As well as examining Centre Point and the era that created it, this blog also explores the place it occupies in London: a crossroads where many strands of culture and history meet.
Walk south from Centre Point and you’re on Charing Cross Road, the capital’s main literary thoroughfare, lined with specialist and antiquarian bookshops. Since 1906, this has been the home of Foyles, whose co-founder William Foyle was known as the Barnum of Bookselling. In 1929, his store was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest bookshop in the world, with over 30 miles of shelf space. But Foyles was also notorious for its eccentric business practices – customers famously had to queue three times to buy a single book: once to collect an invoice, once to pay the invoice, and then again to collect the book. Perversely, the system became a tourist attraction in its own right.
The 1960s book trade in Britain was all about Penguin. The company floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1961, riding on the popularity of its cheap and beautifully designed paperbacks. 1960 also saw the publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence, leading to a famous obscenity trial. Commercially, it did Penguin no harm, driving the sale of 3.5 million copies. Along with its educational imprint Pelican, the company flourished throughout the 1960s, before hitting financial trouble and being bought out by Pearson Longman in 1970. It marked the end of a golden age for book cover design.