CHILDREN’S author Sir Michael Morpurgo and his wife Clare officially unveiled the UK's first Penguin Books vending machine at Exeter St David’s station on Friday, April 21.

Almost 90 years ago, Sir Allen Lane, Clare Morpurgo’s father, was inspired to found Penguin Books after he couldn’t find a good book to read while waiting for a train at the station.

Penguin and Exeter has gone back to its roots to ensure that Exeter’s commuters won’t face the same problem with the installation of the machine.  

It has been installed at the station thanks to a new partnership between Penguin Books, Exeter UNESCO City of Literature and Great Western Railway.

Supplied by Southwest-based vending machine company Graddon Vending, the machine sits in the entrance to Exeter St David’s, allowing passengers travelling through Exeter to purchase a wide range of Penguin Books, including contemporary and classic titles.

Titles will change on a regular basis, featuring new releases and perennial favourites, as well as marking key moments throughout the year, such as LGBTQIA+ History Month, Black History Month, UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day, and so on. 

The simple act of walking through a railway station and picking up a good book to enjoy on your journey forms the foundations of Penguin Books itself.

In 1934 Sir Allen Lane was waiting at Exeter St David’s Station and couldn’t find a good book to read; only magazines or reprints of Victorian novels.

Right there and then he decided that high quality, engaging and reasonably priced books should be available to everyone, anywhere.

The following year saw history made with the birth of the paperback as Penguin Books released its first 10 titles. 

With the Penguin Books vending machine, commuters can easily pick up an affordable and high-quality book to enjoy on their journey, just as Allen Lane envisaged.

It is a celebration of what is at the core of Penguin Books and UNESCO Cities of Literature: engaging and absorbing books for anyone to read, wherever they go.

In less than a month, more than 200 books have been sold from the machine so far. Profits from the vending machine will support Exeter City of Literature, a charity that champions stories and storytellers locally and globally, and Bookbag, a beloved local independent bookstore. 

Clare Morpurgo, said: “I am delighted to have been invited to unveil the new Penguin Vending Machine at Exeter St David’s station.

“Nearly 90 years ago, at the same station, my father, Allen Lane, was inspired to start a publishing revolution. His aim was to make buying a book as easy as buying a packet of cigarettes.

“He would have been tickled pink by the Penguin Vending Machine. And he loved being tickled pink!”  

Michael Morpurgo, bestselling author, says: “It took 70 years of writing, let’s call it an apprenticeship, to be published by Puffin.

“It makes me quite an aged Penguin group author, but very proud that I’m there amongst all those luminaries who have written for such a great and certainly unique, publishing house.

“I should say that I write for pleasure, my own pleasure and love to share it if I can with my readers. It’s why I go on writing because reading is so important to a young child’s life.” 

Anna Cohn Orchard, Executive Director of Exeter UNESCO City of Literature, knew of Penguin’s origin story and approached the publisher in 2021 with the idea for a book vending machine at St David’s.

She said: “The immense popularity of this vending machine shows how much joy books and reading bring to peoples’ lives.

“Exeter has inspired readers and writers for centuries, and we’re honoured to have been the place of inspiration for the founding of Penguin Books and for future iterations of Penguin Book Vending Machines around the country.”

Zainab Juma, Head of Brand at Penguin, said: “When Exeter City of Literature approached us about the Penguin Books vending machine, we knew immediately that it was the perfect way to celebrate our origins.

“Whiling away your time with a book is one of the great pleasures of train travel and this machine is just what our founder Allen Lane would have wanted to see as he set off on his journey.

“We’re especially pleased that the vending machine will benefit Bookbag, a local independent bookstore, and Exeter City of Literature who do brilliant work celebrating Exeter’s literary history and making books and reading more accessible in the local community.” 

Paul Gentleman, Head of External Communications for GWR, says: “GWR’s affiliation with Penguin Books, which dates back nearly 90 years, is something we are very proud of.

“This book vending machine is a wonderful addition to Exeter St David’s Station and is already proving popular with customers.

“A good book is a perfect accompaniment to a relaxing train journey. Whether you’re heading on holiday to an iconic destination or passing the time on your daily commute, this installation means you can pick up a Penguin Book just before you travel.” 

After the cutting of a ribbon to signify the official opening of the machine, Clare and Michael Morpurgo cut a celebration cake in the form of a large Penguin book.