The New English Library, also referred to as NEL, was a publisher born in 1961 when the Times Mirror Group of Los Angeles bought out and amalgamated two small British paperback publishers: Ace Books and Four Square Books Ltd.
The Times Mirror Group had already bought the New American Library during the previous year. Although a publisher of some popular and pulp fiction works, the New American Library, based in New York, became renowned for its reprints of classic literature and scholarly books. Originally founded in 1948, it is now an imprint of Penguin Random House.
In contrast, the NEL was to develop into a very different beast. The company published some non-fiction titles in both hardback and paperback formats, but made their name in the paperback pulp fiction genre. The initial focus was on science fiction, fantasy, suspense and mystery thrillers, due in part because of the catalogues inherrited from Ace Books and Four Square Books. During the 1960s the company's best selling title was The Carpetbaggers, written by Harold Robins.
However, the 1970s saw a change in emphasis as the publisher focussed more on what is termed pulp fiction: Quick, easy and cheap to produce action based stories, often of a racy nature and, in the case of NEL, with provocative and sensual cover art. The genre was aimed at a younger age group. Some people refer to NEL's 1970s place in the literature market as "sleazy" and the publisher was nicknamed "Nasty, Explicit and Lurid".
Of course, the 1970s were a very different time than the present day: Great Britain was in turmoil throughout the decade; the 'empire' was crumbling; social unrest was widespread with strikes and protests almost every day; a growing and violent gang culture dominated city streets; racism, stoked by right wing views, was rife; and football hooliganism tarnished Britain both at home and overseas. Add to this a perceived weak leadership during the period, and it's not surprising that young readers found it easy to relate to the 1970s pulp fiction of the New English Library.
NEL sought to exploit the fears, concerns and passions of its new found young readership. This seems to have been a conscious editorial decision taken by the company. Hack writers were engaged to churn out graphic books of violence and sex featuring skinheads, crooked police officers, Hells Angels and groupies. The hack writers were required to produce books to order within a very short space of time and, for some them, the pulp fiction market became an important source of quick income. Many writers wrote multiple books, often using pseudonyms. An example of this was James Moffat who had numerous pseudonyms including Richard Allen. He was responsible for a best selling series of seventeen skinhead books which played a large part in the NEL success of the 1970s.
The feeling today is that a number of the pulp fiction writers sought anonymity at the time because of controversial story lines, often with subliminal right wing messages from extremist characters and narratives.
In complete contrast, NEL also published a total of thirty-eight Disney stories between the mid 1970s and early 1980s. By this time the pulp fiction market bubble had burst and the company began to seek new markets.
By 1981 the New English Library found sales had declined as readers sought more fulfilling literature, and the firm was bought out by Hodder and Stoughton, becoming an imprint and moving completely away from the production of pulp fiction. In 1993 the group evolved into Hodder Headline, NEL being retained as an imprint focussed mainly on thrillers and horror stories, until it was finally dropped in 2004 when Hodder Headline became part of the Hachette Livre Group. At this point NEL and other imprints like Coronet and Flame were rebranded to become part of the Hodder and Stoughton paperback list.
Authors published by the New English Library were many and varied. The list below is not comprehensive but will give you a flavour. As well as some of the pulp fiction writers of the 1970s there are a number of big names - it wasn't all unmitigated violence, sex and satanism:
|John Wyndham||Victor Canning||Elizabeth Seifert|
|Stephen King||Harold Robins||James Herbert|
|Barbara Cartland||John Brunner||Paul Anderson|
|Robert Siverberg||Bob Shaw||James Blish|
|Brian Aldiss||Frank Herbert||Robert A. Heinlein|
|Christopher Priest||Josef Nesvadba||A.G. Van Vogt|
|Michael Moorcoak||Derina Ridley||Edgar Rice Burroughs|
|John Creasey||M. John Harrison||Otto Friedrich|
|Evans Wall||Martin Overy||Jack London|
|Clint Rockman||Isaac Asimov||Peter Cheyney|
Millions of New English Library books were printed, featuring thousands of titles from hundreds of authors. Many of the pulp fiction writings are now considered dated, both politically and socially incorrect. Yet the genre still has a huge following. It is hence surprising how few make it onto the collectors market: Many people who bought them in the 1970s have hung onto them, perhaps as a reminder of by-gone days.
Those which do come onto the market frequently attract high prices from cult collectors who have an interest not only in the stories, but also in the often suggestive artwork of the covers.
To view an NEL paperback select price guide click here.