They walk. They stare at the trunk of a sequoia tree covered with historical dates ..... As in a dream, he shows her a point beyond the tree, he hears himself say, "This is where I come from..." — Chris Marker, La Jetée (1962).


Penguin's silver jubilee celebrations in 1960 were a chance for the company to make like its logo, and cast an eye back over its shoulder at twenty-five years of remarkable achievement. But in doing so it could hardly fail to notice the grow- ing number of rival paperback publishers that were gaining ground behind it. That the gap was closing could in part be attributed to Penguin's editorial policy, which was now driven by a strong sense of tradition and the desire to maintain it.

The reputation for excellence that the firm had acquired over the past quarter of a century was impressive, of course, but it had also made Penguin somewhat risk averse. At a time when its competitors were feeding readers' appetites for so-called pulp fiction such as westerns, whodunits and the more sensational end of Anglo-American sf, Penguin remained aloof, not wishing to compromise its high standards or risk tarnishing its image as defender of the nation's culture.

Not that this was a bad thing but, ever mindful of its venerable past, Penguin had perhaps become too cautious. To stay ahead of the pack required a change of strategy and to help bring this about Allen Lane hired a new editorial adviser in May 1960. His name was Tony Godwin, and very soon he was Penguin's chief editor. In the years that followed, Godwin and his team of whizz-kids (as they became known) would breathe new life into the old bird, reshaping and restyling Penguin in a thoroughly modern form.

When the Italian designer Germano Facetti joined Penguin eight months after Godwin he found himself faced with a tough challenge. As the newly appointed director of cover art it was his responsibility to modernize the look of the books whilst somehow retaining continuity with the traditional Penguin covers of Young, Tschichold and Schmoller.

The Penguin Crime series was the obvious place to start. Other series had changed significantly over the years and illust- rated covers were now the norm but crime, by contrast, had altered very little since 1935. Typographic covers were still being used, and apart from a handful of covers with vertical green bands in the 1950s, they were essentially the same as Edward Young's original design with minor modifications. Crime still paid, but its covers were an anachronism.

Crime was therefore chosen as a test case and in 1962 Facetti commissioned three designers to submit their ideas. One was the Polish freelance designer Romek Marber, whose proposal retained Young's traditional colour coding and upper horizontal band, but divided the latter into three ruled sections which would now accommodate all the typography: first the logo, series and price, then the title and the author's name below that. The rest of the cover, he explained, would feature a drawing, collage or photograph based on the book's contents.

ROMEK MARBER The Marber Grid, 1962 The Marber grid

Romek Marber

1962

Marber's design was met with great enthusiasm and was rapidly deployed, first for crime, then for Pelicans and the main orange list, and later still in a slightly modified form for Penguin Modern Classics. The design became known as the Marber grid and its use in the '60s and early '70s provided the distinctive visual unity that Godwin and Facetti were seeking.

GEORGE ORWELL Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1962 Nineteen Eighty-Four (972) by George Orwell

1962 reprint with a cover by Germano Facetti.
MORE COVERS >>

The first sf title to get a Marber makeover was a reprint of Nineteen Eighty-Four with the all-seeing eye of Big Brother on the cover. The artwork was Facetti's, though it was not his only contribution to sf in 1962 as this was also the year he appeared in one of the most influential sf films ever made. La Jetée, by the enigmatic French film-maker Chris Marker, is set in the aftermath of a nuclear war that has destroyed Paris and forced its surviving inhabitants underground, into the network of galleries beneath the ruins of the Trocadéro. With lethal levels of radiation making it impossible to venture above ground, the only hope of reaching food, medicine and sources of energy lies in finding a way to travel through time. So scientists conduct experiments using prisoners as guinea pigs. First they send men into the past and then, having refined their techniques, into the future. La Jetée tells the story of one such man.

CHRIS MARKER La Jetée, 1962 La Jetée

Chris Marker

1962

La Jetée's art-house credentials gained the film a cult following and established it as a landmark of French New Wave cinema. Experimental and avant-garde, its poetic narrative and groundbreaking use of still images produced not just a film but a mesmerising work of art. Decades later the director Terry Gilliam cited it as the inspiration for his 1995 Hollywood blockbuster Twelve Monkeys.

The War Game, 1965 The War Game

Promotional poster by Romek Marber.

1965

Three years after Facetti's involvement in sf cinema it was Marber's turn with a promotional poster for The War Game, a harrowing, documentary-style film about a Soviet nuclear attack on the UK. Written and directed by Peter Watkins, it was scheduled for BBC television in 1965 but the film was considered too controversial and the broadcast was cancelled. So it went on limited release in cinemas, winning widespread critical acclaim and an Oscar for best documentary [sic]. The film was eventually shown on television in 1985.