Allen Lane

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Sir Allen Lane

Allen Lane.jpg
Photo of Penguin founder Sir Allen Lane, London Zoo. Source: Lane Family.
Allen Lane Williams

(1902-09-21)21 September 1902
Bristol, England, United Kingdom
Died7 July 1970(1970-07-07) (aged 67)
Northwood, Middlesex, England, United Kingdom
Burial placeSt Nectan's Church, Hartland
Known forFounder of Penguin Books
Spouse(s)Lady Letitia Lucy Lane (1941–1970)
RelativesJohn Lane (uncle)
The plaque marking the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Penguin Books by Allen Lane at 8 Vigo Street.

Sir Allen Lane (born Allen Lane Williams; 21 September 1902 – 7 July 1970) was a British publisher who together with his brothers Richard and John Lane founded Penguin Books in 1935, bringing high-quality paperback fiction and non-fiction to the mass market.[1][2]

In 1967 he started a hardback imprint under his own name, Allen Lane.

Early life and family[edit]

Allen Lane Williams was born in Bristol, to Camilla (née Lane) and Samuel Williams, and studied at Bristol Grammar School. In 1919 he joined the publishing company Bodley Head as an apprentice to his uncle and founder of the company John Lane. In the process, he and the rest of his family changed their surname to Lane to retain the childless John Lane's company as a family firm. Lane married Lettice Lucy Orr on 28 June 1941 and had three daughters: Clare, Christine, and Anna. He was knighted in 1952.

Career as a publisher[edit]

He rose quickly at Bodley Head becoming managing editor in 1925 following the death of his uncle. After conflict with the board of directors who were wary at first — for fear of being prosecuted — of publishing James Joyce's controversial book Ulysses, Lane, together with his brothers Richard and John, founded Penguin Books in 1935 as part of the Bodley Head.

Penguin Books became a separate company the following year.[3] The legend goes that on a train journey back from visiting Agatha Christie in 1934, Lane found himself on an Exeter station platform with nothing available worth reading. He conceived of paperback editions of literature of proven quality which would be cheap enough to be sold from a vending machine; the first was set up outside Henderson's in Charing Cross Road and dubbed the "Penguincubator". Lane was also well aware of the Hamburg publisher Albatross Books and adopted many of its innovations.

The paperback venture was extremely successful, and he expanded into other areas such as Pelican Books in 1937, Puffin Books in 1940 and the Penguin Classics series in 1945. Lane was responsible for the decision to publish an unexpurgated edition of D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover as a means of testing the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

In 1965, during an attempt by chief editor Tony Godwin and the board of directors to remove him, Lane stole and burnt the entire print run of the French cartoonist Siné's book Massacre, which was reportedly deeply offensive.[4]

Lane fired Godwin, and retained control of Penguin, but was forced to retire shortly afterwards after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. He died in 1970 at Northwood, Middlesex.[5]


  1. ^ Times, Special To the New York (8 July 1970). "SIR ALLEN LANE, 67, OF PENGUIN BOOKS". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 4 November 2017.
  2. ^ Florence Waters (26 August 2010). "Penguin's pioneering publisher – who never read books". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 17 February 2014.
  3. ^ "about Penguin – company history Archived 5 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Penguin
  4. ^ Narrated by Lane biographer Jeremy Lewis on BBC Radio in 2010,
  5. ^ About Penguin: Company History Archived 1 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Penguin Books Ltd. Retrieved 2010-08-18.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cavendish, Richard. "The first Penguin paperbacks" History Today (2010) 60#7
  • Kells, Stuart. Penguin and the Lane Brothers: The Untold Story of a Publishing Revolution (Black Inc., 2015).
  • Morpurgo, J. E. (1979) Allen Lane: King Penguin. London: Hutchinson
  • Hare, Steve (1995) Penguin Portrait: Allen Lane and the Penguin Editors, 1935–1970. London: Penguin Books

External links[edit]