Green meant mystery. Orange was fiction. And cerise? That distinctive cherry-red cover hinted of adventure, distant lands and strange cultures. For twenty-three years, from 1936 until 1959, the Penguin Cerise series defined English-language travel writing. This autumn marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the very last title in the series, so it is a good moment for hidden europe to take a look at an icon of publishing history.
In late 1959 Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals appeared as a paperback in the Penguin Cerise series. The book was not new — it had previously been published as a hardback in 1956. But the appearance of Durrell’s book in the Cerise series, which took its name from the compelling shade of the book covers, ensured Durrell’s status as the author who had more titles in the series than any other writer. Durrell’s humorous account of life on Corfu before the advent of mass tourism was his fourth book for a Penguin series that counted among its contributors such renowned writers as DH Lawrence, Vita Sackville- West, Aldous Huxley, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh.
‘Exciting true stories’ was the banner in a nineteen forties advertisement for the Cerise Penguins. The series escorted readers from wartime Britain to Antarctica, the Himalayas, Africa and even to remote Melanesia. These were the days when there were still a few white spaces on charts and atlases, and the Cerise Penguins did their bit in bringing the colour of distant lands to British readers — in pocketsize paperbacks that cost no more than a packet of cigarettes.