretary of the Society of Authors, convenes a committee to consider the existing obscenity laws with regard to books, and to make recommendations to the home secretary. Roy Jenkins and Norman St John-Stevas, Sir Herbert Read and Sir Gerald Barry included; AP Herbert Chairman. A draft bill is submitted to the Home Office.

15 March 1955 MP Roy Jenkins introduces the bill under the 10-minute rule.

1956 Heinemann produce an unexpurgated edition of the third version, published in the Netherlands with the instruction "This edition must not be introduced into the British Empire or the USA".
Penguin makes initial enquiries about a UK paperback edition.

July 1957 Select committee reports on Obscene Publications Bill.

1959 Grove Press in New York publishes the first authorised, unexpurgated edition in the United States. The book is banned by the US Postmaster General, which Grove contests, and wins in July 1959; the decision is upheld by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York in March 1960.

29 July 1959 Obscene Publications Act receives Royal Assent and comes into force on 29 August.

22 September 1959 Eunice Frost [Penguin fiction editor] to Elisabeth Anderson at William Heinemann: "Can you give me any guidance about the likely-to-be complex situation on the possibility and/or wisdom, perhaps, of considering publication over here of the unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley's Lover?"

24 November 1959 Penguin internal memo, Allen Lane to Eunice Frost and Hans Schmoller: "When in America I saw an Anchor or Vintage edition of Conrad which struck me as being a very good way of tying up the works of an author in such a way that these editions are readily identifiable... I wonder whether we might not consider doing this with DH Lawrence and include the unexpurgated Lady Chatterley's Lover as one of the group?

15 December 1959 Internal memo, ASB Glover [non-fiction editor] to Eunice Frost: "After a further discussion this morning we decided to add a group of 5 Lawrence titles in June:
• The Trespasser
• Twilight in Italy
• England My England
• The Ladybird
• Lady Chatterley's Lover
And to reprint Selected Poems at the same time.
The question of whether we do the expurgated or unexpurgated form of Lady Chatterley's Lover remains to be settled."

8 January 1960 Laurence Pollinger [Lawrence's agent] to Sir Allen Lane: "As to the unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley's Lover, it is my opinion that this is in full copyright, and therefore, not available for you too publish without first obtaining Mr A.S. Frere's [Lawrence's publisher at Heinemann] permission and my own."

9 January 1960 Full-page advertisement in The Bookseller and Trade News: "To mark the thirtieth anniversary of the death of D.H. Lawrence Penguins will publish in June 1960 a further group of seven books including the unexpurgated Lady Chatterley's Lover."

11 January 1960 Lane to Pollinger: "We are acting on the assumption that the letter we wrote to you in 1956 giving you notice of our intention of publishing Lady Chatterley's Lover, a letter of which you acknowledged receipt, puts us in the position of publishing the work."

14 January 1960 Pollinger to Lane: "I have now talked with A.S. Frere and obtained his permission for you to go ahead and publish in June next the unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley's Lover."

21 January 1960 Penguin board meeting: "The Board resolved that D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover be published in its unexpurgated form."

5 February 1960 Dr Alan Thompson, Labour MP for Dunfermline, tables a Parliamentary question for written answer: "To ask the Attorney General whether he will give an assurance to the board of directors of Penguin books Limited, that their forthcoming publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence, will not be the subject of criminal proceedings.' ANSWER: 'No.'"

15 February 1960 Glover to Leonard Russell at The Sunday Times: "Here are a couple of proof copies of Lady Chatterley's Lover which we promised we would send as soon as they came in."

10 March 1960 Michael Rubinstein, Penguin's lawyer returns a further proof copy with the advice: "There has as yet been no prosecution under the new Act, but I think it likely that sooner or later a Home Secretary will either of his own volition or under pressure decide to bring a test prosecution in relation to some allegedly obscene publication, and it is possible, if unlikely that Lady Chatterley's Lover might be selected for that purpose, perhaps even by a sympathetic Home Secretary."
He anticipates that in the unlikely event of a conviction, there would be no more than a "nominal fine", though the cost of defending such an action would be "very substantial. There could be, I think, no question of prison sentences for the Directors of your Company or anyone else concerned with the publication."

11 April 1960 Having produced the initial proof copies, Hazell, Watson and Viney, following legal advice, reluctantly decide they cannot print the full run. Several other printers are approached and refuse. The planned June publication date cannot now be met. Eventually Sir Isaac Pitman offers the services of his subsidiary firm, Western Printing Services. Publication is rescheduled for 25 August 1960.
Copies of the legal USA edition impounded on entry to Britain. "This seizure has not the force of a conviction by the court for the publication on an obscene libel," writes Michael Rubinstein. "The Customs impound some books on suspicion and others, such as this one no doubt, on 'reputation'... If ever there was a case for lobbying the more enlightened Ministers who might be concerned in the matter (I have in mind particularly of course, Mr R.A. Butler) this is it. I would personally like to see Lady Chatterley's Lover on the market in a Penguin edition - if only to establish by comparison with Lolita the difference between the pure and the poisonous!"

21 April 1960 Sir Isaac Pitman to RA Butler, Home Secretary: "Perhaps it would be for your future possible convenience and mine were you to be informed that a subsidiary printing company of the Group of which I am Chairman will be helping the well-known and highly esteemed Penguin firm in the printing of Lady Chatterley's Lover for the coming anniversary of the death of D.H. Lawrence. Sir Allen Lane of Penguin has been put in a very difficult situation by the decision of Hazell, Watson and Viney to discontinue the printing. It was put to us as a matter of principle that - particularly with a firm of the standing of Penguin - it is not for the printer to act as censor, making impossible of achievement (or even more difficult) the decisions of publishers to publish, who after all take the prime responsibility... I am writing not to ask you any questions, but rather to place on record at the time my reasons and the facts - should it be that later, questions may be asked in the House."

15 July 1960 Hans Schmoller writes to Allen Lane in France: "Today's intelligence was that a nephew of Sir Theobald Mathew, Public Prosecutor told Tony Rowe, of Western Printing Services, over dinner that his uncle was determined to prosecute."

27 July 1960 Prosecuting Counsel Mervyn Griffith-Jones advises the Director of Public Prosecutions: "In my opinion the unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley's Lover - a proof copy of which I have read - is obscene and a prosecution for publishing an obscene libel would be justified. Indeed if no action is taken in respect of this publication it will make proceedings against any other novel very difficult." Legend has it that his decision in such cases is reached by reading the book in question; "if I get an erection, we prosecute".

28 July 1960 Hans Schmoller appointed to the board of Penguin Books, joining Sir Allen Lane, Sir William Emrys Williams (also Secretary-General of the Arts Council), Richard Lane (based in Australia), HF Paroissien (based in the USA) and Mrs HV Kemp (Eunice Frost, by now semi-retired and based in Lewes).

4 August 1960 Sir Allen Lane meets Detective-Inspector Monahan at Scotland Yard, who has a proof copy. He is told that the full edition of 200,000 has already been printed. "He had not anticipated that we had got so far as printing the book and he hoped, by giving us early notification of his interest in the matter, that we might have been saved the expense of printing a large edition." Lane later leaves for a holiday in Spain.

Monday 8 August 1960 Meeting with Michael Rubinstein to agree tactics, counsel and the compilation of a list of potential witnesses. WE Williams cannot be located; his wife suggests he is "on safari". Hans Schmoller, Production Director, is left to co-ordinate everything.

Tuesday 9 August 1960 Sending out review copies is cancelled.

Friday 12 August 1960 All invoicing of some 200 orders received is stopped.

Saturday 13 August 1960 Leonard Russell of The Sunday Times calls urgently: he has written a long piece in the magazine section about the Obscene Publications Act and why Lady Chatterley's Lover is unlikely to be prosecuted when published on 25 August. Williams, meanwhile, has written to a number of prominent authors, and Leonard Russell, seeking support for Penguin in the now almost inevitable trial. Russell says "he would look extremely foolish if other Sunday papers were to carry news about the likelihood of proceedings". Insists on adding a front-page news story to qualify his feature; refuses to make changes suggested by Schmoller.

Sunday 14 August 1960 The Sunday Times is published with the front-page story and feature. No other Sunday paper carries the story. Schmoller is called by the Sunday Times, asking if they still intend to publish on 25 August. John Curtis, Penguin publicity manager and art editor, reports that the Daily Express is constantly on the phone and later on his doorstep. Allen Lane's house, Silverbeck, is similarly besieged. Mrs Rackley, his formidable housekeeper, tells them "Sir Allen is away, and I have no idea where he is."

Monday 15 August No report in the Express, but "press after us from morning to night". Senior staff delegated to contact the press individually, being "as helpful as possible without giving away undesirable details". Letter from Rubinstein to Monahan is delivered by hand to New Scotland Yard. "As you already know from Sir Allen Lane, our clients are willing to co-operate with you to the fullest extent and in this connection they feel sure that you will have no objection to following a course whereby you can obtain copies of Lady Chatterley's Lover from them without involving a third party [i.e. a bookseller] They have, therefore, instructed us to inform you that, as from noon today, twelve copies of the book will be available to be handed to you at their offices at Northumberland House, 303 High Holborn, London WC1. Please let us know at what time you propose to call on our Clients at their London office when one of their Directors would make himself or herself available at an hour's notice to hand over copies to you... Our Clients appreciate that it is open to you, as an alternative to the procedure referred to above under Section 3 of the Act, to proceed by way of Summons under Section 2 of the Act upon receipt of the books from them, which would give our Clients the right to elect trial by jury. They are, of course, in your hands over this."

Tuesday 16 August 1960 Williams and Schmoller meet Monahan and Detective Sayers to effect the "seizure". Hans Schmoller writes: "Sir William then produced twelve copies of Lady Chatterley's Lover, saying that he did so on behalf of the Board of Directors of Penguin Books, and handed them to Inspector Monahan. On being asked, we confirmed that these copies were identical with those it had been intended to publish on 25 August. Having flicked through the book Inspector Monahan stated that a copy would now be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. He said the serving of process was likely to take place before the intended publication date... Shortly after the departure of the two Scotland Yard officers, Sir William began to have misgivings about his being the person who was recorded to have handed the books to Inspector Monahan. He said this might cause trouble at the Arts Council, whose Secretary-General he is. He telephoned Inspector Monahan in my presence and asked him to substitute my name for his in the official record. Inspector Monahan accepted his request."
Publication cancelled and all copied recalled. Telegram to Allen Lane: "Legal action imminent stop advise your immediate return. Bill and Hans".
Monahan phones Rubinstein to confirm that the "process" (summons) is to be issued at 12 noon on Friday 19th, under Section 2 of the Act, which means that Penguin can elect trial by jury.

Wednesday 17 August 1960 A statement to the press is issued: "Penguin Books Ltd regret to announce that as they must anticipate legal action against them in the immediate future under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, publication of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, which was planned for Thursday, 25 August, has had to be postponed until further notice. It is their intention to defend any action that may be taken against them and to call evidence in support of their claim that the book is neither pornographic nor obscene, but a work of art of serious intent with an important place in English literature. Penguin Books Ltd are advised that from the moment the process has been served on them the matter is sub judice."
Schmoller adds: "We felt it imperative to put out such a statement. Because since the appearance of the item in The Sunday Times we were beleaguered by the press and it was felt to be bad public relations to say 'no comment' to all their questions, though this is what we did with most questions. The above statement having gone out in the morning, the floodgates opened wider than ever, and it became clear that many papers were under the impression that we were postponing publication in order to avoid prosecution. Many of them thought there could be no prosecution unless the book had been on sale."
Telegrams sent to all reps, and all Penguin accounts contacted requesting the return of any outstanding copies, with the advice: "any bookseller distributing copies for sale or otherwise will be laying himself open to prosecution. All such returns should be made, of course, entirely at our expense; credit note will be issued in the usual way." Nevertheless, in at least one bookshop in Nottingham the book is being sold "like hot cakes".

Friday 19 August 1960 Summons issued against Penguin Books Ltd.

Thursday 25 August 1960 1030: Penguin at Bow Street Magistrate's Court to answer summons. Michael Rubinstein begins to build a formidable body of evidence and list of prominent witnesses.

Saturday 17 September 1960: The Times reports that Southend magistrates ruled that a copy of a continental edition of the unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover, among books seized by the police from a commercial lending library, was obscene and consequently ordered its destruction.

Thursday 20 October 1960 The trial begins at 1030 in the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey, before Mr Justice Byrne. Mervyn Griffith-Jones and SA Morton appeared for the prosecution; Gerald Gardiner QC with Jeremy Hutchinson and Richard Du Cann for the defence. The jury (after permissible objections from the defence) comprises nine men and three women. After opening submission, the trial is adjourned for the jury to read the book.

Thursday 27 October 1960 Day two. Defence witnesses called: Graham Hough, fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge; Helen Gardner, reader in Renaissance English Literature at Oxford; another Cambridge lecturer, Joan Bennett; author Dame Rebecca West; The Right Rev John Arthur Thomas Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich; Professor Vivian Pinto, Nottingham University; Sir William Emrys Williams; The Rev Alfred Stephan Hopkinson, editor of The London Churchman; English lecturer at Leicester University, Richard Hoggart.

Friday 28 October 1960 Day three: Defence witnesses called: Richard Hoggart continues; Francis Cammaerts, Headmaster of Alleyne's Grammar School; Sarah Beryl Jones, Classics mistress at Keighley Girls' Grammar School; biographer and historian, Cicely Veronica Wedgwood; TV personality and former editor of the Daily Herald, Francis Williams, author EM Forster; Roy Jenkins MP; Walter Allen, literary editor of the New Statesman; Anne Scott-James, former editor of Harper's Bazaar; educational psychologist, Dr James Hemming.

Monday 31 October Day four: Defence witnesses called: author and English lecturer, Raymond Williams; Norman St John-Stevas, MP; JW Lambert of the Sunday Times; Sir Allen Lane; Canon Milford, former secretary of the Student Christian Movement; Professor Kenneth Muir of Liverpool University; publisher Sir Stanley Unwin; film critic Dilys Powell; poet and author Cecil Day-Lewis; author Stephen Potter; former literary editor of the New Statesman, Janet Adam Smith; Noel Annan, Provost of King's College, Cambridge; Director of Religious Education in Birmingham Diocese, Donald Tytler; author and critic John Connell; CK Young, editor of the Yorkshire Post; Hector Hetherington, editor of The Guardian; and 21-year-old former Cambridge student and Catholic, Bernardine Wall. Kinglsely Amis is called as a final witness, but cannot be located.

Tuesday 1 November Day five: Closing addresses and summing-up.

Wednesday 2 November Day six: Summing-up continued and concluded. The jury retires at 1157 and returns at 1455. Unanimous verdict of not guilty. Justice Byrne refuses an application for defence costs. Penguin manages to get some copies of the book on sale in Leicester Square by late afternoon. The official publication day is set for 10 November, in order to allow time to distribute copies from Harmondswiorth throughout the country to meet the immediate demand.

Thursday 3 November 1960 Printers Cox and Wyman contacted about first reprint of 100,000 copies. Order rises to 300,000 copies. A copy is obtained, broken up and re-typed on several Monotype keyboards. The printers undertake to read proofs in galley slips.

Saturday 5 November 1960 Keyboarding completed by midday. Casting completed by 2100. Compositors, readers and stereotypers all work overtime throughout the weekend. Ten lorry-loads of paper delivered; paper requisitioned from other printers, using paper earmarked for other Penguin titles, whose publication dates are deferred.

Sunday 6 November 1960 150,000 copies produced by 1800. Second machine already started by 0600 and completed 150,000 copies by 1700 Monday; the first machine completed a further 150,000 by 1000 Tuesday. Covers produced from chromium-faced electros supplied by Hazell, Watson and Viney. CWS Printing works at Reading help with finishing.

Wednesday 9 November 1960 Final sheet of text completed by 0900; binding starts almost immediately to have 10,000 copies ready for dispatch by the evening.

Thursday 10 November 1960 A further 41,500 copies completed. The official publication day, and a further media frenzy ensues.

Wednesday 23 November 1960 Final 63,800 copies bound and dispatched; a total of 600,000 copies completed. Cox and Wyman add: "It should not be forgotten that we were also binding paperback books for other customers and at no time did we let any of our customers down." At the same time, duplicate plates are sent to three other printers: Hunt, Barnard & Co; Hazell, Watson and Viney, their scruples appeased by the result; and N.V Drukkerei Bosch in Utrecht. Western Printing Services, meanwhile, use their own plates to produce a fifth version of the first reprint. For a period of some months, it seems as if the entire British print industry, and some of Europe's, is dedicated to supplying insatiable market. Two million copies are sold by the end of December 1960, and a further 1.3 million in 1961, these later reprints including an introduction by Richard Hoggart.

2 February 1961 A Penguin Special, The Trial of Lady Chatterley, is published, and later reprinted in an extended form in a hardback edition, privately printed and distributed as a Christmas gift to 2,000 of Sir Allen Lane's friends.
In Australia not only is Lady Chatterley's Lover banned, but the book of the trial too. The Australian Council for Civil Liberties arranges for the complete text of the Penguin Special to be airmailed in 30 separate letters, and the book made up and published from that transcript. The Australian edition is published in April 1965, with no official consequences, despite the submission of copies to the police

April 1961 It is announced that Penguin is to become a public company, and the shares offered are oversubscribed 150 times - an obvious consequence of the huge sales achieved by Lady Chatterley's Lover.


  • Comment number 1.

    As an an English Literature student I read Lady Chatterley's Lover as part of the D H Lawrence cannon and wondered what all the fuss was about. I suppose it is the use of the two vernacular words "f" and "c" for the first time in contemporary literature. By today's standards though the sexual content is very tame. The story is not too bad but it is not a classic by any means. For its time it was considered quite shocking and I am not at all surprised Australia banned it as they were very old fashioned. It certainly would not appear in my top twenty books of the twentieth century.

  • Comment number 2.

    It still seems bizzare from my viewpoint (born mid-seventies) that we faught a war about freedom of choice and less than a decade later Britain bans books purely on the idea that they're protecting the masses sensibilities.

  • Comment number 3.

    I concur that Chatterley is (compared to these days standards, what with the like of what goes on babecast during the day) very tame. But I remember it was quite a thrill when I read it for the first time, it helped set me well on my way to manhood and experiencing myself. It most definitely is not a classic but what with the up roar it caused at the time (and decades afterwards) it will most definitely continue to be an extraordinarily famous book among not just the reading community but also the wider public.


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