By Jim Burns

Anyone interested in little magazines, or in literature during the 1940s in Britain, will no doubt have come across copies of Penguin New Writing which ran for forty issues between 1940 and 1950. It published many well-known writers, along with new ones, some of whom went on to establish themselves in the literary world, and others later who disappeared from sight. I don’t intend to start listing names from either category. My intention is to look at another publication from Penguin Books which, in my experience, is rarely mentioned when 1940s magazines are discussed. And that’s a pity because, though not distinguishing itself with the poetry it featured, and not having illustrators of the calibre that John Lehman attracted to Penguin New Writing, it did spotlight some good short stories.

Penguin Parade was in existence before its now more-famous partner made an appearance. The first issue came out in November, 1937, and seems to have been popular enough to be reprinted in February of the following year. Edited by Denys Kilham Roberts, it aimed to be published at “(roughly) quarterly and later, possibly, at monthly intervals”. It was, perhaps, an ambitious programme to follow, especially considering the still-shaky economic circumstances in Britain, and the uneasy political situation in Europe.

It’s impossible, in a short survey like this, to point to all the contributor in each issue of Penguin Parade, so the ones I do mention are only a sample of those in its pages. Some of the writers are still remembered, while some may not cause any heads to nod in acknowledgement of their continued popularity. I’m not sure how many people will now recognise the name of James Stern, but in his day, which was probably the 1930s and 1940s, he was considered a first-rate writer of short stories. The initial issue of Penguin Parade featured his “The Man from Montparnasse”, a well-written and amusing account of an encounter with a restless bohemian artist who spends more time drinking and talking about what he’s going to do than actually doing it.

Another writer who may be little read today, though he achieved some notoriety in his lifetime, was James Hanley, whose novel, Boy, ran into censorship problems when it was published in a cheap edition in 1934. Its account of life at sea, which Hanley had experienced, got a little too near reality when it hinted at homosexuality. His story in Penguin Parade also had a sea-faring angle, with a sailor fighting to survive when he’s flung into the water as his ship founders.

Sherwood Anderson, H.E. Bates. I.A.R. Wylie, and Herbert Read are all names that might be known to at least some contemporary readers, though I have to admit that I knew nothing about I.A.R. Wylie before coming across her name when writing this article. But she had an impressive list of publications, and some notes say that “Much of her work has been filmed by the leading American companies”.

Stella Gibbons, who wrote Cold Comfort Farm, is still remembered, but what of Raymond Watkinson who, like Gibbons, was published in issue 3? He was born in Flixton, Manchester, and attended the Manchester School of Art, though he said that he was always more interested in poetry. I’m not convinced, on the evidence of the poem in Penguin Parade, that he had any great originality as a poet. Did he publish much poetry elsewhere? The biographical details mention that he was “left” in his politics and in 1937 was “engaged as an Art Teacher in an Elementary School near Manchester”.

There are names that are listed in the contents (I’m skipping around various issues now), and attracted my attention when I first came across issues of the magazine. Joseph Vogel was an American writer, and I knew of him because of a novel, Man’s Courage, that I’d read, and which is sometimes mentioned in books about radical writing in the United States in the 1930s. His story in Penguin Parade concerned an immigrant family from Poland attempting to make a success of things in America, but often meeting mishaps as the father stumbles in and out of failed business ventures.

Matters relating to the publishing schedule appeared to be running reasonably smoothly, and issues 4 and 5 appeared in 1938 and early 1939, and both went into later reprints. Leslie Halward was in issue 4. He had already been published in numerous prestigious magazines, and his collection of short stories, To Tea on Sunday, had been praised by critics. Does anyone read him now? The same can perhaps be said of Gerald Kersh, though some of his work has been reprinted in recent years. His “The Extraordinarily Horrible Dummy” in issue 6 was a briskly-told tale of a ventriloquist whose dummy takes over. As the man says as his mental state declines, “It isn’t I who makes Micky talk. Micky makes me talk”. Kersh wrote some excellent stories. I was lucky enough to come across several of his books in a charity shop recently. I got them for next-to-nothing (they were showing their age) and enjoyed most of what I read.

It’s worth mentioning that also in issue 6 (1939) was a story by Martha Dodd, the daughter of the American Ambassador in Berlin in the 1930s. It was later shown that she had been spying for the Russians, obtaining information from a Nazi official she had been sleeping with while also having an affair with a Soviet agent. She had additionally passed on details from documents she had access to in the American Embassy. She was tracked by the FBI in the late-1940s and early-1950s and fled behind the Iron Curtain. Her illegal activities apart, she wrote a couple of novels, one of them, Sowing the Wind, about the coming to power of the Fascists in Germany in the 1930s, and a number of short stories. (see my “The Strange Case of Martha Dodd” in Brits, Beats & Outsiders, Penniless Press, 2012, for further information).

It’s obvious that the start of the Second World War in September, 1939, had an effect on publishing. and only five more issues appeared on an annual basis, with none in 1944, between 1940 and 1945. It’s interesting to speculate on the reason(s) for this. Paper rationing was introduced during the war, and Penguin New Writing was launched in 1940, so was there a decision to use resources for it and restrict publication of Penguin Parade? Denys Kilham Roberts continued as editor, so it doesn’t seem to have been a case of him being summoned for service in the armed forces. Or maybe he was, but could still find time to edit the occasional issues of the magazine?  A replacement editor could easily have been found, anyway. And sufficient material to fill both publications wasn’t likely to be a problem. Little magazines of one kind or another flourished in the war years, despite the paper shortages and other problems. And it was a democratic period in terms of the number and range of people who wanted to express themselves in print.

It’s indicative of the wartime conditions that names began to crop up that might not have done otherwise. The American novelist and short-story writer, Irwin Shaw, was in issues 8 (1941) and 9 (1942). Shaw was a war correspondent, so was possibly in London for a time. His “Weep in Years to Come” (issue 8) evoked the somewhat desperate gaiety of a young couple in New York on the eve of American involvement in the Second World War. Shaw was a first-rate writer of short-stories, and his “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses” is still anthologised. He also wrote a successful war novel, The Young Lions, though it probably hasn’t survived as well as Second World War books by his contemporaries, Norman Mailer and James Jones. 

Appearing alongside Shaw’s contribution in issue 8 was a story by Ralph Bates who had served with the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. He wrote novels like The Lean Men and The Olive Field about life in Spain prior to the Civil War, and later about the war itself in his short-story collection, The Miraculous Horde. Bates was never a communist, though he co-operated with them until some of his views became unacceptable to the Party, and he decided it was safer not to return to Spain after he’d left to go on a speaking tour to drum up support for the Republicans.

In connection with Spain, issue 7 (1940) had a story by Arturo Barea set in Madrid during the war. Barea had worked for the Republican Government and escaped to England when Franco took over. His trilogy, The Forge, The Track, The Clash, is a classic account of his experiences growing up in poverty, soldiering with the Spanish Army in Morocco, and his activities during the Civil War.

The Yorkshire-born writer, Eric Knight, had stories in issues 9 (1942) and 10 (1943) which focused on where he came from, though he had moved to the United States with his family when he was a boy. He worked at various jobs, wrote several novels and short-stories, and spent time in Hollywood as editor of a film magazine and as a screenwriter. He’s probably best remembered now as the author, under the name of Richard Hallas, of what is often referred to as a classic crime novel, You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up.

There wasn’t any indication in issue 11 (1945) that it was the final issue in the first series of Penguin Parade. Denys Kilham Roberts was still around (he died in 1976) and active as an editor and writer generally. Without access to the Penguin archives, it’s impossible to know why a decision was made to discontinue the magazine. Times were still tough for publishers in terms of obtaining paper and other materials, and there does seem to have been a decline in interest in little magazines once the war ended and both soldiers and civilians had to face up to the domestic demands and austerities of life in post-war Britain. By 1950 Penguin New Writing, Horizon, and many other publications had closed down, and the rest were on the brink of doing so in the next couple of years.

An attempt was made to revive Penguin Parade in 1947 when a second series was launched under the editorship of J.E. Morpurgo. Three issues appeared in 1947 and 1948, but the approach was different, as was made evident in the Foreword to the first issue: “Whereas the first series was devoted principally to the short story, to poetry, and to reportage, the second series will emphasise critical and informative writing”. Morpurgo did also say that the “work of contemporary ‘creative’ artists obviously demands inclusion in any periodical that purports to reflect some aspects of life to-day”, so some work by poets and fiction writers would appear, though “short stories of quality are very rare indeed”, and “reportage, the utility furniture of war-time, has lost much of its freshness and usefulness”. Morpurgo eventually became a professor at Leeds University, and his academic inclinations may have been in evidence in his comments.

I suppose it might be said that the idea was to give Penguin Parade a more intellectual base. And was that comment about the lack of “short stories of quality” a dig at the contents of the earlier series? It may have been true that there was a leaning towards stories that could be read quickly and easily while on guard duty, or fire watch, or in the breaks between shifts in a factory. But, looking at a few of the titles of essays that were in the three issues that Morpurgo edited, we see “Criticism and Reviewage”, “Literature and the Libretto: An Uneasy Friendship”, “The Psychological Aspect of Strikes”, “War and the Writer”, and “An English Successor to Van Dyck”. It’s not being insulting to the readers of those earlier issues of Penguin Parade to suggest that they wouldn’t have wanted to sit down to read material like that when they were tired and hungry and wondering when and where the next bomb might fall. It’s difficult to imagine what sort of readership Morpurgo had in mind for the revived Penguin Parade.

It’s a personal intrusion, but when I read the essay on “Criticism and Reviewage I came across the following observation: “Between criticism and reviewing it is possible to make a distinction. One difference is that reviews have to be readable”. As a reviewer for many years, and having struggled to keep my eyes on the page while reading a lot of contemporary academic criticism, I tend to agree with that statement. 

I’m not suggesting that any of the pieces in the “new” Penguin Parade were bad in themselves, and some of the essays aroused my interest, including one on the revolutionary, Auguste Blanqui, and another on jazz, though the latter gave no sign of its writer knowing anything about the music beyond its early origins. He probably didn’t think that what came after the music he described had any real connection to jazz. Puritanism was often a characteristic of much writing about the music. The point I’m making is that the new series was directed at a different audience to the readers that, on the whole, most likely bought the first one. Whatever the aim, it clearly failed and Penguin Parade died permanently in 1948. I suspect that sales simply hadn’t justified its continuation.

Out of necessity I had to be selective when mentioning specific writers and their stories in the first series. Space wouldn’t have permitted me to refer to them all. As with any magazine of its period, a lot of the writers never established major or lasting reputations, though it is interesting to read the notes on contributors and see how many of them had published books, as well as work in a wide variety of publications. Or how others were relatively new to publishing (have you heard of E.C. Harris, Mary Milne, Thomas S. Faulks, Nina Gifford, Audrey Burton, Elisabeth Cluer, Edgar Howard, and Sidney Young?). I’m always fascinated by the names I come across and wonder what happened to the people concerned. Most writers eventually slip from view. They may have only written, or had published, a story or two, but they made a contribution to literature, no matter how minor.