On this day in history….20th October 1960

On this day in history : 20th October 1960 – Penguin Books find themselves in the dock of the Old Bailey being prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 – over their intention to publish Lady Chatterley’s Lover….

First Penguin edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence – Image credit : Twospoonfuls – own work CC BY-SA 4.0

The sexually explicit story of a young upper-class woman, Lady Chatterley, whose husband was paralysed from the waist down following a World War One injury and her relationship with working-class game keeper Oliver Mellors…. With its detailed sexual references and use of bad language it was deemed to be too shocking for the British public….

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was the last novel of English author D.H.Lawrence…. It was first privately fully published in Italy in 1928 and then in France in 1929 – but was banned in many countries…. It did not openly appear uncensored in Britain until 1960 – when Penguin decided to publish it in paperback form, making it affordable and available to all….

D.H. Lawrence (passport photograph – unknown photographer) – Public domain

However, before they could publish there were one or two hurdles in the way…. The Obscene Publications Act 1959 was a Bill introduced to Parliament by Roy Jenkins and came into force in August 1959….The Act created a new offence for publishing obscene material, repealing the former common law of obscene libel…. Police were given the power to seize such material and prosecute…. Penguin’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was to be the first to be prosecuted under the Act’s provisions….

The highly publicised landmark obscenity case come to trial on the 20th of October and lasted until the 2nd of November…. Mervyn Griffith-Jones acted for the prosecution and Gerald Gardiner was counsel for the defence…. The case was presided over by Judge Laurence Byrne – who used a well-thumbed copy of the book in question for reference…. The trial concluded with the acquittal of Penguin Books, with the jury of 9 men and 3 women ruling the publication not to be obscene….

The court case questioned the publishing and decency laws….seen by many as outdated…. Penguin published Lady Chatterley’s Lover a month later; all 200,000 copies sold on the first day…. The gates had been opened for the publishing world to publish books with more explicit content….

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