A Knight’s Tale (38.1 Wives And Servants

‘The Obscene Publications Act 1959 (c. 66) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom Parliament that significantly reformed the law related to obscenity in England and Wales. Prior to the passage of the Act, the law on publishing obscene materials was governed by the common law case of R v Hicklin, which had no exceptions for artistic merit or the public good. During the 1950s, the Society of Authors formed a committee to recommend reform of the existing law, submitting a draft bill to the Home Office in February 1955. After several failed attempts to push a bill through Parliament, a committee finally succeeded in creating a viable bill, which was introduced to Parliament by Roy Jenkins and given the Royal Assent on 29 July 1959, coming into force on 29 August 1959 as the Obscene Publications Act 1959. With the committee consisting of both censors and reformers, the actual reform of the law was limited, with several extensions to police powers included in the final version.

The Act created a new offence for publishing obscene material, repealing the common law offence of obscene libel which was previously used, and also allows Justices of the Peace to issue warrants allowing the police to seize such materials. At the same time it creates two defences; firstly, the defence of innocent dissemination, and secondly the defence of public good.’ (Wikipedia)

My schooldays ended in July 1960, but even then, like every other schoolboy in the country I had keenly awaited the outcome of a trial due to take place later in the year of Penguin Books as the publisher of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which publication in August had been prevented under the auspices of the above quoted legislation, thus ruining our summer holiday reading. All copies distributed before 16th were immediately withdrawn, pending the trial opening in November.

An entertaining and informative article from the New Yorker by Mollie Panter-Downes (surely an apt name) https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1960/11/19/the-lady-at-the-old-bailey, gives an excellent eye-witness account of the proceedings which demonstrated how far certain sections of the judiciary had become distanced from the national mood.

In his summing up, the question put to the jurors by Counsel for the Prosecution, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, who was later to become a judge, as to whether they would wish their wives or their servants to read such a book, said it all.

Lawrence’s really rather mediocre novel was first published privately in Venice in 1928, but not until November 1960 could it be published in UK. Naturally the trial’s publicity boosted Penguin’s sales enormously.

38 responses to “A Knight’s Tale (38.1 Wives And Servants”

  1. Fascinating era. Since you mention it’s mediocracy, I’m guessing you read it. To be labeled Banned in Boston was one way to boost book or movie sales because it implied a prurient aspect. Thanks for the recap.

  2. I’m so pleased you continue to ramble in and out among A Knight’s Tale, Derrick. I remember being unmoved by Lady C, which of course, I read long after the trial. Thank you for the article which I’ll read later. Mollie P-D was an interesting lady in her own right and an accomplished writer. She was the London correspondent for the New Yorker in WW2 as well as producing a number of well-regarded novels, none of which I’ve read despite my best intentions!

  3. Thank you for including the New Yorker article. It really was informative and entertaining.
    It’s so sad–and scary–that here in the U.S. banning books is becoming an issue.

    I remember not being particularly impressed by “Lady C.” But that is not a reason to ban it or any book.

  4. So interesting. I’ll read the article you linked. Thanks for sharing it.
    Years ago, I got the list of Banned Books from a school district and began reading them. 🙂
    I think there is an audience for every book…and people should be able to pick and choose what they will read…not have someone do that for them. Hey, if a person doesn’t like or approve of a book or it offends them…then don’t buy it or if already reading it, then put it down.
    I once read a book so so SO scary I had to hide it for awhile before I picked it up and finally finished it. HA!
    (((HUGS))) 🙂
    PS…Mollie Panter-Downes name made me laugh so hard I’m having trouble typing! 😀 What an appropriate name! If I had known her, I might’ve giggled every time I saw her. Yes, I’m so mature! 😉 🤪😉

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