2 Nov,1960: R. v Penguin Books Ltd (the Lady Chatterley’s Lover’s case)


2 Nov,1960 Penguin Books is found not guilty of obscenity in the trial R v Penguin Books Ltd (the Lady Chatterley’s Lover’s  case)

R v. Penguin Books Ltd  (“Regina versus Penguin Books Limited”) was the public prosecution at the Old Bailey of Penguin Books under the Obscene Publications Act for the publication of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The trial took place over six days  from 20 October to 2 November 1960

Lawrence’s novel had been the subject of three drafts before  being  published privately in 1928 in Italy, and in 1929 in France and Australia. Some months later, both US customs  and Scotland Yard. confiscated imported copies of this edition.

An unabridged edition was not published openly in the United Kingdom by Penguin until 1960,  thirty years after Lawrence’s death.

In 1959   the Obscene Publications Act  had made it possible for publishers to escape conviction if they could show that a work was of literary merit, in “ the interests of science, literature, art or learning, or of other objects of general concern”.

In August 1960 the attorney general, Reginald Manningham-Buller read the first four chapters of Lady Chatterley’s Lover on the boat train to Southampton and wrote to the director of public prosecutions approving the prosecution of Penguin Books (“I hope you get a conviction”). Maybe, the key factor in the decision to prosecute was that Penguin proposed to sell the book for 3/6; in other words, to put it within easy reach of women and the working classes, which the upper-middle-class male lawyers and politicians of the time refused to tolerate.

The trial was a major public event and a test of the new obscenity  law. With two different worlds facing each other across a packed court, Penguin was firmly on the side of the common man

Various academic critics and experts of diverse kinds,  were called as witnesses.    Judges in 1960 regarded themselves as the custodians of moral virtue and the  prosecutors were complacent: they would have the judge on their side, and a jury comprised of people of property, predominantly male, middle aged, middle minded and middle class.

The defense attorney  addressed the jury in powerful but straightforward language, respecting them but never condescending or playing obviously to their sympathy. He firmly indicated that they, not the judge, were responsible for the verdict

And the unanimous verdict, delivered on 2 November 1960 after three hours of deliberation,  was “not guilty”.

No other jury verdict has had such a deep social impact as the acquittal of Penguin Books, which quickly sold 3 million copies . This is an  example of what many years later was described as “the Spycatcher effect”, by which the attempt to suppress a book through unsuccessful litigation serves only to promote huge sales.



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