Overview for The Life and Times of Allen Lane
A stocky, dapper Bristolian who left school at the age of sixteen to work for his uncle at The Bodley Head and went on to found Penguin Books, Allen Lane was the greatest publisher of the twentieth century, and a major influence on the cultural and political life of post-war Britain. He did not invent the paperback, but he revolutionised our reading habits by his insistence that the best writing in the world should be made available for the price of a packet of cigarettes. Though never a bookish man himself, Lane was adept at sensing the spirit of the age and always ready to follow his hunches: he commissioned Nikolaus Pevsner to write the Buildings of England, gave his backing to John Lehmann's Penguin New Writing, arguably the finest literary magazine of its times, risked prosecution by publishing James Joyce's Ullyses for the first time in this country, and a quarter of a century later appeared at the Old Bailey to defend Penguin's publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover, thereby anticipating the liberal reforms of the 1960s. A mischievous, quixotic, oddly endearing figure who loathed meetings and paperwork - a German visitor was shocked to find an editorial meeting taking place in a rowing boat, and well lubricated with gin - Lane combined ruthlessness with affability, courage with moral cowardice, loyalty with unpredictability. Few publishers are remembered after their lifetimes: Allen Lane is a rare exception to the rule.
Jeremy Lewis (Author)
Jeremy Lewis worked in publishing for much of his life after leaving Trinity College Dublin in 1965. He has written two highly praised volumes of autobiography, Playing for Time and Kindred Spirits. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he is married with two daughters, and lives near Richmond Park.