Bug Jack Barron and W.H. Smith

As for W.H. Smith pulling all self-published e-books in a fit of panic about some of the more out there erotica, this is not the first time W.H. Smith has bowed to the pressure and pulled products to appease the morally outraged. There is a precendent for this, for W.H. Smith managed to ban not one but two SF classics.

In 1968, the legendary British SF magazine New Worlds serialized the classic SF novel Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad. The novel contained for the time explicit sex scenes. New Worlds was supported by the British Arts Council and Bug Jack Barron infuriated the then British Minister for the Arts, Jennie Lee, Baroness Lee of Asheridge, who was enraged that the Arts Council was “sponsoring filth” (Not how similar the language it to the Daily Mail and Kernel articles that stoked the flames of the current uproar). The uproar caused British highstreet newsagent and bookseller W.H. Smith as well as the similar, now defunct chain John Menzies, to withdraw New Worlds from sale. I’ve also heard the rumour that one of the W.H. Smith executives happened to be called James Barron and so assumed that novel referred to him, but I cannot find any verfication for that.

Norman Spinrad himself discusses the Bug Jack Barron ban here and here. Here is a quote from Cat Rambo’s interview with Norman Spinrad:

What didn’t they like? Supposedly the explicit sex and the “dirty words.” Seems archaic now, the explicit sex was straightforwardly heterosexual and there for story points, and the “Carlin” words are now everywhere except on broadcast television. But Bug Jack Barron smashed what were then taboos in science fiction and did it in a novel that was forthrightly, specifically, revolutionarily political, and I think those were the real reasons.

So why am I dredging up this old story now, forty-five years later? After all, it’s just a slightly quaint anecdote from the bad old days before the sexual revolution. To quote Norman Spinrad himself:

That battle was won, once and for all, at least in terms of sex, drugs, dirty words, and rock and roll.

Because when you try to visit the homepage of W.H. Smith today, you get this. Since I don’t know how long the page will remain online, here is a screenshot. Note the part circled in red.

W.H. Smith Holding page

The more things change and all that…

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1 Response to Bug Jack Barron and W.H. Smith

  1. Pingback: Pegasus Pulp e-books not currently available at W.H. Smith, Kobo and Whitcoulls | Cora Buhlert

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