A Life in a Year – 20th October, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Parents who had grown up in the 1930s and 1940s were a bit prim and shy about sex and this certainly went for my mum and dad neither of whom ever provided me with any useful sex education lessons, except for dad carelessly leaving ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ lying about that is.  We had to find out about this for ourselves through playground talk with better informed school pals, watching the girls in their navy blue knickers in P.E. lessons and putting two and two together for ourselves after looking up the dirty words in a dictionary.

There were some hard lessons to be learned and I can remember one friend fell out with us all because he refused to believe that his parents could ever have conceived him through the sex act and thinking about his mum now I can fully understand the difficulty he must have had in coming to terms with this piece of information.

1960 was a big year for pornography when the book ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ was published by Penguin books and whipped up a legal storm.  ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ is a novel by D. H. Lawrence that was written in 1928 and printed at that time privately in Florence.  The publication of the book caused a scandal due to its explicit sex scenes, including the use of previously banned four letter words.  When it was published the trial of the publishers, Penguin Books, under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959, was a major public event and a test of the new obscenity law.

Lady Chatterley's Lover

The 1959 Act had made it possible for publishers to escape conviction if they could demonstrate that a work was of literary merit and Penguin books took up the challenge.  At the trial which opened on October 20th various academic critics, were called as witnesses, and the verdict, delivered on 2nd November was not guilty.  This resulted in a far greater degree of freedom for publishing explicit material in the United Kingdom and soon newsagent’s top shelves were straining under the weight of glamour magazines with pictures of pretty ladies with no clothes on.

A nice story about the trial which illustrates just how big a watershed 1960 was in terms of changing social attitudes was when the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, asked the jury if it were the kind of book “you would wish your wife or servants to read“.

Much later than 1960 I found a copy of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ on the top of my dad’s wardrobe and was able to go immediately to the offending passage because the book fell naturally open at exactly the right spot.  It’s a boring book and I suspect most of it had not been read at all but the few pages of dirty words were well thumbed and dog-eared and over the next few weeks I contributed to this by sharing it with all of my mates whenever they came around to the house when my parents were out.  This all stopped when one day when the book had gone from the top of the wardrobe and although nothing was ever said I think I’d been rumbled.

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