Antediluvian as the early 1960s might seem to us today, however, they seemed at the time an era of dizzying change.
Only a year before the trial, Roy Jenkins had secured the passage of a new Obscene Publications Act, leaving a crucial loophole – the question of literary merit – through which works might escape prohibition.
But it was a sign that shocked the stuffy British Establishment, which reacted by prosecuting the company for publishing an allegedly obscene book.
At one point they even considered flying over an American literary critic who had once condemned the book as “a dreary, sad performance with some passages of unintentional, hilarious, low comedy”, although they eventually abandoned the idea.
Instead the prosecution team wasted time before the trial going through the book line by line with a pencil, noting down the obscenities: on page 204, for example, one “bitch goddess of Success”, one “––––ing”, one “s–––”, one “best bit of c––– left on earth” and three mentions of “balls”.
Fifty years ago this week, amid extraordinary international publicity, the Old Bailey was the venue for a trial that did more to shape 21st-century Britain than hundreds of politicians put together.
The case of the Crown versus Penguin Books opened on Friday, October 21, 1960, when courtroom officials handed copies of perhaps the most notorious novel of the century, D H Lawrence’s book Lady Chatterley’s Lover, to nine men and three women, and asked them to read it.