In the years both before and after the Second World War, Hodder & Stoughton were well known for their Yellow Jacket books, often stories of adventure or crime, from writers such as John Buchan, Rider Haggard, Edgar Wallace and Baroness Orczy as well as the Bulldog Drummond stories by ‘Sapper’ and ‘The Saint’ stories by Leslie Charteris. The books appeared in both paperback and hardback editions.
During the war, their range of titles looked well suited to the demands of the Central Services Book Depot for ‘warm’ fiction, westerns and crime, but so far as I know they didn’t contribute any books to the Guild series of Services Editions. Instead they bided their time and in 1944 launched their own series, spurning the generic description of ‘Services Editions’ for their own ‘Services Yellow Jackets’.
For a company that clearly then had an eye to its own brand image, it’s perhaps surprising that they didn’t go for bright yellow jackets on their services series. Instead they opted for a stylised design, apparently based on white cliffs overlooking a blue sea and a yellow sky. Do the blue swooshes, apparently representing waves on the sea, also contain a hint of the ‘blue birds over, the white cliffs of Dover’ that were a feature of “We’ll meet again”, the most popular song and the most popular film of the time? Most copies of the books would after all have been sent abroad to troops serving far from home, and perhaps dreaming of returning home (or dreaming of Vera Lynn?).
I don’t know of any list of the books published as Services Yellow Jackets, other than the list I’ve put together myself, from my own collection and ones I’ve seen elsewhere. I can identify at least 15 titles, published between September 1944 and September 1945, listed below, but it seems a fair bet that there are more. Please let me know if you come across any other books in the series.
Penguin were really the first company to recognise the opportunity for Services Editions, when they launched their Forces Book Club in 1942. But first to recognise an opportunity is not necessarily first to find the right way to exploit it and for once, Penguin got it badly wrong. The Forces Book Club was a miserable failure, ending in September 1943 and leaving Penguin with significant quantities of unsold stock.
By that time other companies had stepped into the gap with much better designed schemes. Both Collins and Guild Books launched long-running series of Services Editions in mid-1943 while Penguin retired to lick its wounds. But by 1945 the Forces were starting to diversify their suppliers of Services Editions and there was another opportunity for Penguin to come in.
In comparison to Collins and Guild, the series of Penguin Services Editions was short – just 16 books, all issued in 1945 – and it was also quite diverse, in terms of both the format and the range of titles. Most of the books were in the standard Penguin three-stripe covers, colours depending on genre, but with ‘Services Edition’ added under a line in the middle section, and they were numbered from SE1 upwards.
There are however a lot of exceptions to the general rule. There are books numbered from SE2 to SE9, but there is no SE1 (the book assumed to be SE1 is actually numbered 502) and there are two SE10s but no SE11. There is no SE14 either, or SE16 or SE17, although SE15 and SE18 exist. SE3 does not say ‘Services Edition’ on the front, while SE9 does, but without the line above it. SE18 is in its standard Penguin Classics cover, with no middle stripe, so has ‘Services Edition’ in a different place, and SE10 ‘Within the Tides’, exists in two different covers. Perhaps most oddly of all, Bernard Shaw’s ‘Major Barbara’ exists in a version shown as a Services Edition in its printing history, but otherwise identical to the normal Penguin edition and with a price of 1 shilling marked on the cover. Services Editions never carried a price as they were not for sale.
Some of the variation in formats
For a series of just 16 books, this is a lot of errors or a lot of confusion, from a company that normally paid a lot of attention to the consistency of its branding and its numbering. It almost suggests that Penguin were not taking this venture very seriously.
If one of the key errors Penguin made in the Forces Book Club series was that the choice of books was too serious and too highbrow, they seemed to have learned little in the intervening years. In fact there seems to have been little thought given to what to publish – they just took whatever was on hand at the time, and it was a thin time. By Penguin’s standards, they published relatively few books in 1945. So into the Services Editions went a new translation of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, a Virginia Woolf, three Pelicans, and a biography of Lady Hester Stanhope. Surely no other publisher would have made a selection like that for a mass-market forces readership.
Copies are still relatively easy to find, much easier than most other Services Editions, and it seems likely that a high proportion of the books were released onto the general market rather than going to service use. Penguin brought an early end to their series in 1945, while other publishers continued into 1946, so there may have been mutual agreement that it wasn’t really working. My best guess is that the edition of ‘Major Barbara’ was intended as a Services Edition, but never actually used as one – perhaps withdrawn at the last minute when a decision was taken to end the series, then bound into new covers and issued instead as a normal Penguin.
It seems odd to suggest, but did Penguin produce Services Editions just because it was their patriotic duty? It certainly seems that their heart wasn’t in it.
At the end of the Second World War there were large numbers of British Servicemen stationed in India. My father was one of them, arriving in India in 1945 (or possibly not until 1946?) with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) and passing through Doelali, the British Army base that was effectively a transit camp for most British soldiers arriving in India. Its name entered into the language, with doolally coming to mean a kind of madness, and much later it became the setting for the BBC comedy programme ‘It ain’t half hot Mum’.
Like army units everywhere, they would have received shipments of books for regimental and unit libraries alongside shipments of other military equipment, and these would no doubt have included the specially printed paperback Services Editions. But in reality it made little sense to send books on a hazardous journey for thousands of miles around the world, from a home base in Britain where paper was severely rationed. British publishers, including Collins, the largest publisher of Services Editions, had already moved away from the export of books towards local printing and publishing where possible. Collins had established a significant publishing programme in India and no doubt many of its books were bought by soldiers and other Army personnel, as well as by the civilian population, both expatriate and local.
UK Services Edition and Indian Services Edition – both Collins White Circle
So it was a natural step for Collins to print Services Editions in India as well. They were commissioned by the ‘Welfare General in India’ to produce a series of paperbacks, including some of the same titles that had already appeared in the UK Services Editions series. These books would not be for sale, but would be distributed for free to service units. They carried the prominent text across the front ‘Printed specially for the Army and Royal Air Force in India and SEAC’ and although they still had elements of the ‘White Circle’ branding, they were plainer than the equivalent Services Editions printed in the UK.
There are lists in the books that suggest that up to 40 different books were ‘in preparation’, but it’s hard to say whether these were all published or not. I have only ever found copies of four of the books myself and I know of surviving copies of two others. Twelve of the titles listed were Westerns, always the most difficult to find, and I’ve never seen evidence of any of these having survived, although I suspect at least some of them were published, probably with the bright yellow covers used for the other White Circle westerns. If anyone’s ever seen one, I’d love to hear about it.
None of the books carry printing dates, but I think they’re all from 1945 to 1946. Most of the books are in the standard paperback size of the time, but one that I have is in a smaller format.
In a recent blog post, I speculated that there might be an unrecorded edition of ‘Poirot investigates’ by Agatha Christie in the Guild Books series of Services Editions. ‘Unrecorded’ here means not included in the checklists that I’ve put together of Services Editions, which certainly include some gaps. I’d love to know if anybody else does have a record of such an edition existing.
But Agatha Christie certainly did have a significant number of Services Editions issued, all the others so far as I am aware, in the Collins series. ‘Poirot investigates’ had been first published in 1924 by The Bodley Head, but Collins had been her UK publisher since publication of ‘The murder of Roger Ackroyd’ in 1926. By the outbreak of war they had built up a significant back catalogue of her books, published in the Collins Crime Club, with paperback editions in the Collins White Circle series. These might have been natural candidates for inclusion in the series of Collins Services Editions using the same White Circle branding. But the Services Editions were fundamentally not a series of classic reprints. The agreement was that they would feature at least a significant proportion of new or recent novels, so Collins looked not to the classic Christie novels of the 1920s and 1930s, but to the new work that she was continuing to produce during the war.
The first to appear in 1943 was ‘Sad cypress’, first published in the Collins Crime Club in March 1940 and not previously published in paperback at all so far as I know – it didn’t appear in the main White Circle series until 1944. The Services Edition formed part of the first batch of these books to be issued and like the others in this batch, didn’t carry any series number, although on the evidence of later lists it seems to have been allocated the number c202.
It was followed later in 1943 by ‘The moving finger’ (c219) and ‘The body in the library’ (c221). ‘The body in the library’ had first appeared in the Collins Crime Club in May 1942, but ‘The moving finger’ not until June 1943, so the Services Edition must have followed quite quickly after this. Could it conceivably even have been before it and so represent the first UK edition? I have no information on the month of issue of the Services Editions, but it seems unlikely. My best guess is that it came out a couple of months later. Either way, both books are again probably first paperback editions, not appearing in the main White Circle series until after the end of the war.
4 further crime novels followed – ‘N or M?’ (Collins Crime Club November 1941, Services Edition c244, 1943), ‘Toward zero’ (CCC July 1944, Services Edition c275, 1944), ‘Five little pigs’ (CCC January 1943, Services Edition c305, 1945) and Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (CCC December 1938, Services Edition c352, 1946).
But there was still one more to come. ‘Absent in the Spring’ was published under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott (Services Edition c360, 1946), but was one of Christie’s non-crime novels. So a total of 8 novels, even without that possible ninth book. Most I should say are now very difficult to find in first printing, with the exception of the last two – ‘Hercule Poirot’s Christmas’ and ‘Absent in the Spring’, which are a little bit easier.
Over its fifteen year history in paperback publishing from 1941 to around 1955, The British Publishers Guild tried all sorts of different ventures. Originally set up as a collective response to the success of Penguin, its high point came with the series of over 200 Services Editions from 1943 to 1946, to be followed by a long decline as it struggled to adapt to the post-war paperback market. Along the way it tried its hand at various other things, including from 1944 to 1945 a short series of paperbacks in Australia.
In doing so it was again following Penguin, which had made arrangements for some of its books to be published in Australia by the Lothian Publishing Company. The war had made it impractical to export books from the UK to Australia, so local printing made sense, as did working with a local partner. For Guild the partnership was with the Australian Publishing Co. Pty. Ltd. in Sydney and it seems to have lasted long enough to publish at least 13 books (checklist below). Whether it came to an end because of the end of the war or because of commercial failure is not clear, but it seems unlikely to have been a great success.
The series followed the format of the early UK books quite closely and used the same division into three separately coloured series according to size and price. In the UK, books were either Guild Six, Guild Nine or Guild Twelve, according to the price in pence. In Australia they were Guild Fifteen (coloured red), Guild Eighteen (light blue) or Guild Twenty-One (green), corresponding to 1s 3d, 1s 6d or 1s 9d in Australian currency. This partly reflects the discount in the Australian Pound relative to the British Pound at the time, but also some significant wartime inflation of prices.
Most of the books had already appeared in Guild editions elsewhere, several of them in the Services Editions series, but there are three books, ‘Poirot investigates’, ‘One foot in heaven’ and ‘This is the life!’ that may be first printings in Guild Books. The most intriguing of these is ‘Poirot investigates’, which in the printing history, after listing various other editions, says ‘First issued in this Edition, 1943. Australian Edition 1945’. This suggests that there was a previous Guild Books edition, and although I have never seen any other evidence of one, it’s possible that it could be one of the missing titles from the Services Edition series. I’d love to be able to confirm this theory one day by finding a Services Edition of this book. Can anyone help?
Full listing of the known Guild Books Australian Editions. There may be others!
- David Garnett – The sailor’s return (Guild 15, 1944)
- C.S. Forester – Brown on Resolution (Guild 18, 1944)
- E.M. Forster – Where angels fear to tread (Guild 18, 1944)
- Hartzell Spence – One foot in heaven (Guild 18, 1944)
- A.P. Herbert – The house by the river (Guild 15, 1945)
- Agatha Christie – Poirot investigates (Guild 15, 1945)
- George Sava – A ring at the door (Guild 18, 1945)
- David Masters – Up periscope (Guild 18, 1945)
- Hugh de Selincourt – The cricket match (Guild 18, 1945)
- Madeleine Kent – I married a German (Guild 21, 1945)
- P.C. Wren – The uniform of glory (Guild 21, 1945)
- I.A.R. Wylie – The young in heart (Guild 15, no date)
- Aubrey Wisberg & Harold Waters – This is the life! (Guild 21, no date)
The Collins White Circle series of Services Editions began in 1943 with the issue of 16 titles, probably in a printing of around 50,000 copies each. That means around 800,000 books printed and distributed to the Armed Forces. After 25 years of looking for them, I have found 5 and know of the existence of a handful of others, but in total the number of those 800,000 books still remaining seems to be barely in double figures. There are no collections of them in public libraries or university libraries to the best of my knowledge. WorldCat, the international library cataloguing system, which claims to catalogue 2 billion items in libraries around the world, has no record of them. The only indication we have that they even existed, is the numbering of later books in the series, the lists of titles included in those books, and in some cases the evidence of later reprints.
The first 16 books were not themselves numbered in first printing. Numbering started probably from the 17th book, which was given the number c217, but later reprints of some of those first 16 titles were given numbers in the range from c201 to c216. These numbers are consistent with the order of the titles listed in later books, so it seems reasonable to suppose that numbers were allocated in this order to all the books. On that basis, the first 5 books were crime titles, the first of them being ‘Seven dead’ by J. Jefferson Farjeon, the next three were mysteries, then followed by 8 westerns.
Westerns in paperback are always difficult to find in my experience. I suspect they were more avidly read and passed around, so disintegrated more quickly, and then in later life were seen as more disposable. Whatever the reason, all of the westerns in Services Edition are difficult to find, and those first 8 almost impossible. If anyone knows of the existence of any bright yellow western paperbacks with Services Edition on the front, particularly any dated 1943, I’d love to hear from them. I have just one of the eight in first printing and two others in reprints dated 1945.
Whether only those two were reprinted or not, I can’t say. Certainly all three of the mystery titles were reprinted in 1945 (numbered c206 to c208) and at least one of the crime titles, but those are the only ones I have seen. Reprints would normally be significantly easier to find than the first printings, so it seems unlikely that all of them were reprinted, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of the westerns turn up one day.
Penguin did not often get it wrong in the early days. From the very start it seemed that almost everything they touched turned to gold. Sales of their early books soared, but instead of just carrying on in the same direction they launched into a flurry of activity in all directions. The main Penguin series launched in July 1935 and by the end of 1937 had reached well over 100 books. But by then it had also been joined by a non-fiction series, Pelican Books, by a series of Penguin Shakespeare and by the first in a series of topical books on politics – the Penguin Specials. All these were to go on to be long-running and very successful series. Even in wartime, Penguin continued to innovate and expand in new directions. The King Penguin series started at the end of 1939 and was to run for over 15 years. Puffin Picture books followed in 1940, and Puffin Story Books in 1941. Both series are still running today, in spirit if not in name. Allen Lane it seems was a restless spirit, unable to rest on his laurels.
There was the odd exception and wrong turning of course. The Penguin Illustrated Classics was limited to one set of 10 books in 1938, and launching a series of travel guides just before the outbreak of war was perhaps not the smartest idea. But these were relatively small mistakes and quickly dealt with. So the Penguin Forces Book Club stands out as an area where Penguin got it badly wrong and had to spend a lot of time and effort correcting their errors.
The basic idea was a good one. There were lots of people in the Services with time on their hands for reading. Even the front line troops were not always continuously occupied by the business of war, and behind the lines there were plenty of air raid wardens and the like who had long hours of inactivity to pass, as well as all the wounded servicemen in hospitals. The public had already been asked to send in books they had read and the Services Central Book Depot would send them off in parcels to service units. Printing paperback books specially for the forces was not only a good idea, but one that was eventually to result in the massively successful programme of Services Editions in the UK and the equivalent Armed Services Editions for the US forces.
It was a good idea and Penguin was there first. Unfortunately they got the details wrong in almost every respect. Their marketing was wrong, their distribution model was wrong, their financial model was wrong, their choice of titles was wrong and their numbers were way out. The agreed model was that Penguin would provide 10 books each month, so 120 books in a year at a cost of 6d each, a total cost of £3 to be paid as an advance subscription. But service units didn’t want to pay in advance for books that they would receive over the year and they were not impressed with Penguin’s choice of titles. The first monthly set of 10 books included 2 crime stories, but also 2 scholarly Pelicans (‘Cine-biology’ and ‘Ur of the Chaldees’), 2 current affairs books from the Penguin Specials series and a memoir on life in China. Future monthly selections followed a similar pattern. Publicity for the scheme seems to have been limited, and from an initial planning estimate of obtaining 75,000 subscriptions, the numbers reduced to around 6,350 in January 1943, four months into the project.
The books of course are rare today, some of them extremely rare, but overall they’re perhaps not as rare as might be expected from such low numbers, and they crop up in a variety of formats. Penguin may well have printed significantly more than 6,000 and then had the problem of how to get rid of them. I’ll come back to this some time in another post.
The book industry has never been shy of using a marketing stunt or two to publicise its wares, and these days it puts a lot of its efforts behind World Book Night, when it gives away a lot of free books. At the end of 2010 it launched what I think was the first World Book Night, with the catchy slogan ‘The largest book give-away ever attempted’. It was nonsense of course, and at the time I suggested a comparison with the Hutchinson Free Victory Gift promotion in 1945, when a single publisher gave away as many books as the whole of the book industry was planning to do on World Book Night.
Arguably the entire programme of Services Editions during the Second World War was an even bigger book give-away, indeed on a totally different scale. But there the comparison is getting a bit strained, because although the books were issued free and strictly ‘not for sale’, the publishers were still being paid for them in one way or another.
Hutchinson’s Free Victory Gift for the Forces however appears genuinely to be a publishing group giving away a million books for free. It was a stunt too of course, no doubt done with more than one eye on the publicity to be generated from it, but even so a remarkable gesture and one that doesn’t seem to have come with any catch. You didn’t have to sign up to a book club, or (in modern terms) give your e-mail address and risk being bombarded with junk mail. You didn’t have to show any evidence of previous purchases. The books were simply offered for free to the armed forces through the Services Central Book Depot, to mark the ‘Glorious Victories’.
I’ve never been able to find any records of what was given away or exactly how, so I can only judge from the evidence of the books themselves. And it’s not easy to find them. You wouldn’t believe how easy it seems to be to make a million books disappear. In more than 25 years, I have found fewer than 20 copies and heard or seen reports of a handful of others, to make up a total of 30 known titles. I suspect there may be many more out there to be found, but it’s certainly possible that of the original million books, no more than a few hundred now remain. They’re printed on poor quality wartime paper, were probably sent all round the world to some pretty inhospitable environments, and the vast majority have just been thrown away.
There is a standard cover in various different colours specially printed for the give-away, but the books themselves don’t seem to have been specially printed. They were just existing stock given a new cover, and so it probably wasn’t really a series, it was just whatever happened to be on hand at the time. It may be that there were 50,000 copies of one book and only 10,000 copies of the next, and it may never be possible to establish a full list of titles. I’d still like to get as much information as I can about them though, so if you have any, or know anything about them, please get in touch.
The two longest series of UK Services Editions, from Guild Books and from Collins, between them account for almost 400 of the 500 or so books that exist in total, at least in paperback. In comparison with those two, Hutchinson were a minnow. But they still produced a series of over 30 Services Editions as well as offering a million other books to the forces as a free Victory Gift.
Although the Hutchinson Services Editions appear to be a consistently branded series, this hides the complexity of the underlying businesses. Having been mainly a publisher of magazines, Walter Hutchinson, son of the original founder, had switched the direction of the firm into books and by the start of the Second World War seems to have built it up into quite a mini-conglomerate of publishing businesses. It included amongst others, Hurst & Blackett, Jarrolds, John Long, Stanley Paul, Rich & Cowan, Skeffington and Andrew Melrose. It also operated through a bewildering variety of paperback imprints including Toucan Books, Jarrolds Jackdaw Library, The Crime Book Society, The Leisure Library, Readers’ Library, Four Square Books and so on, as well as several different series using the Hutchinson brand more directly. What the marketing logic was behind such a variety of different brands and series, is completely beyond me, but at least for the Services Editions they left most of that behind and brought order from the chaos.
Not entirely, because the books still carry different series names on the front cover and different publishers’ names on the title page. For instance ‘Rapid Fire’ by Joan Butler is headed ‘The Toucan novels’ on the cover, and is published by Stanley Paul & Co. Ltd. But at least the cover design is standard, the books clearly form a single series and they are listed together in the advertising pages within the books.
Those lists within the books also mean that for once we do more or less know what exists in this series. There are 33 books in the series, including 15 from the Hutchinson’s Pocket Library, 7 from Jarrolds Jackdaw, 7 from Toucan Books, 2 from John Long Four Square and 2 from Skeffington’s Pocket Library. They’re produced to War Economy standard, so very poor quality paper and production, but a surprising number seem to have survived and some of these books are less rare than other Services Editions. This may be because they come from Iater in the war, possibly around 1945, although the books are undated. I don’t know how many were printed, but comparison with other non-Services Editions suggests it may have been 25,000 copies of each book. For instance the Services Edition of ‘In Brighton Waters’ by Gordon Volk says ’52nd thousand’ on the title page, while the Free Victory Gift edition of the same book says ’27th thousand’.
As well as the paperback editions, several of the books are also found in a simple red hardback format. This was probably produced by the publishers, although it could have been added later by the Services Central Book Depot, or some other agency.
I’ll look at the Free Victory Gift series in a separate post. The sting in the tail from Hutchinson though, is that I have a single copy of a Crime Book Society Services Edition, which comes from the Hutchinson Group, but is not in the standard format or included in any of the standard lists of books. Was this a one-off, or are there others out there waiting to be discovered?
Running for over 20 years and over 1000 books, the White Circle paperbacks from Collins were for a long time a familiar sight, not only in Britain, but in Australia, Canada and India. Nowadays though their Indian editions are little known, and it’s difficult to find out anything much either about their series of Services Editions, produced for the British Forces from 1943 to 1946.
Collins contributed far more books than any other single publisher to Services Editions during the war. Although the Guild Books series was longer, the Guild was an association of over 20 publishers, with no individual publisher providing more than 20 to 25 books. Collins themselves provided at least 6 books to this series, in addition to 164 books in their own series.
They also seem to have met well the brief provided by the Services for the type of books required. In earlier correspondence between Allen Lane and the Services Central Book Depot, about the Penguin Forces Book Club, Lane referred to the Services asking for three categories of book -‘warm’ fiction, westerns and crime. Penguin’s inability to meet this requirement was one of the reasons for the failure of the Forces Book Club. Collins though were a perfect fit. They were probably the largest, and certainly the best known, publisher of crime fiction, through the Collins Crime Club. Their White Circle series already included a large selection of westerns, and although I’m not entirely sure what warm fiction is, I suspect that many of their general fiction titles probably fell into this category.
As with most of the other Services Editions, there is no complete list of the titles in the Collins series, and to the best of my knowledge, there is no collection of them in any library. There is an incomplete list on my Services Editions website, and although I can’t entirely tie up numbers and titles, I think I know the titles of all but 3 books. The western titles in yellow covers seem to be particularly difficult to trace, presumably because they were more frequently read than the others and disintegrated more quickly. I’d love to hear from anybody who has knowledge of these books, or even better has copies of them.
As with the Guild Services Editions, there are problems in identifying first printings and reprints. In the case of Collins the printing dates are shown correctly, but previous printings are not shown. For instance a copy of ‘Murder at Lilac Cottage’ by John Rhode, might show the printing history as ‘First published 1940. Services Edition 1946’. This looks like a first printing of the Services Edition, but fails to mention the previous printing in 1943. The best clue to this is the numbering of the books – books numbered roughly from c201 to c242 (or with no number) were first printed in 1943, from c243 to c283 in 1944, from c284 to c349 in 1945 and from c350 onwards in 1946. As ‘Murder at Lilac Cottage’ is numbered c217, a 1946 printing must be a reprint.
Of course reprints are much easier to find than first printings, and a high proportion of the books that turn up nowadays are those that were sold on to W.H. Smith for general sale when the Services Editions scheme came to an end in 1946. Perhaps 10 million copies of this series were originally printed, but the numbers remaining today, particularly of the early titles, are a tiny, tiny fraction of that.