During the 1950s Penguin faced increasingly stiff competition from rival paperback publishers such as Pan Books, which had started publishing mass-market paperbacks with full-colour pictorial covers in 1947. Pressure grew for Penguin to do the same, but resistance was strong and the prevailing opinion was that such 'lurid' covers were best avoided. Yet the fact remained these colourful covers were popular with book buyers and the large sales figures the books generated were in turn attracting authors. The typographic covers favoured by Penguin looked old-fashioned by comparison and it was clear that something had to be done.

For a time there was talk of Penguin expanding into light fiction or 'Parrot Books' as Allen Lane disparagingly called it, and a series of Penguin Westerns was discussed at some length, but in the end it was decided to conduct an experiment. Abram 'Olympic' Games was brought in as consultant art director and a series of books with full-colour pictorial covers appeared in 1957-58, but the experiment was short-lived and Lane pulled the plug on it when sales were inconclusive.

NIGEL KNEALE Quatermass II, 1960 Quatermass II (1448) by Nigel Kneale

A play for television in six parts, first published by Penguin Books February 1960,
with a cover illustration by the author's brother, Bryan Kneale.
<< Part 1 / Part 3 >>

By 1960 Pan was the second largest publisher of paperbacks in the UK and Penguin, which still held first place, was routinely using pictorial covers, including for sf.

JOHN WYNDHAM The Midwich Cuckoos, 1960 The Midwich Cuckoos (1440) by John Wyndham

First published 1957.

Published by Penguin Books March 1960 with a cover illustration by Paul Hogarth.
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To begin with black and white illustrations were used though it was not long before colour was introduced, if such a claim may be made for the little flecks of yellow that almost pass unnoticed on the cover of The Midwich Cuckoos.

NIGEL KNEALE Quatermass and the Pit, 1960 Quatermass and the Pit (1449) by Nigel Kneale

A play for television in six parts, first published by Penguin Books April 1960,
with a cover illustration by the author's brother, Bryan Kneale.
<< Part 2
FRED HOYLE The Black Cloud, 1960 The Black Cloud (1466) by Fred Hoyle

First published 1957.

Published by Penguin Books August 1960 with a cover illustration by John Griffiths.
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Initially the illustrations were confined to the cover's central white space but soon they began to spill across the rest of the cover, as shown by The Black Cloud that drifts across both orange bands.

JOHN WYNDHAM The Kraken Wakes, 1960 The Kraken Wakes (1075) by John Wyndham

1960 reprint with a cover illustration by Denis Piper.
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JOHN WYNDHAM The Midwich Cuckoos, 1960 The Midwich Cuckoos (1440) by John Wyndham

1960 reprint showing a still from Village of the Damned, the film adaptation of Wyndham's novel by the German director Wolf Rilla.
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The release of The Midwich Cuckoos as a film called Village of the Damned prompted Penguin to reprint the book as a film tie-in. Nominally it was in the vertical cover format with a large black-and-white still from the film pasted across much of the cover, plus some text which misquoted the film's title as The Village of the Damned. This left little room for the title of the novel, the author's name, logo, price and so on, which were crammed haphazardly into the remaining spaces. Not that it mattered as the film was a box office hit and the book no doubt sold well on the back of it.

JOHN BOWEN After the Rain, 1961 After the Rain (1634) by John Bowen

First published 1958.

Published by Penguin Books September 1961 with a cover illustration by Quentin Blake.

After the Rain is a post-apocalyptic pastiche of Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat woven through with the Orwellian satire of Animal Farm. The cover is notable for its bolder use of colour and an early example of the scribbled line drawings that would make Quentin Blake a household name when he went on to illustrate Roald Dahl's classic childrens' stories such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.

BRIAN ALDISS (Ed) Penguin Science Fiction, 1961 Penguin Science Fiction (1638) edited by Brian Aldiss

An anthology of twelve short stories, first published by Penguin Books October 1961 with a cover illustration by Brian Keogh.

• Eric Frank Russell : Sole Solution
• Ward Moore : Lot
• John Steinbeck : The Short-Short Story of Mankind
• Clifford Simak : Skirmish
• Brian Aldiss : Poor Little Warrior!
• James Schmitz : Grandpa
• Bertram Chandler : The Half Pair
• Walter M Miller : Command Performance
• Isaac Asimov : Nightfall
• Katherine MacLean : The Snowball Effect
• Algis Budrys : The End of Summer
• J G Ballard : Track 12
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The publication of Brian Aldiss's Penguin Science Fiction anthology marked a turning point for Penguin sf that would lead to the launch of a separate science fiction series seventeen months later. But it was also notable for a curious vignette by John Steinbeck, the author of The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck's tale of human evolution, The Short-Short Story of Mankind, had first appeared in the April 1958 issue of Playboy magazine, sandwiched between a food article and the playmate of the month, Felicia Atkins. The latter did not make it into Aldiss's anthology but it sold like hot cakes anyway, its success perhaps in part attributable to one of the most eye-catching Penguin covers to date.

A note in the editorial file stated that the cover should avoid space travel 'as this is much less prominent in sf than is generally supposed' so instead the illustrator, Brian Keogh, overlaid the vertical cover format with a gauze-like khaki panel and a curious contraption that brings to mind the mechanical bride in the upper pane of Marcel Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even. Seen this way, the similarity of Keogh's contraption to Duchamp's bride points to the best story in the anthology, Walter Miller's Command Performance, in which a woman's battle against telepathic and bodily penetration parallels the psychosexual symbolism of Duchamp's masterpiece.

MARCEL DUCHAMP The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, 1915-23 The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even

Marcel Duchamp

La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même, also known as The Large Glass, 1915-23, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Pennsylvania. A replica made in the 1960s by the British Pop artist Richard Hamilton is at the Tate Modern in London.

This interpretation of Keogh's cover as a science-fictional rendering of one of the twentieth century's most important works of art prefigures the use of abstract and surrealist paintings on the covers of the Penguin sf series in 1963. However, according to Maurice Spira, who was a student of Keogh's at the Sidcup School of Art in 1961 and witnessed the genesis of this cover, the image derived from a vacuum tube with the glass removed to expose its filaments, electrodes and other components, which Keogh then depicted as a robotic alien creature.

JOHN WYNDHAM AND LUCAS PARKES The Outward Urge, 1962 The Outward Urge (1544) by John Wyndham and Lucas Parkes

First published April 1958–November 1960 as five separate stories in New Worlds magazine.

Published by Penguin Books August 1962 with a cover illustration by John Griffiths.

The Space Station: A.D. 1994
The Moon: A.D. 2044
Mars: A.D. 2094
Venus: A.D. 2144
The Asteroids: A.D. 2194
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The Outward Urge was billed as a collaboration between John Wyndham and his 'technical adviser' Lucas Parkes, though a clue to the latter's real identity may be found in Wyndham's full name, which was John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris. A pointy little rocket on a backdrop of stars and nebulae hinted at a move by Wyndham towards traditional sf, and this was confirmed by the blurb on the back which announced 'four exciting episodes' in the history of space exploration. What the blurb had overlooked was a fifth episode in the asteroid belt circa 2194, so Wyndham was sold short again, as he had been for « The Seeds of Time » three years earlier. The error was corrected when the book was reprinted in 1964.

H G WELLS The War of the Worlds, 1962 The War of the Worlds (570) by H G Wells

1962 reprint with a cover illustration by Virgil Burnett.
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The Day of the Triffids and The Seeds of Time were also reprinted with illustrated covers, but first prize went to The War of the Worlds for a filigreed drawing of a Martian tripod striding purposefully across the cover like a panzer tank on stilts.

JOHN WYNDHAM The Day of the Triffids, 1962 The Day of the Triffids (993) by John Wyndham

1962 reprint with a cover illustration by John Griffiths but no Penguin logo.
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JOHN WYNDHAM The Seeds of Time, 1962 The Seeds of Time (1385) by John Wyndham

1962 reprint with a cover illustration by John Griffiths.
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