Autumn 2006


Smear, featuring a caricature of UK politician Jeremy Thorpe, is the Penguin Special that never was

The Penguin Specials, launched in 1937 to deal with topical issues, had a long and proud tradition, and contributed to the publisher’s meteoric rise before World War II. The imprint commissioned a number of books attacking Hitler’s aggression, all written and published in a short space of time with methods more akin to journalism than publishing. These books sold in huge numbers, and when paper rationing was introduced during the war Penguin received a more generous allowance than any other publisher.

After the war, the Specials were dropped: book production now took too long. However senior editor Tony Godwin revived the series in the 1960s, with books that looked at British politics and institutions, and tackled issues such as Vietnam and the abolition of hanging. There was one further (and final) revival in the late 1970s and 1980s, intended to cover the political hot potatoes of the time: Ulster, drugs, ecology, economic chaos and uk politics.

Penguin art director David Pelham commissioned a cover for one such title in 1977, entitled Smear. This was to investigate allegations of South African involvement in various scandals surrounding Jeremy Thorpe, leader of the Liberal Party 1967-76. After the typescript was delivered, caricaturists Roger Law and Peter Fluck (aka Luck and Flaw) produced a cover image showing the politician as St Sebastian, and Smear was assigned a place in the ‘express’ schedule.

Pelham recalls that publication was planned for late June 1977. One Monday morning, however, he came in to find all traces of the book removed. The only evidence that it had ever existed was the cover proof he had taken home. The book was never issued, either by Penguin or any other publisher. Law and Fluck would go on to produce ITV’s long-running satirical puppet show Spitting Image; this inspired caricature points the way.

Penguin by Designers, edited by Phil Baines and Steve Hare, will be published later in 2006 by the Penguin Collectors’ Society.

Steve Hare, freelance journalist, author, Wiltshire, UK

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.